I knew something was amiss when I walked into my new SLP room and literally found a table and chair in there. There is solidarity in having the worst first week of a job.
Saturday: The fourteen and a half hour Sydney-Vancouver-Seattle flight was easy compared to the grilling I received trying to enter the United States. I don’t know why I had to open up every single board game I could stuff into my bag or why that was deemed ‘suspicious’ by the authorities. “I’m a paediatric speech pathologist starting a new job, mate” I explained.
I don’t think he liked being called “mate”.
A friend of a friend of a friend picks me up. I don’t really know who he is except for a Facebook photo to go by. My boyfriend is driving from Minnesota and won’t arrive until tomorrow as he had to attend his grandma’s funeral so my big reunion of I haven’t seen you in 4 months and moved across the world to be with you kinda falls flat. I find my ride – we both had that confused ‘are you the person I’m supposed to be looking for?’ look on our faces, so actually recognised each other pretty quickly. We go back to his place, I set up on the couch next their giant dog (did I mention I’m not a dog person) and check my emails.
I literally just get notified that I will be working at a different school than what I was told, with a completely different caseload than what I was promised. The guy I’m staying with goes out to a party on the beach that turned into a house party in my makeshift ‘room’ so I didn’t get much sleep.
Sunday: Woke up to the big dog staring at me and a few random people still sleeping on
my bed the couch. My boyfriend arrives with a U-Haul van and we have our first fight trying to navigate with a road map how to get from Seattle to Tacoma, which really isn’t that far. I’m totally overwhelmed by all the lanes and exits. Nine lanes. Nine lanes! The most I’ve participated in is three. We arrive at our hotel which was close to my original school, but now quite far from my new school. I start sorting out my outfit, pack a ‘work’ bag and sneak some extra hot chocoloate sachets from the hotel lobby. I wake up at 3am because my timezones are still off and discover infomercials. I literally watch them for 2 hours and would have bought the Ab-Pro, Nutribullet and Bamboo pillow if only I had a phone.
Monday: My first day of school! Well it’s not THE first day of school, that was 2 weeks ago, but my visa got postponed and here I am. I dress in what I deem my ‘professional outfit’ of blouse and pencil skirt with little kitten heels and feel immediately out of place when I see most teachers wearing jeans and hoodies. I get taken to my office which is BARE. I ask where all the speech things are and there are quick glances stolen and curious ‘Ahhh…I don’t knows?’ I get my case list which has 94 students on it and realise it must be a typo. I mean, you can’t fit 94 kids a week in…. can you??? I go to the staff lounge for lunch and it’s obvious that there are rules for who sits where. No one talks to me – they probably think I’m just substituting for the day.
I cry in the car when my boyfriend picks me up saying ‘I don’t wanna go to school tomorrow!’
We go straight to the bank to open up an account as my boyfriend has to find a job so we will be living off my pay, but they won’t accept my two passports, US visa with my name and photograph on it, or my Aussie drivers licence as ID. Apparently I need to get a Social Security Card because every other official document is ‘not enough proof’.
Tuesday: I grab an extra few sachets of hot chocolate from the hotel as there was a sign in the staff room asking people to buy their own coffee and milk and I don’t want to be accused of ‘stealing’. I’m hearing voices in my office, but no one is there. I wonder if I am having a cross-cultural breakdown or still suffering from jet lag? Finally one of the admin ladies comes down to tell me about the speaker system that lets them talk to me, which feels a little like Big Brother. My computer arrives! Hooray! Now I have a table, chair and a computer in my room. I ask the Psychologist what happened to all the speech things and once again I know there is something going on but all I get is a ‘she left pretty abruptly’ comment. An SLP from another school stops by to help me settle in, but keeps saying ‘kiddos’ a lot and it’s distracting me from all her talk of IEPs, IDEA and other acronyms I’ve never heard of before. I realise that even though I’ve been working as an SLP for 6 years, I have no IDEA what to do in this job.
Wednesday: I find out why my room is empty. The SLP before me was caught under the influence of alcohol at school.
This is not something that you can make up.
Snapple bottles were found all throughout the room so everything was boxed up and shipped outta there… oh and then the Social Worker took my bookcase (finders-keepers rule apparently). A box of battered assessments arrive and I have never administered or seen ANY of them. At all. There was a CASL, a TOLD, a TACL, an OWLS and a TOPL when all I really wanted was a CELF-4!
I try to schedule my 94 kids into therapy even though it’s Week 3 of school and the teachers are having none of it. I decide that it’s time to turn on my Aussie charm and dazzle everyone with ‘G’day mate, I’ve had a squiz at my student list and just wanna chuck a few kids together, is this orright?’. I don’t know whether it was my charm, my accent, or the fact that they were standing there trying to process what I was saying, but I made headway!
Thursday: I have been told that I need to write an IEP for a meeting this afternoon. I’ve never even seen an IEP, let alone seen the child I’m writing it for. I keep phoning the Psychologist “What computer program do I use to write an IEP?”, “What parts am I supposed to fill in?”, “What do I say if I don’t know the kid’s interests?”, “Where are the files kept?”. She ends up just coming to my room and giving me a crash course.
I’m struggling. I thought that I’d be able to pick up this job quicker.
That I would have 10 x 30 minute sessions per day already scheduled, a file for case notes and therapy would have started already. But this job makes me feel like I didn’t know anything. Like it really was my first day as an SLP. We hold the IEP meeting and I get asked by the parent if their kid is now going to have an Australian accent and if there was another speech pathologist who ‘doesn’t speak Australian’. We visit a place for rent and just say ‘yes’ so that we can move out of the hotel.
Friday: I start seeing kids for therapy today after haphazardly throwing them together. It took about 3 blocks of post-it-notes to try to group them based on age and goals. My first group was a bunch of ‘s’ kids who were all at completely different levels, but I had no idea of this because I had no case notes to go off. I was totally floored at how I was supposed to deliver 30 minutes of therapy to these kids when in reality, they only actually got about 4.5 minutes each amongst the 5 of them when you took into account going around to each class to collect them.
I was afraid of the law. The law that said that these kids needed 30 minutes of therapy a week. There has got to be a better way.
My boyfriend picks me up after school with that hopeful look on his face, that face that said ‘please have had a good day because the only reason you are working over here is because you moved countries to be with me…’. He asks me how my day was and I put on the most positive face that I could muster and say ‘it was pretty good’.
Subscribe to Adventures in Speech Pathology because you are interested in what it means to be an SLP in different parts of the world. Because our job can just be so diverse. Because you want a refreshing perspective and because you want to read posts such as “Why I Spoke Ausmerican While Working Overseas” and “My 3 Step Plan to Working on Articulation at the Sentence to Story Level”.