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!

2 comments:

  1. Love the post! I have worked in private practice, pediatric hospitals and a therapeutic school setting, but my love is working in the public schools. One suggestion is for new SLPs/CFs, get a mentor if your school doesn't have one in place! Being isolated is your enemy and everyone needs someone to help them along our path(I did!).

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    Replies
    1. Heidi: Thank you so much for reading! Having a mentor, not only for new SLPs/CFs, but for anyone changing systems or settings, is a fantastic idea!

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