Transitioning from being a teacher to a school counselor is not uncommon. But for School Counselor of the Year Belinda Tutor, it was a calling that has opened new doors of opportunity for her and her students.
This Week's Storyteller
Belinda Tutor is the School Counselor at Mooresville Elementary School in Mooresville, Mississippi and in her twenty-third year in education. Belinda was a teacher before earning her counseling degree and becoming a School-Based Play Therapist. Belinda currently serves as Magnolia State School Counselor of the year for the state of Mississippi. She feels that the honor of serving Mississippi as school counselor of the year allows her to advocate for all school counselors and to collaborate with other professionals in her state.
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Well, you’ve made it to the month of March which means spring break is just around the corner and soon you’ll have a chance to catch your breath – or so we hope! Hi, everyone! Welcome back to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success. Thanks for listening and thanks to the generosity of Lilly Endowment, for continuing to underwrite this program.
Belinda Tutor began her career as an elementary school teacher, then one year, two situations challenged her to think that maybe a career move, from teacher to school counselor, might be a good next step for her.
I had a student whose parent lost their life in a drug deal gone bad. And you wouldn’t think in rural Mississippi that you would have those things, but we do, just like everywhere else. So I remember this big ol’ fifth grader – fifth grade boy – coming in my office. I’ll never forget it. I can see his face today. And laying his head on my shoulder and sobbing and just the grief that he was feeling. And I thought to myself, I need more. I need to know more to be able to help these children. I mean, I’m sorry I have tears in my eyes, but just, you know, seeing that most boys at his age would not, you know… And I’m so thankful that he had that connection with me, that he felt comfortable sharing that with me, but just, you know, just knowing then that I needed to do more.
And so then that same year, I had a fifth grade student who was assaulted by her stepfather. Again, I don’t know if I’m like a magnet sometimes for those things, but at that time I had no clue I would end up as a counselor.
I think those two things and watching those students struggle through that made me realize that there was something different than I needed to be doing. So I went on and did my master’s degree in school counseling and onto a specialist degree in play therapy so that I could be better equipped to work with my student population.
Becoming a school counselor held a few surprises for Belinda. She knew about the paperwork, about the frustration of not having enough time, but there was one thing she didn’t expect.
I think what has surprised me is the emotional fatigue sometimes that I feel. And so I have had through the, well, the first part of my career, to figure out how am I going to manage that? How am I going to be able to manage that and work through that and then go home, you know, and, and try not to carry it home. I can’t say I don’t sometimes, but I have found that self-care, taking good care of myself, doing some exercising, meditation, just whatever it takes to relieve that stress and that emotional strain. So that was the surprising part for me.
To help her students deal with stress and other issues, Belinda’s school office provides a small space for her and a larger space for a well-equipped play therapy area.
The larger part of my office is a play therapy room where we have a sand tray and kitchens and easels, doll houses, all of those things, and students are able to come in and make use of those play therapy items to work through whatever trauma or whatever regulation issues they have. Anything that a child is experiencing, that we feel like as a school play therapy would be good for those students to come in and I get to share that time with them. So it has been an amazing addition to our school counseling program.
There are few rules or limits in Belinda’s play therapy room. For one particularly challenging boy, Belinda says the room allows him to decompress and begin to deal with his trauma.
The expectation of the classroom and the expectation of the playroom are so different that he can, I feel like he can, just come in and just kind of go, “Ahhh,” you know, finally! So that has been really – and we have built such a cool relationship. He comes in and he is the funniest little thing. He’ll come in and he’ll stand right beside my chair in the morning and all he does is look at me, he just stares at me, and I’m like, do you need a hug? And he’ll just bear hug me, but he won’t until I asked him if he needs one. So that has been interesting.
Belinda says the play therapy room has been a huge plus to her schools’ counseling program and so has the addition of an Australian shepherd therapy dog.
I’ve had students that were in a full meltdown and I bring Biscuit – his name is Biscuit – but to bring Biscuit in and, and they just kind of rub him and caress him and, and just, you can just watch it melt away. And you know, within 15 minutes, they’re ready to go back to class. He just does so good when the kids come near him, he’ll just lie down because he knows that they’re wanting to pet him. And he’s so funny. He’ll just kind of heads down, do, you know, doggy down in yoga. And then he’ll just kind of set his bottom down and they’ll just pet him and he’ll just take it all in. He was just born an old soul.
Belinda lives by the philosophy that it’s important to see the child and look past the behavior. If you can do that, she says, you can make an incredible difference with children.
Thanks for your story, Belinda, and thanks to all of you for listening this week. Remember you can subscribe to Encouraging Words for School Counselors on your favorite podcast app or by going to our website at inspiresuccess.org/podcast where you can also find various ways to record a favorite story of YOUR experiences as a school counselor. We are always in need of more stories. So thanks in advance.
Until the next time, have a great week.