Experience & School Counseling Success (#105)

Each of us brings a mix of ourselves to the work we do and love, which is why there isn’t one recipe for being a successful school counselor. In this week’s podcast, Illinois School Counselor Bernard Starks shares how baking, photography, breathing exercises, and even McGruff the Crime Dog have all contributed to his experiences as a professional school counselor.

Inspiring School Counselors
Experience & School Counseling Success (#105)
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About Bernard Starks

Bernard Starks is a school counselor at Forest Park Middle School in Forest Park, IL

Bernard has been a Middle School Counselor for 3 years, but has been a school counselor for 6 years.

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Transcript

A rough transcript follows.

Matt Fleck:
Happy holidays everyone, and welcome back to the Inspiring School Counselor’s podcast, brought to you several times each month by our little nonprofit called Inspire Success. My name is Matt Fleck, but as my colleague in crime, Aimee Portteus, who you hear every week, who finds and talks with inspiring school counselors from around the country. This week Aimee talks with Bernard Starks, a relatively new school counselor working in Illinois, who started out at the high school level, then moved to the middle school this year. And who, despite the challenges, tells us he loves his work.  

Bernard Starks:
I really enjoy it a lot. This is actually my second career. Before I worked in the school counseling setting, I actually used to work in state government and I used to work in the unemployment agency in Michigan. So it is a huge difference compared to, you know, working in government, um, and going to schools.  

Aimee Portteus:
Yeah. But I would, I had imagined you had a skillset that you brought to the school counseling world then that is easy. 

Bernard:
Yeah, yeah. Yes. I did a lot of customer service and you know, one of the things that I learned is that the customer’s always right. And I kind of brought that customer service aspect to the school counseling aspect because of the fact that to me, that’s going to best help our kids and it’s also gonna best help the parents, help the staff and just help others.  

Aimee:
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. I’m going to say that you’re probably not telling me that middle schoolers are always right though, right? <laugh>. 

Bernard:
I know. That’s right. Middle schoolers are not always right.  

Aimee:
They’re not always right.  

Bernard:
They think they’re always right, but they’re not always right. Even when they try to tell me that they’re right about something, then I pull up something called Google and something called facts and then I show them that they’re wrong.  

Aimee:
<laugh>. That’s right, that’s right. But in a loving, caring, customer service sort of way.  

Bernard:
Absolutely. I don’t make them feel bad after they leave my office. No, <laugh>.  

Aimee:
That’s good. So speaking of relationships, um, do you have any stories or two that of your most memor memorable experiences as a school counselor?  

Bernard:
Oh, my, yes, I do. Uh, <laugh>, I have a short one and a long one. Sorry, I’m doing this to you. You really,  

Aimee:
Whatever you never Yes,  

Bernard:
<laugh>. So when I started working in a middle school setting, I worked with a sixth grader, and at the time, by the way, I got this position in the middle of like the Covid pandemic. So I didn’t meet the kids physically. I was meeting them online on Zoom. Mm-hmm. And there was a student in particular who was a sixth grader at the time, and they were going through a lot of things. They were, you know, they lost loved ones and it was just a lot of stuff like to transition from a more in-person school environment to a co you know, zoom covid environment was really tough on that student as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I built that relationship with that student. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But over time I found out that this student loved the Bake and I love the Bake. I found out that this student loved to do certain things and I was like, oh, wow, that’s amazing.  

So at Thanksgiving, the student, you know, the sixth grade teachers at the time were like, Hey, we’re gonna do a video and who you’re thankful for. Yeah. And the student popped up and the first thing was, I’m grateful for Mr. Starks. And I almost cried <laugh>, I was just so touched by what that student said. And you know, like as a sixth grader, you know, walking in their shoes, I would’ve been like, well, I’m thankful for my mom, or Yeah, I’m thankful for my dog or my cat, but for a sixth grader to go, I’m thankful for Mr. Starks. Yeah. Like a counselor that I’ve never really met in person. Yeah. Just blew me away. Yes. And then the shorter story is, so I have a beard, and this was an elementary school because at one point I was a paraprofessional. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I grew my beard and a student looked at me and said, when they saw my beard, and they said, no  

Aimee:
<laugh>

Bernard:
I looked at the student and I go, no. And she goes, and once again, built a relationship with this kid and they go, no, I hate it.  

Aimee:
Shave It off.  

Bernard:
And I was just like, okay, no <laugh>, sorry, not going to, you know.  

Aimee:
Oh, Bernard, you’re gonna tell me you escaped your beard for her <laugh>.  

Bernard
No, I felt it. <laugh>.  

Aimee:
<laugh>. That’s good. Well that’s great. I, I’m glad you have those touching stories and um, I’m sure you could tell that your first one made me cry as well. I I just love that. I don’t think we really realize, uh, the impact we have on kids and just having that one caring adult who takes the time to learn that they like to bake. Yes. Yes. That’s really great. That’s really great. Um, but I would assume like everyone else, that there are struggles you face in your career. Is that true?  

Bernard:
Yes, that is very true.  

Aimee:
So tell me a little bit about some of the struggles you face and how do you persevere through them?  

Bernard:
Oh yeah. Absolutely. So I can tell you as you know, working as a counselor, there are a lot of places you have to be. You know what I do, and this is something I’ve been doing over the past few years, is I’ve been doing some breathing techniques, um, which has been helping me kind of just like, kind of slow myself down and just kind of settle in and just say, okay, I have this going on, I have this going on and I have these things going on. So there’s been times where I’ve been very overwhelmed and it’s been very stressful. So I have done breathing techniques to just sort of settle myself down. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’ll go into my office for a few minutes, take a few deep breaths and then realize, okay, what’s most important that I need to deal with right now? And we’ll just kind of go from there.  

Aimee:
And have you been able to model that for students who are struggling with anxiety as well?  

Bernard:
Yes, absolutely. I have definitely used that with students. I have had students come into my office just really stressed out over grades and just kind of just tell them, let’s take some deep breaths first. Sure. And then let’s discuss your grades one by one. Let’s figure out what missing assignments there are. Let’s figure out what can we do to help bring up those grades. So absolutely. Sure.  

Aimee:
That’s excellent. Hey, and so we like to um, I kind of prepared you for this. We like to end our segments with some rapid fire questions. Yeah. So I’m gonna ask you a few brief questions and I want you to gimme your first thought. You don’t have to think about it too hard.

Bernard:
Okay, I’ll try not to  

Aimee:
<laugh>. All right, here we go. What song or activity helps you de processs after a long day?  

Bernard:
Photography.  

Aimee:
Photography. That’s awesome. Yeah. Do you go out and just like take pictures of nature or  

Bernard:
I take pictures of nature. Um, I’m trying to focus more on people photography. Um, I actually shot my first wedding this year. Like Oh great. Yes,  

Aimee:
I like that. Um, what’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?  

Bernard:
Oh my goodness. I do have a lot of reading on my phone. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, oh my gosh, I gotta look it up right now. I am so sorry. Okay. The Mr. Rogers effect,  

Aimee:
The Mr. Rogers  

Bernard:
Effect, Mr. Rogers Effect by Anita Knight. Um, oh my gosh. By Anita Knight Coonley. I think I said that last name right.  

Aimee:
Excellent. I’ve not heard of that one. We’ll have to keep that in mind.  

Bernard:
Yes.  

Aimee:
Um, what’s the funniest quote or oddest thing a student has ever said to you besides I don’t  

Bernard:
Like? Other than no, I don’t like your beard. <laugh>.  

Aimee:
Yeah. Other than that <laugh>.  

Bernard:
Um, I think the oddest thing a student has ever told me, and I’m just gonna be honest with you, is when I was in a high school setting, a student said that men can get pregnant  

Aimee:
<laugh>.  

Bernard:
And I had to correct him and say, no, that’s not true. <laugh>  

Aimee:
Did you have to use Google to show that to him?  

Bernard:
<laugh>, I had to get facts yes and show him that was honestly wrong. And not only did I have to do Google, I had to do like really cool like medical <laugh> information on Google to really prove to him that’s not true. He  

Aimee:
True. He’s gonna go to med school. I know he is <laugh>. So what’s the most unusual or unique item in your office right now?  

Bernard:
Okay. I currently have, so I love Peanuts, the cartoon, and I bought over the weekend a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  

Aimee:
Aw.  

Bernard:
So that is the most unique thing in my office.  

Aimee:
<laugh>. I like it. That’s great. And we’ve already spoken about other jobs besides school counseling, but what’s the most unique job you’ve ever had other than school counseling?  

Bernard:
When I was in high school, I worked at Chuck E. Cheese and oh my gosh, I was the Chuck E. Cheese Mouse  

Aimee:
<laugh>.  

Bernard:
And then the top, I was in high school, I also was McGruff the crime dog. And I did this for the community that I used to live in. Um, it was a suburb of Detroit and they were doing a dare or sad or just something like that, I don’t remember. But they asked me to be McGruff the crime dog. And I remember I had to wear the costume and there was a little fan in the head to keep me. Cool. Yes.  

Aimee:
You definitely have won the most unique job I’ve heard about today. <laugh>. I grew the crime dog. Okay. Well it was good to know. Well I thank you so much for joining me for this and  

Bernard:
No, Aimee, thank you so much for like that. It’s been a pleasure. Yeah, this has been amazing. Thank you so much. Thank you for everything that you guys are doing into speaking with school counselors and just being able for us to share our stories and like the things that we do with the students here. So thank you so much.  

Aimee:
We are very honored.  

Matt:
Hey, thanks Bernard for being our guest this week. And sincere thanks to each of you for tuning us in on a regular basis. We’re taking some time off for winter break, like hopefully you are. So here’s our sincere wish for a happy, relaxing and rejuvenating holiday for all of you.