Getting to Know Mr. O’Hara


Mr. O’Hara is one of the guidance counselors at Rye High School. He has been working at Rye High School for seven years. Before that, he worked at a private school in New York City for five years. This is a lightly edited transcript of our interview. 

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: Spare time, definitely family. I have a two year old daughter, so that takes up a lot of time, which is fun. And rugby, I coach rugby, watch rugby. Don’t play anymore, but I’m pretty rugby obsessed outside of work. So family, friends, rugby, really take up all the time. Definitely especially this time of year, family, first and foremost.

Q: What was the last book you read or movie you watched that you would recommend?

A: I actually read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. So I finished that right before the school year. I read stuff kind of in between, but that was one big one that was great. So that’s definitely one book that I would recommend. And I watch a lot of the 30 for 30 documentaries, so I just watched one on Mike Tyson, which was really good. So, I’m big on those. I love documentaries.

Q: What is something you are passionate about?

A: There’s a few things I’m passionate about, but I guess, you know, helping young people as much as possible. This world is totally different than it was, five, ten, fifteen years ago, so trying to help kids and families try to manage all that goes on in high school is a passion of mine. Trying to decrease stress, in such a stressful world, is really important. And then outside passions: Like I said, rugby and sports have been a really big passion of mine my whole life. I think it’s a really healthy thing for young people to kind of develop a habit young in their life and something they can sustain throughout. Sports have taught me a whole lot of different positive things in my life that I think are important, so I’m definitely passionate about that, which is why I still coach.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your career path and how you got to where you are now?

A: Sure. I was probably like your typical college student, not really sure what I wanted to study. So I tried a whole bunch of different things, but I kind of knew I was going to gravitate back towards education. I knew I had a really good experience with teachers, coaches, educators, growing up. And I kind of naturally saw myself going towards that, so I initially went to be an English teacher, so I studied education and English. My plan was I was supposed to become a high school English teacher with the eventual plan of becoming a guidance counselor after I taught. But as I got closer to graduating college and thinking about entering the workforce, I did some student teaching, and I kind of felt like even though I loved English, I didn’t wanna teach like, Shakespeare, every single day. I wanted to work more with students and families one-on-one. And I like having a job where it’s kind of different everyday, and you don’t know what to expect. Right after college, I got my English degree, my undergrad in English, and right away I started graduate school. And after one year of graduate school, I kind of rushed to get everything done, usually it takes two years but I took all summer classes and winter classes, and I was able to finish grad school in a year and start to become a guidance counselor. I was 23 when I started as a counselor for the first time.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

This! Just like, talking with students. Like I said, high school now is so different than it used to be and the world is so different that it sounds like such a cliche “old guy” thing to say but people don’t talk to each other as much anymore individually, one-on-one. I think it’s important for students to know that they have people that they can just talk to. And the more I get to know what high school students are going through, the more I can eventually help if they need any help, so the best part of the job is just being able to talk with different kids and meet different students every single year. Every year, students graduate, which is sad, but also, a new freshman class comes in, so there’s a whole new group of students to meet and get to know.

Q: What is your least favorite part of your job?

A: This paper that’s in front of me. Any kind of paperwork, anything that gets in the way of being available to help students or families. It’s really not that bad, but there are certain things that have to be done paperwork wise, and going to meetings, and things like that. If I had it my way, I would be able to just meet with students all day long. So, I love having meetings with students and doing different things, but anything that kind of makes me shut my door and focus on paperwork is sometimes a little annoying.

Q: What has being a guidance counselor taught you?

A: It has taught me not to judge others. It has taught me that everyone comes in with different experiences and values, and you have to meet them where they are. You know, empathy is a big word that we use, and trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and not judge what they’re walking in with, but trying to understand their outlook, their perspective, their values. And then having to work with someone who might have different values or a different outlook than you. And the importance of understanding the other person but still being able to work with them, hear them, and be respectful.

Q: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to your high school years?

A: (Laughs) Enjoy myself. I did definitely enjoy myself my high school years, but that would be a reminder to continue to do that because it’s so important. It goes so quick. And I would say put myself out there, try new things. I did a whole lot in high school between sports, president of my class, all different types of things. But little things, like foreign language. I studied Spanish like all of you guys do, all throughout high school, through AP, through college, but I only did it in the classroom. So I can’t really have a conversation in Spanish with someone, I understand Spanish, but I wish I did a little bit more with language because people that are older than you will tell you that it’s so tough as you get older to develop language skills. Things that our teachers do, like Mrs. Nardo goes and does Teaching for Change, and doing emergent type things and talking with people in the foreign language is so important, and I don’t think I realized that. And I think it’s even more important in today’s world to be able to talk to people in different languages and learn those skills. And it’s something that you kind of have to do when you’re young. So, I would say in general: I would tell myself to enjoy high school because it goes so quickly, and it’s such a great time period, so not to take it for granted. But also, try new things and push yourself a little bit with things like foreign language. A lot of students will, and I did, study abroad and travel. And I think those experiences are so amazing, but when I went to Spain, I wasn’t really able to talk with anyone. I kind of understood it, but I wish I pushed myself a little but more with that. It’s such a great skill to get as a young person, to talk in different languages.