Friday, June 20, 2014

The Truth about School Based Speech Pathology

School Kids at School

Well hello, strangers!  I have been taking a rather long hiatus and wanted to jump back into the swing of things.  For those who don't know, I have a little guy, almost 1 1/2 years old, who is occupying many of my hours now.  For the sake of putting family first, I will not be blogging or posting nearly as often, but do still plan on keeping this blog up and running and will post when I can.

Onto the post!

Let me just start with a disclaimer that I am not intending to represent everyone's experience with these truths about being a school-based SLP.  I am by no means the voice of school SLPs.  Not by a long shot!  I did however want to share my own experience with starting out in the speech pathology world.  Some of you reading may by be students trying to find their niche in the realm of speech pathology, others may be thinking of switching the settings they work in, and most of you probably are already working in the school setting.
Let's start with a little background on my part, shall we?  If you don't want the frills and details of my history, feel free to skip down to the list!

 Once upon a time, when I was a graduate student, my aspiration was absolutely not to be working in the schools.  My goal was to work in the hospital setting, specifically in acute care.   All my elective classes were geared towards adults and neurogenics.  I was dreading my school based internship and could not wait to start my hospital one.   Then, along came time to start my school internship and I found I actually did not mind it.  In fact, I very much enjoyed it.  However, truth be told, once I completed both internships I was still geared up for the hospital setting.  So, then came time to search for a job.  My husband already had a secure job, so I was limited in job selection in terms of location.  I applied to a couple rehab companies, as no hospitals were hiring at the time, and I had also applied to the local education agency, which contracts out to the schools.

Well, as luck would have it, I was offered a job with a rehab company that would contract me out to a very small hospital in a very small town.   I gladly accepted and had a start date all ready to go.  While all this was happening, the education agency had contacted me to let me know I did not get the job.  Ouch!  Burned from a job I did not even want in the first place.  Fast forward a couple weeks, the Friday before my Monday start date at the hospital to be exact.  The education agency contacted me and had a few more openings pop up and offered me a position.  So, all the sudden I was given an option for the schools and I was seriously considering it.  I literally had a matter of hours to make a decision about what path my career would go...medical or educational?  Of course, the fist person I called was my mom to go over the pros and cons, and long story short (is it too late in the story to say that?), I decided that the school setting was a better fit for me, so I nervously called the rehab company and politely told them that I had accepted another offer and they were actually very nice about it.  Looking back, I think I liked the idea of the hospital setting more than the actual work I would be conducting, if that makes sense.  I can absolutely not imagine going to work now and NOT seeing my kiddos smiling faces everyday.

So, onto the purpose of this piece.  Before working in the schools, I had some serious  misconceptions about what working in the schools was really like.  So, the good and the bad, here are the truths of my experiences in the schools:

Misconception #1I am going to be working with articulation ALL day.  This was a huge misconception.  I don't even know where I got this idea, maybe from my practicum experiences were I would go to the schools for 1-2 hours once a week and they were all articulation kids.  This was probably because I was a student and the smart SLP did not give me the more challenging kiddos.   I do see articulation kiddos, but the bulk of my caseload is language, complex communication needs, and social skills.  To be honest, there are some days I wish I could see artic kids all day because that is much more straight forward and this lady's brain in hurting by the end of the week.

Misconception #2:  Working in the schools is easy.  Nope.  No. No.  No.  Not at all true.  When I was in grad school, I thought school SLPs had more of a "fluff" job than the hospital setting.  Now, granted we are working on some different goals and the only comparison I have from school to medical is during my internship, so I am by no means saying schools are harder/easier than medical setting.  But, yes, working in the schools can be challenging.  You have a lot of people to please, a huge caseload to monitor and serve, usually lots of meetings to attend, referrals, evaluations, paperwork (which is mentioned in misconception 3), the list goes on.  You are still implementing evidence based practice while having to make sure 60 some kids are all making progress.  You are constantly consulting with teachers and parents on how to support their kids.  You are making materials for students.  You are providing in-services and trainings to school personnel.  You are writing IEPs, progress reports, and updating data constantly.  So, challenging, yes.  Rewarding, even more so.

Misconceptions #3:  Yippee!  Less paperwork in the schools!  Not.  (Did I just use a 90's joke in this?  Yup).  Again, no idea why I thought this.  The paperwork is ridiculous.  I wouldn't have initially thought so, but the schools can be pretty political, meaning almost everything you do must be documented.  Not to mention the IEPs, evaluation reports, and progress reports.  So, yes, there is quite a bit of paperwork in our field.

Misconception #4:  If I work in the schools, I'll be poor.  Again, no, I promise if you work in the schools, you won't go hungry.  Will you be making just as much as your SLP friend in SNF?  Probably not, but you are also working appoximately3/4 of the year.   However, if the salary is what is getting you down, there are always ways to make extra money: PRN (there are also some pediatric clinics that needs PRN SLPs as well), TeachersPayTeachers, doing private therapy on the side, and extended school year services (if your district or agency does not already require that as part of your salary). 

Misconception #5:  School SLPs only see kids for 15 minutes a week and that won't make any difference.  If present Courtney could go back in time, she would slap the living daylight out of student Courtney.  I would like to say I don't know where I got this idea, but sadly I do.  When I was in my internship, I had a parent refer to the clinical SLP her child was seeing as her "real speech pathologist."  Ouch.  When I first accepted my school based job and told a SLP friend, she went on to say how she would never do therapy in a school because that doesn't make any difference.  Double ouch.  Well, let me just clarify this misconception.  WE DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  Also, I rarely see kids for only 15 minutes a week (unless they are generalizing or in 5 minute kids, in which case I do and, hold on to your seat for this one, they still make progress!).  And let me tell you how I know that.  We are required to progress monitor.  And by required, I mean we are bound to a legal document stating that we will progress monitor.  Not only that, but in my state, I have to change instruction if I am not showing growth.  So you better believe that we are making progress in the schools!  Not to mention, we have the benefit of working with those who are with the children most of the week...their lovely teachers!

Now, off to enjoy the start of my summer (a great perk of working in the schools)!


(clipart credit to: