Every Halloween, I watch the top 100 Scariest Movie Moments with my kids. Sometimes we laugh at the older movies and the low budget effects (The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is one that kills me!), but
sometimes we cover our eyes when we see scenes of a truly scary movie, like The
Exorcist. Inspired by the season, I have decided to share my scariest moments in school counseling.
5. Helter Skelter
I am from a small town and most people attend a protestant church, including myself. There was one catholic church in the town, but I never thought there was much difference in our practices. When I
moved to the suburbs of a large city, I noticed many different cultures, ethnicities, and religious practices that differed from my small town upbringing. Unfortunately, at this time, I was a young naive counselor who lacked experience and often put her foot in her mouth. During the spring, I noticed a group of students with dark marks on their foreheads and I thought they looked ridiculous. I really did not think much more about the marks on their foreheads until one of the students came into my office and there was the mark staring me in the face. At first, I suppressed the desire to ask him about the mark, but my curiosity took over. As the student and I joked with each other I began to feel more at ease…now is my chance to do it I thought to myself. Now, here is the stupidest comment I have ever made in my life…”So, tell me why you have a Charles Manson swastika on your head.”
|Charles Manson did not celebrate Lent|
The student, who had been laughing and joking, stopped and stared at me with irritation. “For your information, this is not a swastika, this a cross we placed on our heads for Lent. At that point, he finished his business and left my office. Uggghhhhh! I was in horror that I uttered those words out of my mouth!!! In fact, it was a long time before that student came back to see me and I finally apologized for my ignorance.
Today, I am much more cautious about remarks I make to students and I try to educate myself about different cultural practices before I open my mouth. I think school counselors should make efforts be culturally competent.
So, I just started a new school year and was having a particularly tough day. One of my former parents came in to talk about his son’s NCAA eligibility. He was always a happy man with pleasant smile on his face. In the past, he always came in with his wife, but that day he was alone. Outside my office is always lively and he asked if he could close the door. Since it was very loud, I got out my chair and closed the door. He told me that I looked like I was tired and then he made some small talk. After we spoke about his son’s status, he asked about my lack of energy. I shared with him that my son had been in the hospital and I had been trying to balance work and home without much success. He had a look of kindness and compassion on his face and told me to take care of myself. We both stood, walked to the door, and I turned to shake his hand. All of the sudden, this parent grabs me by the shoulders, kisses me near my mouth, and walks out. I was in total shock! I think I stood there in the doorway in disbelief and doubting that the event ever occurred.
|Surprise attack by parent|
Since that day, I make it my policy never to close my blinds or my door when meeting with anyone of the opposite sex. This situation showed me how close an innocent meeting can change in a minute’s notice–like swimming in the ocean on a beautiful day!
3. Nightmare on Elm Street
In my second year as a high school guidance counselor, I worked at a school that had a large group of students who experimented with the occult. These students were very open about their practices, wore occult paraphernalia, and were very unapologetic about their involvement in the unseen world. As the year progressed, one of the new male students started coming to see me regularly after he met me at registration. He shared with me that he hung around with some of the kids who were involved in occult practices. The student mostly spoke about his rough relationship with his family and how his new friends made him feel loved and accepted. During our meetings, he never mentioned their activities, their interests, or beliefs; however, he did tell me that he was starting to have bad dreams. We really didn’t talk about the bad dreams, but we talked about how the dreams made him feel. Once a week, the student would come to see me and each month his appearance seemed to deteriorate. Finally, the student told me that he was not getting any sleep because his dreams were becoming reality. Puzzled and concerned about his well being, I asked him to tell me what he was experiencing at night. ” At first, the dreams were not that bad…I was watching what was happening to others, but as time went on I was being made to be involved in the acts and it became real.” Naively I asked, “What were you doing in the dream”? The student looked at me with swollen eyes and said, “The demon wanted me to do unthinkable acts to others, but I just cannot do it so he tortures me”! At that point, the student broke down and cried uncontrollably.
Being a new counselor and from a small town, I had never encountered students involved in occult activities and to be honest this scared me to death. At this point, I knew working with the student was way beyond my level of expertise. I told the student that I felt that he really needed to be able to speak to someone who could help him with these thoughts and that I was referring him to our mental health clinician.
2. Jekyll and Hyde
Fortunately, I have worked with some very professional and strong principals during my career. I am always impressed with their ability to handle angry parents, intense situations, and the unknown with proficiency and professionalism. However, at one school, I had a principal that did not fit this description.
One year, I was assisting with testing for a school with over 3500 students (talk about pressure) and everyone was on edge making sure everything ran smoothly. In the past, our principal stayed out of the way and let the testing coordinators work their magic, but this year was different. This year, the county office was coming to observe and our principal was on edge. The week before the test we noticed the principal’s behavior begin to change. First, the principal started questioning us about the test schedule and made last minute changes that made testing more complex; next we had to move the test materials to a vacant building in which we had to drive back and forth to transport the tests; last the principal put another person over us who had never coordinated testing to make sure things ran smoothly–this caused even more chaos. All those things I could handle, but what happened next made me lose respect for the principal. One afternoon before testing, we were counting calculators and several were missing. At that moment we discovered we were short of calculators, the principal walked into the testing room and asked for an update. One of my colleagues, who was a well respected teacher and had been at the school for many years, spoke up and told the principal we were missing calculators. Before she could get another word out, the principal grabbed a folding chair and threw it half way across the room causing all of us to stop in our tracks as it crashed into the wall. At that point, the principal began to relentlessly yell at her as her eyes filled with tears. The last remark the principal made was that we better not mess up and all eyes would be on us.
After that day, I promised myself that I would not allow myself to be abused by my superior. At that end of that year, I made a decision to leave that job and go to another school where I could work with a leader that cared for his or her staff rather than a test.
1. High School Horror
It was a busy morning and one of my regulars came in to talk to me. She was a student who always seemed down, in a drama with other students, or having trouble at home. That morning, as she walked in and took a seat, the phone rang and I answered it. As I answered the phone, I covered the mouth piece and told her to give me a minute. She said, “I don’t have much time so can you give this present to my friend and I have a note for you.” I looked at her and said to give me another minute, but she walked out. Do you know how you get that feeling that something is not right? I decided to open the letter and the words “kill myself” popped off the page. Immediately, I flung off my heels and ran down the back hall to the front office where I saw her walk by the window going outside of the school. As I reached the office door, I screamed to two male staff members to stop the student. At that moment she sprinted to the parking lot and then to the main road. As she made it to the highway, one of the males caught her and they both fell onto the road…he had saved her life!
Now when I work with students, especially students who are at-risk, it is my responsibility to give them all my attention especially when I hear key phrases that could indicate self harm.
Feel free to share your scariest school counseling moments with me.