Student Counselor Shares Challenges, Joys of Her Career
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – Not everyone can say of their jobs what Tara Williams says – and she says it often: “I absolutely love what I do. I love every aspect of it.”
Williams is a student counselor at Canyon Ridge High School. It is her first year counseling students at the school – though she’s been a counselor for nearly two decades – and every day is mixed with varied tasks, challenges and joys.
“One minute I’m counseling a student through severe depression and the next I’m helping someone make plans for college,” she recently told News Radio 1310. “I just really love impacting my kids, supporting them, encouraging them, and helping them to be successful in life.”
The school recently celebrated National Counselors Week, and Williams said it was nice to be recognized because she and the other school counselors most often work behind the scenes.
That’s OK with her. She didn’t go into the profession to be spotlighted, but it’s encouraging when her own peers recognize her team’s efforts. The school has three counselors and one assistant.
The Big Dividend
Being a student counselor is challenging – the biggest for Williams is finding the time to fit everything that needs attending to into her schedule – but it also is a career full of rewards.
The real dividend for her comes when she hears from a former student who tells her how her counseling impacted his or her life. Williams, an unassuming woman, will tell them: “I just believed in you. I just cared for you. I didn’t do anything exceptional.”
But to her students she did. They’ll tell her: “I don’t know if I would have made it through those years if not for the support you gave me,” she said. Hearing stories of how her counsel helped a student is one of the best things about her job.
I just really love impacting my kids," says Tara Williams, a student counselor at Canyon Ridge High School in Twin Falls, "supporting them, encouraging them, and helping them to be successful in life.
Williams, who received a master’s degree in school counseling in 2000 from Sonoma State University in California, has impacted students from the Golden and Gem states to as far away as Africa. She moved to Twin Falls in 2007, when she started working at O’Leary Middle School. Between 2009 and 2012 she worked in Africa and Asia, teaching English and social studies. She returned to Twin Falls in 2012 and worked at the College of Southern Idaho and Robert Stuart Middle School before joining Canyon Ridge in 2016.
Her impressions of Idaho: “It’s actually one of the places where you need to learn a culture.”
One thing that's the same in Idaho as in other places she’s worked is the demand on her time.
“Time more than anything, that’s my biggest challenge,” she said. “You want to feel like you’re up to the challenge, but some days you feel like you’re drowning.”
But somehow she’s learned to keep herself afloat, even though she often takes work home with her, whether it’s paperwork or worrying about a student, and she often winds up working long days and over the weekends.
A Counselor’s Job is Never Done
Williams said school counselors used to be called guidance counselors, but the job entails much than offering guidance to students about school credits, college courses and careers. Many students suffer from emotional and social challenges, dysfunctional families, loneliness and challenges of just coming to school.
“It’s a lot more than helping students to graduate or plan their career,” she said.
Helping a student starts in one-on-one sessions. Each student is different, and some of them take a while to open up to a counselor. But once they do, they often find that sharing their thoughts and feelings gives them greater access to getting the direction they need.
For me," says Williams, who has been a student counselor for nearly two decades, "counseling is a natural way to be there for them.
Williams and Canyon Ridge’s other counselors typically meet with between 10 and 20 students a day – 50 to 100 or more students per week.
“We always have a long list of students to see us. It depends on the week,” she said. “We try to get them in as quickly as possible.”
Each counselor is assigned students by alphabet, but if a student is more comfortable visiting with one counselor than another he or she may visit with that counselor instead of their assigned counselor. Among her students, Williams works with English language learners.
Counselor and Mom
Williams, who is married and has a teenage daughter, said she often uses her counseling skills at home. It’s just a natural offshoot from being both a parent and a trained professional counselor. Thankfully, she said, her profession hasn’t distanced her daughter from expressing feelings at home.
“It’s OK, mom,” Williams said her daughter will tell her. “You’re a counselor, I can talk to you.”
There is at least one difference between being a student counselor and being her daughter’s counselor: “It doesn’t mean I have the same patience when I’m at home,” she said, noting that her parenting skills step into play when at home. If she finds out her daughter did something she does not approve of she might say, “You did what?”
“I can’t say that to a student,” she said. “There’s a balance.”
For the Love of Her Students
Still, Williams cares deeply for her Canyon Ridge students. She wants to see them happy and successful, and sorrows when they are challenged and unhappy. Some of her students face challenges at home that no one should have to go through, she said.
But there is hope even on those fronts. The school’s counselors not only meet with students, but their parents and family members, if needed. Students’ burdens often become their counselor’s burdens, and yet it’s a position that Williams said she has no plans to give up.
Her office door – and her heart – is always open to her students.
“Some of their stories are horrible and none of our students should have to go through what some of them go through,” she said. “Some people have told me, ‘I don’t know how you do it, hearing all of those horror stories all of the time.’ But I would rather be someone there to help and support them through it than walk away and not do anything. For me, counseling is a natural way to be there for them.”
Reporter Andrew Weeks may be reached at Andrew.Weeks@townsquaremedia.com or 737-6025.