I am relatively new to the field of counselor education. I have been teaching in an undergraduate psychology program for over 15 years but just began teaching in graduate school a few months ago as a result of working towards my doctorate. Somehow the path from General Psychology with fresh faced freshmen who rarely wanted to be in class and frequently asked if we ‘were doing anything important today?’ is qualitatively different than teaching Counseling Theories with serious Master’s students who actually want to know the information. When I became frustrated at not making it completely through a discussion on Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments I never worried that someone’s life or career path might be irrevocably harmed.
Teaching has taken on new meaning for me. Believing that teachers and students are partners in constructing the educational experience, I understand the shared sense of responsibility of both. In reviewing my class notes from a pedagogy class, I found written in bold “Teaching is practice”. The next sentence was a vain attempt to quote the professor that the central focus of counselor education is a process of instigating professional identity. So if teaching is practice just as counseling is practice, then what rules apply? Ethically a counselor’s first mandate is to “do no harm”. What does that mean in an educational setting where the goal is the development of professional identity?
While returning home from class the other night I began to think of my professors from my own Master’s program. Had they felt the same trepidation about teaching me that I was feeling now as I taught this next generation? I thought of my very first instructor and advisor. She was the interim director of the program and carried herself with an air of authority and self-confidence. She had style. There had been some glitches and failures of communication when I first returned to school. Everything eventually worked out but I was feeling inadequate about my admission process. My advisor and I were walking to class as I shared this sense of inadequacy and she stopped in her tracks, put her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said “You are absolutely fine just the way you are right now. I have no doubts about your ability to succeed.” I can see her face right now and can feel the pressure of her hands on my shoulders. I can feel the sweeping power of that singular moment in time as the ripples of it carry over from over 25 years ago to right this moment.
One of my books states that competence is an emerging capacity that is the result of the co-construction of the individual and their community. I can trace the beginnings of my professional identity to that moment. Thankfully it was the first of numerous affirming experiences. Think back for a moment on your professors from your Master’s program. What are your most meaningful remembrances of their teaching or their impact on your professional identity? Is there a story or an important moment you’d like to share about your pathway to competence and the instructors who were your partners in that process? Have you benefitted from someone else’s ripples? I'd like to hear your story.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.