5 Tips for School Speech-Language Pathologists
Congratulations! You graduated from your speech-language pathology program and are on the way to becoming a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Do you want to work in a school? Are you unsure how to maximize the experience but minimize stress?
The truth is, a school-based SLP career can be stressful and complicated, but it’s also very rewarding. Here are some tips to help you successfully complete your first year as an SLP as happily as possible.
1. Figure Out Your Role
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, school-based SLPS assist “school-age children with communication disorders that adversely affect children’s educational performance.” This much you probably already know.
However, when figuring out your role, consider the specific role within your school and according to your principal. Will you be serving all grades or splitting them with another SLP? Will you be assisting inside classrooms a lot, or will you primarily see breakout groups in your office? While most SLP positions are a healthy mix of both, it’s important to find out what your principal wants — ideally before the job begins.
2. Prioritize Connections Over Lessons
Like most new educators, you’re probably trying as hard as possible to prove you plan great lessons, provide great materials, and produce great results. However, it’s only the latter that matters. Instead of investing heavily on creating top-notch, award-winning creative lesson plans, take your cue from the student.
SLP Ashley Robinson learned it was more important to figure out the student’s individual needs than it was to have the world’s best lesson plan. “I doubt my students will remember the awesome board game I invented, but I hope they will remember that I listened to what they had to say and advocated for them,” she says.
3. Prepare for Paperwork
Part of a SLP’s daily role is paperwork. If you’re not prepared to tackle administrative tasks for part of your day — like all educators do — then this might not be the job for you. Most SLPs don’t mind, however, choosing to view the chore as yet another way to help their students.
To be as painless as possible, create a system. Use color-coding for different students, for instance, or arrange your paperwork according to “do later,” “do today,” and “already completed.” Staying up-to-date at any given moment makes administrative tasks much less stressful.
Robinson also adds, don’t be an overachiever when it comes to completing forms: If you get everything done a month ahead of time, you may just have to fill it out all over again when something changes. Instead, file forms in a system, completing them right before they’re due.
4. Always Keep Your Notes Up-to-Date
Speech therapy is all about an upward progression. Parents, teachers and administrators are looking to you to show which treatments are working, which are not, and what directions to try next. If you cannot demonstrate what you’ve recently been working on, or cannot prove progression because you didn’t document prior abilities, you’re not helping the student or yourself.
“After every session, a speech pathologist writes down how much time was spent and what was worked on for every child,” explains education blog fedupwithlunch.com. “Much of the time this is typed into the computer so the data can be viewed and complied to track progress (or lack thereof).” Therefore, even if no progress is made, track it. Knowing how long a student goes without improvement is just as valuable as noting growth.
5. Have a Relaxed Timeframe
Too often, new educators are constantly on the go. They feel the need to get everything ticked off their to-do list, neatly pigeonhole every student, and complete every project on time. This isn’t a realistic approach to speech therapy, however, because it is an inherently student-driven process.
If kids aren’t in the mood for an intense project, are upset about something at home, or are socially or emotionally fragile that day, you may not be able to complete your list of activities, and that is okay. Your job involves being sensitive to emotions and to help develop kids socially. If that period turns into a support session for that student, let it. You can always see him/her again.You most likely pursued this profession because of a passion for helping kids in a school environment. When life feels overwhelming and your job gets stressful, remind yourself of those values, and why you’re here. Soon, the first year as an SLP will be over, and you will remember it fondly.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.