When he was a child, Sammy El Rayes (M.Ed. ’22, School Counseling) would speak with his mother — a teacher in Beirut, Lebanon — about the future. In El Rayes’ family, education was the “family business.”

“[You] don’t have much to inherit,” El Rayes recalls his mother telling her children. “So, I want my education to be my legacy.”

That projection came true when El Rayes graduated from Teachers College earlier this month, and El Rayes will soon begin a role as a college access counselor serving future first-generation students at Goddard Riverside Options Center.

But the new TC alum’s journey to counseling wove first through teaching itself, when El Rayes took a music teacher position at a Bay Area elementary school shortly after completing his undergraduate degree.

“I loved the educational environment,” El Rayes says. “Being around people invested in shaping and helping children to enter the world is very important.”

El Rayes would later continue to teach in Beirut, where he took on middle school (a daunting feat, before discovering “middle schoolers need to be taught by someone who is also a little weird.”)

It was in Beirut that El Rayes also came to appreciate the “best parts of my job had nothing to do with teaching. It was the social-emotional stuff — as much as I loved teaching music, the meaningful moments in the classroom were generally not found in the curriculum.”

His time in 6-8th grade classrooms spawned what El Rayes characterizes as an epiphany.

“Teaching middle school arts is psychology,” he reasons. “There are a lot of feelings at that age and as a result there’s a lot of counseling in that job.”

The epiphany brought El Rayes to TC and a counseling program that, midway through his second semester, demonstrated real-time applications of theory and practice in faculty-initiated online “check-ins” that El Rayes praises for encouraging students to share thoughts, feelings and fears during the dark days of the pandemic.

“A lot of folks don’t receive that level of care,” says El Rayes, who cites the College’s Riddhi Sandil as among the most influential faculty during his time at TC.

Next, in his youth college counseling role, El Rayes will carry on the family business, as his sister and mother do the same in different parts of the world.