Confessions of an SLP who didn’t like working in schools

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!

Aussie’s are known for their blunt honesty. We tell it how it is. Read “Why this SLP was afraid of little kids” and “The (hard) truths of volunteering as an SLP” if you want to connect on #slplife.

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17 Comments

  • Loved your insights into working in that setting! You are experiencing what some just accept. The fact that you acknowledge these things tells me you are destined for a setting where your mind and thoughtfulness will be valued! And should be!

    Reply
    • It’s amazing how diverse the job of an SLP can be, right Geraldine? I’ve tried quite a few different settings and am currently in the right place for me. And you’re right: some people do just accept their role and think that this is what an SLP be, when it doesn’t have to be.

      Reply
  • Wow! Thanks so much for this! This has actually encouraged me that I’m in the right place.
    2017 is my fifth year working in Australian schools and I can honestly say I love it. I love being able to influence literacy programs in schools, I love seeing kids make progress after working regularly with aides, I love the multidisciplinary nature of work, and love working to get AAC into the school environment. Thankfully my colleagues- teachers, office staff, cleaning staff, psychologists, social workers and TAs do welcome me in. I love sitting down with teachers and parents in case conferences and a few weeks (or months) later popping by a classroom and seeing that teachers have actually made changes I’ve recommended for the good of kids.

    What I hate are the huge caseload numbers, the crazy amount of admin required and that my particular department has moved me quite a bit- I’ve been in twelve different schools over four years. But this year my three schools are all the same as last year and I’m so thankful I don’t have to learn a new staffroom again.

    Full disclosure: I saw a counsellor in my second year when I struggled to deal with the stress of a caseload of 150 students… if anyone else is feeling workplace stress that goes beyond normal (whatever normal is), I’d certainly recommend counselling… I’d also recommend Rebecca’s amazing resources- they certainly helped get me through my new grad year.

    Reply
    • Oh, glad to hear Kate! It feels so satisfying to have found your niche. I never thought of seeing a counsellor, the main reason was because I knew that I’d only be working in the school setting for two years so I had a ‘head down, bum up’ mentality. But it is really great advice and nothing to be ashamed of either. It is important to remember your ‘ups’ and be honest with and share your ‘downs’. Even though I like spontaneity and to shake things up, I couldn’t do what you’re doing!!!
      Best of luck.

      Reply
  • Thanks for sharing your experience! I can definitely relate! My first two years in a school felt so defeating…now I am fortunate enough to feel that I am overcoming the crazyness…atleast as much as I can….there are still many days that feel completely overwhelming….but I try to remember that I am doing the very best that I can and just keep looking forward. SLP’s really are creative and resilient! My advice: surround yourself with good people….find your ‘marigolds!’, find what you can be grateful for (it makes such a difference), celebrate even the smallest victories, and put the kids first… 🙂

    Reply
    • Maybe I experienced the first two years blues? I love your advice, particularly to “find what you can be grateful for” – maybe I should write a follow up post because you are right, there were good things that I got out of ‘the schools’ that have shaped who I am today.

      Reply
  • I can relate to everything you experienced about working in the school system. I am an S-LP in Canada and worked for a non-profit that contracted to our public school systems and I lasted all of three years and I am a pretty tough cookie. All of the challenged I faced could have been mitigated somewhat by an understanding and supportive management team at the non-profit but that didn’t happen; nobody had my back, so I took a stress leave and switched gears.

    I think that the ‘nobody knows what a speech-therapist really does’ is partly our own fault. I have never seen a psa or commercial educating the public about or promoting speech-pathology whereas I see commercials frequently promoting our local paramedics or physiotherapists and other essential medical/paramedical services that everyone has a basic understanding of. We need to start seeing this as a PR problem and addressing in appropriately otherwise we will never be understood and therefore never compensated according to our expertise.

    Reply
    • That’s such a great point Natalie. One of the first things that I did was to do a mini PD at my school staff meeting, and I was lucky that I was able to communicate my role so my school understood my scope. I feel that the parents didn’t (was harder to educate them when you don’t see them often) and this was the big breakdown. Hope you’re in a happy SLP place now 🙂

      Reply
  • Wow!! You stated my thoughts perfectly. I started in a school district 4 years ago after working in LTC for 6 years. Although I’ve worked with great teachers, I’m usually the odd man out at school and not included in a lot of the “fun” stuff (class trips, special programs, etc) and sometimes I’m excused from staff meeting because the information presented isn’t relevant to me. Just like you I feel defeated because parent often don’t say “thank you” or acknowledge the work I’ve done for their child. Most parents only come to me when they have a complaint.
    Plus trying to juggle a huge caseload and all the paperwork. I love working with the kids…playing goes, doing crafts, and making their day more fun. But the other stuff can be so daunting. I’ve contemplated a few times now just going back to LTC to make life easier. Thank you again!!!

    Reply
    • Hey Dora 🙂 It’s tough to admit that things just aren’t what you like or expected. But it’s a big step, vs. just going along with it and being unhappy. I’m sooooo much happier in a non-school setting and have re-found my passion. Hope you do too. Maybe working WITH families is what you need, I know that I did because I built that relationship every week. Take care x

      Reply
  • I just stumbled upon this old post of yours…as I am doing some soul searching. I am about to finish my first year in a school and I feel completely overwhelmed, drowning in paperwork, struggling to connect with parents, and overall feeling lost and like I’m not doing this job justice. I’ve been unsure if I should give it another shot next year… I know there’s a learning curve and I’m thinking I could take it on with better organization and be more prepared. Thank you for making this post, it is so nice to know I am not alone, and I also think I am going to take a commenter’s advice and go to counseling as well.

    Reply
    • Oh I’m sorry you’re going through this, but yes, you are 100% not alone and it’s PERFECTLY fine to say ‘schools aren’t for me’. I’ve worked in about 6 different SLP jobs all really different and the schools was my least favorite out of them all. Please don’t leave our profession, maybe counseling is the thing with some organization plans and you give it your best shot again – maybe? But you can find your passion in the right setting, I’m proof of that. Take care xxx

      Reply

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Hi, I'm Rebecca.
I encourage SLPs to feel more confident treating speech sound disorders, and make faster progress with their students.

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