Teacher as a Counsellor

Rev Fr C Joseph
Counsellor, St Joseph’s College (Autonomous) Jakhama

“The Greatest Trust between Man and Man is the Trust of Giving Counsel”.– Francis Bacon

Introduction: It is believed that counselling is a learning-oriented process which usually occurs in an interactive relationship where the counsellor expresses care and concern towards the person with a problem. All teachers guide students whenever latter approach the former with doubts. It is only because of this reason a teacher is regarded as a “friend, philosopher and guide”. Each one is endowed with some “potentialities”. Teachers help students transform these potentialities into abilities by appropriate guidance. Thus, the role of a teacher as a counsellor is that of a guide who helps and facilitates personal growth and positive change through self-understanding among the students.

Teacher as a Counsellor: Teachers play an important role in bridging the gap after understanding the psychological effects on students. A teacher who can be trusted and shows empathy, can offer support and then guide students to the school counsellor when necessary. In the absence of a trained counsellor, a teacher can perform the role of a lay counsellor and help students. Think about your days in school or college and identify your favourite teacher. What made them so special? There are those who you remember for their riveting lessons but there are also those you think of fondly for their supportive behaviour and the empathetic ear that they lent to students. The best teacher is often a combination of the two.

As students spend half their growing years in school and college, teachers have a significant role to play in shaping the personality of the students. While school counsellor is trained to address a range of issues such as broken relationships, strained relationships with parents, self-esteem and body-image issues, addiction and thoughts of suicide or potential career paths, a teacher who is in constant touch with the students can also initiate conversations and encourage students to open up. This makes the role of a counsellor imperative in an academic set up, and teachers can become the primary source of on-campus support for the students. A teacher who can be trusted and shows empathy, can offer support and then guide students to the school counsellor when necessary. However, not all teachers have what it takes to become one. It is not easy for students to share their issues with a teacher. It is important for teachers to be open-minded and willing to help. Building trust in the minds of students is essential if a teacher wants to be a confidant.

Some qualities of Teacher as a Counsellor: First, it is important to realize that counselling is not just a set of skills which can be strung together on a necklace of prescribed processes. As with most things it is not so much what you do but the way you do it. In counselling it is not only how you do it but why you do it. This is because counselling has more to do with your individual approach and attitude towards a student than the skills employed, important as these are. Approaching the student in the right way and for the right reasons will, in terms of effectiveness and outcome, far surpass any skills say in questioning or attending, even though they are so germane to success. A teacher should view the student in an objective manner and without any personal bias, based on academic records or personality.

Active listening skills: Listening is one of the skills of counselling. You can infer what someone is saying or feeling by their demeanour and body language, but it is only by listening to students that you gain information about how they feel, and what is happening inside their emotional and psychological world. The teacher should show genuine interest in what the student is telling them. They should practice self-control, show patience and supportive body language by nodding their head and responding to the student’s cues. ‘It is surprising what you hear when you listen’

High level of integrity: For students to share their most troubling issues, the teacher should be trustworthy to not share it with anyone else or worse, gossip about it. For example, no student would want to talk about their disturbed family background, without making sure that the person they are talking to is trustworthy.

Empathetic and exploratory: A teacher should be empathetic as it helps to understand the issue from the student’s perspective. At the same time, they should have the skills to manoeuvre the conversation to make the student share more so as to find a solution.

Build rapport: This is the first step a teacher-counsellor should take. Make the student feel comfortable in your presence until they are at ease and start to talk. Remember that the student is trying to gauge if you are trustworthy. It is important to use a good combination of verbal and non-verbal communication at this stage.

Allow students to express themselves: When the student starts talking about the challenges faced, allow them to vent. Listen to everything that the student has to say and do not interrupt the flow of thought. Also, as a teacher, you can paraphrase the student’s thoughts to ensure that you have understood the problem correctly. This will provide clarity to their thought. “This is how I’ve understood your problem and I believe you can approach it through so-and-so method. What do you think?” This could be one of the ways. Assist the student to think about ways to overcome or address the problem instead of providing ready solutions.

Be non-judgmental: A teacher should be empathetic and compassionate towards the student. For instance, if a student comes out saying they have had 60 cigarettes per day; the teacher should not say “Oh that’s so bad!” One needs to practice self-restraint.
Consistent in emotions: As a teacher, the person should be consistent in their thoughts and emotions. They should try to not let their moods and emotions rub off on the student who comes to them for help. They should maintain their composure.

Maintain complete confidentiality: Make the student understand that the information they share will remain confidential and not be leaked to anyone. (If the issues shared by the student are harmful to themselves or others, then it should be brought to the notice of the school management.)In addition, the school management can also spot teachers who can be trained to provide counselling to students.

Conclusion: No doubt, to some extent every teacher is a counsellor when he counsels students about the selection of the courses, developing good habits and suggesting remedies for the personal problems of the students. But every teacher is not supposed to be an effective counsellor. A teacher must have some specific qualities to be a good counsellor. In our country, there is lack of qualified counsellors. We can give orientation to our teachers till we have qualified, competent counsellors. The teachers see students at least 6 hours a day. They have closed and most frequent contacts with the students in natural situations, they observe their acts, study their needs, interests, abilities; know their strengths and their weaknesses. A teacher may inspire and influence students by adopting proper methods and techniques. A teacher by caring and compassion can function as a resource and catalyst. Untrained teachers overlook a majority of student's problems. Hence teacher must have specialized training to perform various roles. The modern teacher is getting training in not only teaching but also various activities like case study, personality development and communicative skills, community studies, cultural studies, etc. With the help of these experiences and psychology it is possible to understand the student's behaviour. A teacher can also contact home and peer - group to understand the students deeply and can come up with a plan of action and possible solutions to overcome students' problems. Ultimately, the counselling should bring definite changes in behaviour of the students and improve the performance of the students. Because of long association with students the teacher by counselling can bring effective changes in their behaviour compared to a private counsellor. A private counsellor may take a long time to understand the behavioural problems of students and come up with possible of students' problems. Hence, the teacher while doing free - service training should undergo the practical training in counselling besides theoretical knowledge. The practical knowledge on the part of the teacher will definitely improve the counselling skills of the teacher and can help the students to improve their performance that is the main objective of counselling.“Every child you pass in the hall has a story that needs to be heard. May be you are the one meant to hear”. – Bethany Hill.