Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Post That Broke My Heart on Several Levels

Recently, I read a blog post written by Andrea Szwabowski (with assistance from SLPs from around the country) at The Whimsical Word, Inc. This article broke my heart on several different levels. 
I just completed my 33rd year of being an SLP...31 of those years being in a public school. I may be in a minority: I've never had a closet as a room. I've had my own space in 6 different school systems in 3 different states in the Southeast U.S. I am called "Speech Teacher" by my students and parents; in fact, when I introduce myself to my elementary-aged students, I call myself "Speech Teacher". I don't think that diminishes what I do; it puts my job on their level. I have educated my principals and teachers on my title "Speech Language Pathologist", but I don't get bent out of shape if someone calls me "Speech Teacher". 
I get it. I'm in the minority. I've spoken about my "dream job" before. I've never had to work in a closet; in fact, in the world of School Speech Language Pathology, I've been a bit spoiled. I've had the distinct advantage of working with administrators and teachers who have a pretty good grasp of what I do. That's why it pains me to read about some school systems who don't "get it".
As SLPs, we are cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Even so, we are each unique with our talents. I worked in a Skilled Nursing Facility for a couple of years and found that wasn't for me. Luckily, I was able to go back to the schools when I was 7 months pregnant with my youngest. When I left the schools, my special ed director warned me I wouldn't like it. I should have listened, but it gave me some experiences that I was able to use in the schools, as well as in my personal life.
As we all know, the great thing about our field is that if we don't like a setting, we can change. If one setting is too stressful, or we don't think we're valued as we should be, we can change. I applaud Ms. Szwabowski for realizing she was unhappy and getting out. There's nothing like an unhappy SLP who has to continue having meetings with parents, work with administrators and teachers, and continue to work patiently with students. Talk about everybody being miserable! The saying, "If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy" can certainly apply to SLPs!
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I think the school setting is the hardest, most demanding setting there is. You have to get along with everybody: office personnel, custodial personnel, students, teachers, administrators, and, of course, parents. You can't "specialize" in one area (unless you're in a special school):  You have to know a little bit about everything. You have to constantly research and network to appropriately serve your students. You have to learn to work with grouped students who may have different certifications; you have to be able to juggle those different targets within a 30 minute session (although in reality, by the time the student comes to your room and you get settled, it may really only be 20 minutes). You have to evaluate, come up with a plan, do paperwork, have meetings, and treat. You have to take paperwork home because you don't have time during your day since you're seeing groups of students back to back. Oh, and 1 more thing: you have to coordinate scheduling with the teacher, working around the student's schedule so he doesn't miss out on something. And then you have to reschedule because he is missing out on something.  On top of all that, you are expected to participate as a school employee. That means attending events held in the evening. 
If you feel "stuck" working in the schools, here are some suggestions:
1) Re-evaluate where you want to be in 5, 10 years. If you don't see yourself in the schools, get out.
2) Unless you're the only SLP in your school system, you should have an ally. If you have a Speech Coordinator/Lead SLP, talk to her. Make her do her job. Have her talk to your principal. If that doesn't work, talk to your Special Ed. Director, but don't whine about it. Come in with solutions to your problems. He/she will be more open to helping you if you come in with a well thought out plan rather than coming in just to complain. 
Results you may see are all in your attitude and presentation. If you try to maintain a good attitude, there's a good chance you may see some good results. The same goes for how you present your difficulties. No one likes a whiner. Go in whining, and you may find your life much harder!
4) Let's talk PD. I've sat in my fair share of PDs that have nothing to do with Speech Language Pathology, but you know what? Sometimes it's good to be in there so you can see what's going on in the classroom, and how to help your students. If you have to sit in those PDs, go in with an open-mind and with the question: How is this going to allow me to better serve my students? 
If you're not the only SLP in your system, talk to the coordinator/Lead SLP and ask her for PDs just for your group. My coordinator (God love her!) started doing that for us a few years ago when we requested it. She began handing the reins over to us for presentations so the work isn't all on her. 
If you are the only SLP in your system, make a request that you be able to attend Speech PDs in a neighboring system. We have a couple of SLPs (who work in neighboring -or nearby- systems) attend meetings, and they are welcome to our PDs.

There are still times when I'm required to attend "non-SLP" PDs, but I think of it as a time to reach out to my teacher-peers, as well as a time to find out what's going on in their world so I can bring a little bit of it to my speech room.
I'd like to address another important aspect of being a School SLP. I'm the kind of person who has to feel like I belong. In my schools, I do what I can to show the teachers that I'm one of them. Although I don't advertise it, if someone needs help with bus duty and I'm available, I pitch in. I know some SLPs who don't like having duty, but it's a great way to talk to the students and find some of those students who have "fallen through the cracks". It's also a great way to put a face with a name during those S-Team and RTI Meetings. I am a part of both of my faculties, through the good and the bad. The teachers want to get to know you. They want to see you as a part of the faculty. They want to see you as one of them. Become a part of the faculty, and you may see some excellent benefits from it!

I love being a School SLP. This is what I was called to do. There is nothing like being unhappy in your job. If you're unhappy, don't let it take over your life. Try something else...you just may find your niche. 

Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Friday, May 26, 2017

{The Frenzied SLPs} Letter to ME as a new SLP

I woke up at 4:00 on the first day following my last day of the school year, thanks to Laika. She is the black and white dog that you've seen in my Looking Ahead posts. After I went back to bed, ideas on this post kept running through my mind, so I surrendered. Mostly because I knew if I didn't, I wouldn't remember what I thought about! 

Looking back over the past 33 years, if I was able to give myself advice, what would I say? I've come up with 5 things (in no particular order):
Make your family #1. No matter what. If you are single and have no children, make time for yourself. Stay active, go out with friends; take care of yourself. No one is going to die if you're not at school one day, or if you don't spend the summer making materials. Your students at school are just as happy throwing chips in a cup after saying their target as they would be working with a book companion that has been printed on cardstock and laminated. Your main objective is to target their goals; the cutesie, nice-looking materials are just an added bonus.
The only way to learn is to ask questions. You may earn the respect of your peers if you ask. Learning from others' experiences will make things easier for you.
Parents will request that their children be taken out of Speech for various reasons. Don't take it personally. Remember that their children are just that: their children. You may think you know what's best for that child, but there may be underlying reasons for them to refuse services...or an evaluation. Let it go!
That being said, remember that you are the professional when it comes to communication. Your job is to make recommendations to the team. If you suspect there may be some resistance from the parent at the meeting, do your homework before the meeting starts. If you suspect there may be some resistance from other team members, request a staffing prior to the meeting so the school staff stands in unity. If the parents decide to not follow your recommendation, don't take it personally.
This is one that I'm still working on, especially at the end of the year. When I see injustice, whether it be someone receiving special attention because of who they are in the school system, or being denied attention because of who they are/aren't, I have to speak up. I can be a bit opinionated, and the older I get, the more I say. Sometimes it's a good thing, but other times it's not. Try to learn when to speak up and when to be quiet. You may come across people who will take what you say and use it against you. Stay on the safe side and just be quiet. You can't control everything, so control yourself. 
Photo courtesy of Pexels
I'm still a work in progress. I have to remind myself of each point weekly, if not daily. Some things will come with experience and as you gain confidence. I still take things too personally at times. I still feel badly when a parent refuses an evaluation and I hear the student's horrible /r/ as he's talking in the hallway, knowing I can't do anything about it. We can't change the whole world; we can only do the best we can with those who will accept the help.

What would you say to yourself as a new SLP? We'd love for you to join in and link up!

Thanks to Sparklle SLP for getting this linky off the ground, to Putting Words in Your Mouth for the fabulous image, and to Doyle Speech Works for putting the linky tool together. It takes a village!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wrapping Things Up: Progress Reports & Summer Packets

My rooms have been dismantled, progress reports have been given out. It's hard to believe year #33 is in the books, but it definitely is. 
This year, since I used Google Forms/Sheets to keep track of my data, I was able to include a progress chart with my progress reports. I was also able to let the parents see how their children did with returning their homework.
To find out how easy it was to do this, check out this clip:

The end of the clip was cut off (operator error!), but if you have questions, please email me or leave a comment below!
I am a firm believer in summer vacation. Not only for the teachers, but also for the students. That means that I only send out summer packets to a select few. It's been my experience that some students will actually progress when they have a break. I tell parents that we work on a sound so hard during the year, that when they get a break, something clicks. 
I handed out more summer packets this year than in previous ones.  The students that received the packets were my preschoolers, except for 1 student who has trouble with vocalic /r/. I was able to make some packets for different targets very quickly using Lessonpix. For my /k,g/ students, I made a packet last year, so all I had to do was print them out. I made directions for each of the activities last year, so I only had to print those out, as well.
My summer vacation will officially begin on Wed.; we have a Tech Conference on Tues. that will allow us to take an extra day of Fall Break. Definitely worth it! I have books to read and a kitchen to remodel, as well as ASHA CONNECT to attend in July. I plan on relaxing and taking a break from Speech things; July 25th will be here before you know it.
What fun things do you have planned this summer?



Monday, May 15, 2017

{Looking Ahead} It's the End!

It's here!!! It's finally here!!! The end of the school year is this week, so I try to have something fun for my students to do to wrap things up. I found this "foodtivity" on pinterest from The First Year Blog:
Really cute, right? I thought they would be perfect; they didn't look too difficult, and it would be pretty inexpensive to do for our last day of therapy. Weeeell, ours didn't turn out quite the same. This one was mine:
And this one was a student's:
I wouldn't call it a complete "Pinterest fail"; the kids seemed to enjoy it. I used already made frosting & put some blue food coloring in it. I also took a short cut by buying the graham cracker crumbs. I also used the graham cracker fish instead of the regular goldfish crackers. Just the thought of putting the little cheesy crackers on the sweet stuff didn't sit well with me! The little jimmies and white balls (for the bubbles) are pretty hard to control. After we put them together, we played a game to let the goodies dry just a tad.
It was a free-turn kind of day; just a fun last day before summer break. The students really enjoyed Hopping Frogs from Super Duper. After we played the game, I put the Graham Crackers in a sandwich bag for them to take home. (I don't allow students to eat anything in my room...I insist that they wait until they get home to ask their moms in case there are allergies.) Here's a tip: When you put something like this in a sandwich bag, make sure there is some air in the bag to help preserve it until they get home.
There will be another round of Under the Sea Graham Crackers and Hopping Frogs for my other school, then paperwork and cleaning up so I can leave ASAP on Friday.
I have to give a HUGE shout out to the following for giving up a lot of time on Saturday to help me design my new logo"
                   Putting Words in your Mouth                   grab button for Sparklle SLP          3D SLP

These ladies are the BEST! I'm pretty happy with the end result:
It was very interesting to look back and see the first idea, then to see it evolve into the above. 
If you've stuck with me through the year, thank you. If you've just found me, look through and see if I can inspire you! If you have questions, leave a comment below, or email me!


Saturday, May 6, 2017

{Looking Ahead} Last Full Week of Therapy!


Yes, you read that right: it's the last full week of therapy! As we're winding down, therapy will be hit or miss, so we're taking things easy!

5 Minute Day
The last 5 Minute Day! This is a team game, but not one that I've made. This is from the "Troll in a Bowl" team games that I have (but can't find anywhere online). The student attempts to get Pete from the cactus to the horse before he falls onto the snake. This will be the independent center. In the picture above, I have an example of what my students working on /r/ in isolation will do. Since they aren't making the /r/ sound correctly, I don't want them to practice it incorrectly. 1 of the things I do when working on /r/ in isolation is to have them go through 3 different sizes of straws. They have to be able to keep the cottonball on the straw until I count to 5. I came up with this idea one day while drinking a milkshake; by the time I got to the bottom of the cup, the back of my tongue hurt. I use the straws to strengthen the back of the tongue. During the independent activity, they use the straws for their tongue exercises. The straw in the picture above is a coffee stirrer, which is straw #3...the final straw!

Game Day
Something's Buggy is a fun little game! Following production of the target, the student chooses a card. He then picks that part of the bug and puts it on his bug mat. The first person to finish his bug is the winner. 
Since this is an open-ended game, my "mixed" groups will have no difficulty playing.

Language
Aliens in Underpants Save the World is still hanging out at 1 of my schools since I didn't get a chance to use it for story retell last week. 
I'll be pulling out some following directions and answering questions for my language students.

What about homework? There will be none this week since it's the last week for some of my students (depending on what they have going on next week in the classroom)!!!

2 more Mondays!

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