Sometimes school-based SLPs feel a bit misunderstood, and there a few things we would love everyone to know.
Don't get me wrong, working as a school-based SLP is very rewarding. I love my school. We have a terrific principal, and we have a warm friendly staff who can be very supportive and understanding. I wouldn't trade working with my children, and many of my parents are absolutely wonderful.
Still, speech-language pathologists are often reminded that many people at school really don't understand what we do. I am not really sure why. I know I explain it all the time, and it's something we have to work on every year.
There is no mystery surrounding the role of teachers, the school nurse, the school psychologist, diagnostician or even the physical therapist. Yet somehow, people have a hard time understanding what SLPs do, and that we are highly trained specialists with a lot to offer.
There are certain comments SLPs hear that can make us feel less valued.I asked my fellow SLPs to share, and the following list are some of the most commonly heard remarks. Have you heard these, or GASP! said some yourself? Please, if you are an administrator, staff member or parent, inform yourself and think before you say anything like the following comments.
10 comments that can make SLPs cringe!
1. "You work on vocabulary too? I thought you only did speech."If you didn't know: SLPs work on articulation, fluency (stuttering), language skills (vocabulary, concepts, comprehension, expression, grammar, inference and more), voice disorders, swallowing disorders, and social skills.
2. "It must be nice to only have 4 or 5 students at a time."Actually, it can be very difficult to address 5 sets of individualized goals at once, while taking data and scaffolding for each child. I am very aware that teachers have a demanding job, please understand we are working hard too.
3. Are you the speech teacher?Here's the thing: I am not a teacher. My mom was a teacher, my sister is a teacher. I am not. I do not hold a teaching certificate and have never taken education coursework. This is true for SLPs in many states.
I am a specialist with medically-based graduate training. While I highly respect our amazing teachers, when you call me a "speech teacher" it creates misunderstanding about my area of expertise and what I have to offer. Please call me the speech-language pathologist, or if that is too long, the SLP works great.
4. You play games all day, don't you?I do play games with my young students. A motivated student is a child who is engaged and learning. The games are a tool. Serious work happens in the therapy room.
5. Can he bring his snack to speech?Well...no. Speech therapy is a setting where we talk while we are learning and practicing important foundational skills for academic success. These are areas your student has demonstrated weaknesses. Your student can't do that with his mouth full, and it will distract him from the work. Please have him leave the snack behind when he comes to speech.
6. My child doesn't need to see the speech teacher. I take her to a real speech therapist after school. She has a master's degree and knows how to help my child.Dear Parent: There is no difference in our credentials and training. School-based SLPs and private therapists both go through the same coursework and hold the same degrees. I choose to work in the schools. (This is one example why calling me a "speech teacher" causes misunderstanding).
7. He needs additional help in math and reading, so we want to start him with a speech label. What can we qualify him for?A speech impairment is based on a speech or language disorder and is a disability requiring specialized speech services. It is not a gateway for services for children who do not qualify under another recognized disability. Please don't ask this. It is unethical and illegal to "qualify" a child as speech impaired when the child does not demonstrate a speech or language disorder and doesn't require speech services.
8. We need your room for storage/ another staff member's office/ employee lounge or a "real" class.You can do therapy in this closet. It has room for a table and a couple chairs.
Ask a group of SLP's about the spaces they are given to work in, and you hear tales of the hallway, the bathroom, tiny crowded closets, an area in a noisy cafeteria or other inappropriate areas. Suffice it to say that when SLPs are given inadequate facilities to see children, there is a negative consequence to student progress and therefore the school may not be providing FAPE. There is also a negative consequence to the SLP's morale, who may feel they are last on the list, and their services are not valued.
9. You are going to make up the sessions you missed when you were at assessments, ARD/IEP meetings, mandatory trainings, or out with the flu, right?Dear teachers, admins and parents, I may not be able to. That is the real truth. When other staff members are out, a substitute is hired so that children continue to be served.
Speech-language pathologists are very rarely given qualified subs, and the burden is placed on us to meet therapy time. This is often impossible with bulging caseloads, even if we give up planning time and lunch. If the school district would hire more SLPs, this would be possible. Please talk to them about staffing adequately.
10. Do you have to take Johnny right now? We were about to.....Please understand that my schedule is filled with over 60 students. There is virtually no wiggle room and as I mentioned, it is unlikely that a session can be made up. If this is Johnny's scheduled time, he needs to go. Thank you for understanding.
SLPs, it's our job to educate others about our profession.It's up to us. In order for others to understand our role, and the expertise we have to offer, we need to speak up. Often. With everyone.
Don't be shy, tell others about your background. Talk about the goals you are currently working on. Discuss the challenges you have with caseloads, facilities, and scheduling. Get out of the therapy room and mingle occasionally at lunch. Give your administrators literature from ASHA to read on caseloads, and scope of practice. Advocate for your students and yourself. Share this list if you like, and keep on talking!
Until next time,