Career Story: Middle School Social Worker

Middle School Social Worker

Job Title: School Social Worker

Type of Company: I work in a urban school district in a city with a population of about 100,000 people. My school is located in the poorest neighborhood with immigrants from several war-torn countries.

Education: BS, Social Science, Michigan State University •• MSW, Michigan State University

Previous Experience: I worked as a social worker in the emergency room of a hospital for four years before taking my current job in a public middle school.

Job Tasks: Any of the approximately 500 students in my school can be referred to me for social work services. The school has students in the fifth through the eighth grades and about 90% of them live in poverty. I see students during family crises brought on by deaths in the family, domestic violence, cases of abuse or neglect and other traumas. When a student is referred to me his teacher may know what the problem is or he may just be concerned that the student is behaving oddly. It's my job to figure out why: to get at what is going on. In cases of neglect or abuse I have to file a report with the state and get assistance for the family. That is to say, I'm a mandated reporter, just as doctors, nurses, daycare providers and teachers are. Once I've figured out what the problem is exactly I can refer the student for help. I call or meet with his guardian and may refer him to an outside agency for weekly counseling or, if the student is suicidal, to a hospital for an emergency evaluation.

Some students I see weekly at school either individually or in a group to provide support and monitor their needs. I also do home visits to meet with students and their families regarding poor attendance at school. This is often a symptom of a larger problem that I need to get help for. I have also gone to court as a witness when students have disclosed sexual abuse to me, especially if I am the first person they told. At Christmas I help organize a food and gift drive for some of our poorest families. We had a food drive this past year and staff donated money so I could shop for clothes and toys. At my school we do whatever is necessary to help our students stay safe and succeed academically. It is a rewarding job and the kids are great!

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is seeing a student overcome obstacles and succeed. I had one student who failed seventh grade after missing almost 90 days of school. I worked at finding out why she was staying home and formed a relationship with her and her mother. The next year her attendance dramatically improved and she was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society!

The worst part of my job is hearing about all the abuse that these students have had to endure and finding myself unable, on occasion, to help them. One of our students, for example, was shot and killed by a gang member. There's nothing that even the best-intended intervention can do about that.

Job Tips: Social work has many different facets: medical, school, geriatric, family counseling, crisis work, etc. When in school try to get exposed to as many types as possible so you will be able to find your interest.

Get good supervision when doing your practicum! We did process recordings that we went over with our supervisor and that was invaluable! Even though it is difficult to write everything down that you and your client said in a session, the feedback you will get from a good supervisor will help you your whole career.

Learn a second language, since social workers often work with immigrants who do not speak English. I was able to get both of my jobs thanks to fluency in Spanish.

Additional Thoughts: You need to be a good listener, but also able to ask the right questions. I may have a hunch about what is going on with a student and if I ask they will often tell me. I have found that if you can't put your finger on the problem, it often has to do with alcohol, drugs, or domestic violence. Ask those questions!

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