At times, I find myself in awe of some of the dedicated and self-sacrificing individuals that have devoted themselves to our students. These are the diamonds, the people who live this work, who breathe it, who take home the lost battles and get up everyday to battle again. One such person is our school counselor, Tony Phuong.
Tony has been at my school for a while and no matter the cohort of students under his guidance, he serves them with the same support, kindness, tough-love, and wisdom year after year.
He meets the most challenging students with a smile before making them push themselves beyond what they thought possible.
He works with us all, pushing us all, asking for the moon and settling for a star. He asks the students to reach as high as the sky and then celebrates them for just reaching as high as they can. He asks the teachers to look at things from a different point of view, to see things through the student’s eyes, to try different tools, and to rededicate our hearts despite our daily frustrations. For it takes a village to educate our students. No teacher can do it alone, and Tony packs the punch of so many caring teachers combined.
He meets with a cadre of students in the morning, checking their backpacks for assignments due, keeping them accountable the minute they walk into school’s door. He meets with a different gaggle during their lunch, keeping them on track throughout the day. He runs our after school homework club, sitting one-on-one with students, giving them a safe place to work, to ask questions, and to succeed.
He knows every teacher’s expectations and assignments. He knows every student’s tendencies and saga.
In parent meetings, he supports all the stakeholders; he is straightforward with the parents, he is relentless with the students, and he is collaborative with the teachers.
Recently, I was in our front office, meeting with Tony about a student that was in my first period and that was a part of his caseload. A phone call came in as we were talking. It was from a parent whose student wouldn’t get out of bed and refused to go to school. To whom did the mother turn? Tony.
Apparently, there are students who have been awoken by Tony in their very bedrooms. He goes to their homes in the early hours of the morning, and convinces them to come to school. That’s right. He parents.
Yet, as special as our Tony is, I would bet that on every staff there are other Tonys out there: be they teachers, administrators, or counselors. Maybe they are recognized, maybe not, but they are there. The media doesn’t speak about The Tonys of our schools. The Tonys of our schools aren’t highlighted by our politicians. But they are there. These self-sacrificing, generous people can be found in every school and daily walk down every hall.
I don’t mean to diminish what our particular Tony does for our students by saying that his kind abounds in our educational system, but I do question why our media and policy makers hone in on this mythical 10% of “bad” educators and don’t acknowledge the literally millions of educators out there who have the angelic qualities of our Tony.
These Tonys are trying to desperately fill in the gaps created by well-intentioned families and misguided students who struggle to know what to do or how to do it. These Tonys work tirelessly to help students find a voice, find their motivation, find their meaning, and find their future.
So, who is your school’s diamond? Who is your school’s Tony?