This is going to be hard for me to write because this is a lot of you right now. And while I’m going to be absolutely honest in how I feel, know that I might be the only school-based SLP who felt this way. I’ll preface this by saying that prior to working in a school setting, I had worked for about 6 years in mostly family-centred practices. This is what I was used to, this is what I compared working in schools to. I also moved from Australia to America so there was a certain amount of ‘ SLP culture shock’ that I experienced because we do things differently and sometimes you get so used to doing things ‘your’ way that change can be hard. We all like specific areas, which is why some work with adults and some work with children. You might love dysphagia while your SLP buddy thinks it’s gross and digs AAC.
To put how I felt into perspective, I actually questioned whether I wanted to be an SLP after working for two years in a school setting, so I hit pretty rock bottom in my career.
I felt unmotivated, like I wasn’t really making a difference grouping 5 kids of different ages who had some type of fricative ‘s’ or ‘sh’ articulation error because I couldn’t commit the time and effort that they needed to make the progress I was used to seeing. Many times I sat there thinking ‘What’s the point? Is 30 minutes in a group and minimal opportunities for carryover at home or in the class doing anything at all?’
I felt that my clinical skills suffered because types of therapy that I would previously use, I couldn’t as the 94 kids on my caseload were all supposed to get 30 minutes a week… and do the math, there isn’t enough time in a week to see that many children and totally individualise a 30 minute therapy session. I missed my phonology a lot.
I felt unappreciated and undervalued. Like no one knew the time and effort I put in, how much I truly cared for ‘my kids’, or the confidence that I instilled in them. There were never any ‘thank yous’. I remember feeling quite down seeing teacher’s classrooms overflow with handmade cards and gifts at Christmas or end of year because it meant that the parent’s didn’t even acknowledge that I played a really important role in their child’s lives. As much as I could, I would bring my preschool aged parents in and felt quite defeated when at our last session they would just walk out of my room with a ‘see ya later’, when all I really needed was a heartfelt ‘thank you so much Rebecca for helping my girl’ to make my heart soar.
I felt a little numb towards parents when I adopted my school district’s tougher line on what qualifies students for an IEP. It was black and white and became almost too easy to explain that you needed a certain standard score and that their child wasn’t ‘severe’ enough and yes, I know they can’t say their ‘th’ sound, but I need to see how it is impacting their education to qualify them.
I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. The teacher’s could seem territorial and had their own groups and tables where they sat. People didn’t really understand my role, and because they didn’t know who I was or what I did it meant that timetabling, RTI and team teaching was hard to achieve.
So yes, I blubbered “I don’t want to go to school” like any kid who felt that school didn’t ‘get’ them. I got low. But I learned a lifelong lesson about what I wanted to get out of my SLP career.
This is what I will say about working as a school-based SLP: It makes you resilient. It turns you into this flexible and amazingly creative person. You become harder-working and put more effort in, even though you know it may never be recognised. You are constantly scouring Pinterest to find handouts or sheets to help inform. You always put your kids first so that they truly love coming to see you at speech. You spend more time doing SLP things than other SLPs who don’t work in schools… laminating, making things, colouring in… you name it, you do it! You are more than an SLP and fit more than other people know into your school job. You do bus duty and lunch duty, tidy the teacher’s lounge and stay late on parent teacher nights. You are kind of like a “Super SLP!”
So while working in a school setting is not for me, I admire those of you who do, and do it so wonderfully well!