Dr. Michael Bonin

All three Abbey college counselors—Corie McDermott-Fazzino, Kate Smith, and yours truly—are also English teachers.

When I started to write this blog post, I began that sentence with “As it happens, all three Abbey college counselors. . ..” But then I thought, how does it happen that all of us are English teachers? Is it mere coincidence?

“Hap” means just that: a random occurrence, an accident, something that just happens. Robert Frost, out for a morning walk, happens upon a strange little scene and ponders the meaning of happenstance.


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

To pursue Frost’s speculation, did we three teachers end up as college counselors by chance, or because the powers of darkness deemed it so? I have to say, as those dread application deadlines, November 1st and January 1st, dates that will live in infamy, loom each year, we counselors sometimes do feel doomed.

During the Dark Ages the tribal speakers of Old English called fate wyrd, from their verb for “that which must happen.”

So maybe we’re English teachers-slash-college-counselors just because we are, to use the modern English spelling, weird. Our students would be quick to agree.

I won’t presume to unravel the workings of fate. Macbeth tried to question the three witches, and look where that got him. However, I will go so far as to suggest that English teachers are uniquely well-suited for college counseling.

Why? Because we know about stories. Stories are what we have spent our lives studying and teaching.

A college application starts out as mere data. A name, a date of birth, a school CEEB code. Grade points, SAT and AP scores, units completed, a rigor rating. And a lot of what college counselors do is, in fact, data entry. Yes, it’s the most boring part of the job.

But if college admission were just a numbers game, presumably the data (including, of course, those crucial numbers with $ signs) could simply be fed into a computer. The program would solve for X, accept/deny. Computers are binary. They’re built for such a task.

Conceivably, an applicant could punch in their data and receive their computer-generated admission decision on the spot. Which would be dreadful. But only in a different way than it is dreadful to wait months for the decision.

Why months? Because, in the real world of college admissions, once applications are submitted, they’re read. By people. And people, not being computers, think in words and stories.

As Einstein, no slouch when it came to numbers, once wrote on a blackboard, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

That’s where college counselors come in. We help turn a student’s application data into a story. Ideally, it becomes a convincing, coherent story told by the student, the counselor, and the teachers writing the recommendation letters. A story that gives the reader a sense of the main character and shows the reader how to interpret the data.

A story that, if it’s well told, may persuade the college admissions rep to give it a happy ending.

Character, interpretation, persuasion, rhetoric, story-telling. These are things English teachers know something about.   

English teachers aren’t the only ones who think stories are important. Jeff Bezos (I know, I know) banned Amazon executives from using PowerPoint. He insisted that the only effective way to present information and make people listen was by telling a story.

So don’t take it from me, take it from an apex predator.

Kate, Corie and I may be chalk-covered wretches, but some of that dust, fairy-sprinkled, can turn the dross of data into the silver of story.

Our friend Robert Frost knew this, too. There’s not much to his little “Design” poem: two bugs and one flower. But as he once confided, “All the fun’s in how you say a thing.”