Superhero: The Black Male School Counselor

It’s the first week of school, I’ve been paged… I know it’s probably one of my students- a first or fifth grader. I turn the corner to the downstairs First Grade Hallway and see Matthew*. He’s flailing and yelling at his teacher as tears streak down his face. The teacher is standing in the doorway to prevent him from running away, the rest of the class is getting restless and horse-playing. I look at him, he could resemble me as a child.

I kneel down and say “Something has gotten you really upset but we can’t go have fun until we work out this problem.” He says, “She (teacher) made me go to the back of the line but it’s my line leading day! I got even more mad when Juan told her [teacher] I said I wanted all the smoke. She looked at me and said I was making drug references!”

He continues to flail but I say, “I think we should talk more about this in my office, we can’t go hang out there until you pull yourself together.” Then he says “Do you have games or Squishies?” I reply, “I have both.” Before I walk away with Matthew, I politely explained to the teacher that the phrase “I want all the smoke” isn’t a drug reference but is an indication that someone is mad and wants to argue or fight with you.

As a black male school counselor, in a diverse/urban elementary school, you’re often viewed as a superhero. No, I’ve never walked through walls, had x-ray vision or even taken flight (except for planes and on basketball courts), but when I show up to escalated situations… Sometimes my mere presence can diffuse a potential crisis. It’s a fascinating dynamic. Some faculty and staff understand the dynamic and why my presence seems to do more than theirs. For those that don’t understand, I tell them “a male presence makes a difference.” Sometimes that statement works. The reality is, I bring who I am to each situation. Fortunately, I’m someone my students can identify with… I represent someone who is personable and relatable, I look like them.

During my school-age years, I moved around a lot. My father was in the military so I lived in various states and countries. I do not recall having a black male as a teacher let alone a school counselor. As adults, we know what it feels like to walk into a room where no faces are similar to your own. Students know that feeling as well. It’s uncomfortable, you feel alone; there’s no sense of connection or commonality. More often than not, elementary school counselors in urban cities are not male, let alone African American males.

This means, the automatic connection you feel when you see someone that looks like you, is a feeling many students never get to know as it relates to their school counselor. We’re often more prone to share with people that look like us or have a similar background. There have been situations where just knowing/understanding what your student is saying or experiencing diffuses potential crises. Understanding the importance of familiar faces and shared experiences is an essential step in addressing the lack of black males in Elementary schools.

  • Embrace but don’t burden. It can be a major stress reliever to know that you have a counselor that students, especially male students, can relate to; however, that does not mean that you should stop trying to connect and understand your students. Don’t show up to a crisis, escalate the situation and expect the superhero to save you by de-escalating the situation. Over time, the attitude of “Whew, Mr. _________ is here, we can just wait for him to take care of this” will set in and can be overwhelming over time. That mindset becomes overwhelming because each crisis is viewed as the superhero’s responsibility; thus relinquishing the teacher’s power/control within their own classroom.

  • Imitation is NOT flattery. Don’t try to emulate the counselor. Of course it can be helpful to ask for suggestions or incorporate similar techniques but trying to mimic someone only with the intent to resolve a situation only for that time period is a true disservice and probably won’t work. You can’t just mimic certain techniques without a true relationship being previously established. For example: If I arrive to a scene, where a student is in crisis,  and I say “Let’s pull it together, did someone pass away? Is someone in the hospital, etc?” It may seem callous or thoughtless but please believe a relationship has been established that allows me to interact with that student in that manner and it’s effective.
  • Encourage/ Establish a recruitment partnership. In urban school districts, it makes a difference when the school counselor can identify with cultural norms. There is no better candidate than someone of the culture. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding a qualified black male counselor but we’re often unicorns in elementary schools. Clark Atlanta University (Historically Black College or University/ my Alma Mater) would be a great partner for urban school districts of Atlanta. In the event you cannot find one of us, nothing works better than taking the time to truly establish an authentic relationship with your students. When you take that time to deposit into your relationship, you can usually withdraw whatever is needed during moments of crisis.

In the end, the difference a superhero can make in a diverse or urban school, is immeasurable. Appreciate your superhero but don’t try to make them save the world (your school)… We all have to have a hand in that process.

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