February 28, 2016

The NSSHLA-ASU chapter recently invited me to sit on a panel with two other school-based SLPs and answer questions about our role in this setting. Sitting in front of 50 inquisitive minds, I was unsure of what to expect but ultimately was very impressed with the questions the students asked. It really made me think about my role at a school and reminded me why I started and have stayed in this setting. Here are some of the questions that were asked and the responses given:

Q: How overwhelming was it when you first started? Did you feel like you were prepared to start working and were you given sufficient support?

A: Very. I was fortunate to have participated in the PEP Program at ASU, which allowed me to work in a school while taking graduate classes, so I did have a huge advantage. However, your first year is overwhelming as there is so much to learn and a lot of new responsibilities. That being said, our district provides a lot of support to new SLPs, and hopefully your district will too. Our CFs are given a lighter caseload and a mentor who is compensated for the extra workload that comes with the job, so there is an incentive for them to be available and supportive. I am also a huge believer in “fake it till you make it”. Being resourceful is the greatest trait you can have and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Q: What does a typical day look like?

A: The days do vary a little, but typically I have anywhere from 4-8 groups of students throughout the day. Groups are organized by need (articulation, language, social) and grade and vary from 30 minutes to 45-minute sessions. If you schedule strategically, you will have at least 1/2 a day blocked out once or twice a week for testing and paperwork. Meetings are scheduled before or after school.

Q: What is the best thing about your job?

A: The students! I love that I get to work with a wide range of needs and ages, and that I get to know them personally. Because we see students in very small groups we have the opportunity to spend quality time engaging with them. And some students you have for years and you get to see them progress and achieve amazing things!

Q: What is the worst thing about your job?

A: Paperwork.

Q: How much do you make a year?

A: This varies not only across the country but even by state. In my district SLPs have their own salary schedule and start at $52,000. In some districts you may be on the teacher scale but then given a stipend that makes the rate more comparable.

Q: Do you ever bring work home?

A: All the time but I rarely do it! I really try to get my work done during my contracted hours, but there are times when you are overwhelmed with evaluations and IEPs and you need to stay late or bring work home. There are also times I prefer to bring it home because I can focus without any distractions or interruptions.

Q: Is your schedule static or does it fluctuate so that the student doesn’t miss the same instructional period each week?

A: My schedule is static for the most part. There are times when I have to make changes throughout the year but typically students come at the same time each week. We do not pull them out of “core” academic areas (Language Arts/Math) or specials (PE, Art, Music) so they don’t miss important instructional times or extracurricular activities.

Q: Do you ever have problems with a teacher not seeing the progress a student is making and questioning whether the child should be pulled out of class?

A: Teachers can be territorial of their students, and for good reason. They are responsible for ensuring that their students meet set academic standards, and students need to be in the classroom to do that. The best relationship you can form on a campus is with the teachers. You need to collaborate with them frequently, and there needs to be mutual trust in order for them to see you as a valued resource. By being available and communicating with them regularly you can avoid conflicts as well as provide your students with a whole child approach to therapy.

Q: How often do you provide support in the classroom?

A: Not as often as I should. Inclusion is a challenging dynamic that I still have not found a successful way to incorporate into my schedule. I do provide therapy in the self-contained classroom and have co-taught with the resource teacher, but I have yet to find a successful way to integrate into the general education classroom.

*We are going to have a feature about service delivery models including inclusion on the blog soon.

Q: Who is on your team?

A: Parent(s), classroom teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, OT, PT, and possibly other specialists such as the HI teacher, TBI specialist, BCBA, vision or a mobility specialist.

Q: Do you work closely with OT/PT?

A: The occupational and physical therapists typically only come on campus once or twice a week. I am fortunate to have them work in my room, which allows us to collaborate more closely. If you have students with sensory needs or attention difficulties, collaborating with the OT is a must. They have the best tools (fidgets, sit discs, weighted vests) and can teach you techniques, such as brushing and joint compression exercises, that you can use with the students to help support them throughout the school week.

Q: Do you ever feel uncomfortable working in a self-contained class? *This question came from a teacher that taught in a self contained class and always felt that the SLPs were frustrated and unsure of what to do.

A: There is definitely a learning curve involved when working with students with limited communication and cognitive abilities; however, these students are my favorite to work with! Your role in self-contained classrooms is usually a more supplementary one, as they are in language enriched environments and the small class sizes allow for more individualized instruction by teachers/aides. So supports from the SLP may be in the form of providing the teachers/aides with strategies and tips for helping students access the curriculum or providing specialized instruction over and beyond what the teachers are doing (e.g. articulation therapy, AAC instruction). This is another time when it pays to be resourceful and seek out other SLPs that have a lot of experience with this population of students to help you.

Q: How do you handle behavior issues/tantrums?

A: One of the perks of being an SLP is we are a fun novelty that doesn’t demand academic tasks so we are not often on the receiving end of behavior issues. That being said, we can be a valuable resource in helping the classroom teacher with students with behavior needs, since most behaviors stem from communication breakdowns. If you have a behavior specialist in your district, seek them out. They can share strategies with you that you can help to implement, such as incentive charts and visual schedules. One of my favorite resources is The Tough Kid Book, by Ginger Rhode, William Jenson, and H. Kenton Reavis. It is full of positive, effective techniques to help support difficult students.

Q: Working with children can be exhausting. How do you manage to stay effective after seeing groups of children throughout the day?

A: I drink a lot of Red Bull :) but I also think it is important to schedule short breaks throughout the day, especially a lunch break. I also find that I have to mix things up and find new activities to do with the students so I don’t get bored. It’s easy to get into a groove and just do the same things all the time; however, then I find that I am just going through the motions. If I am constantly finding new activities and ideas it allows me to stay energized and engaged in the therapy sessions.

Q: Do you write lesson plans like a teacher?

A: Fortunately, no! But this varies from school to school and may be required from your principal. Your first year or so you may want to write more detailed plans so that you are prepared. After a while, you will get more comfortable with what works and have an arsenal of activities that eliminates some of the detailed planning you do initially. I do still write simple plans just to keep me on track, but they usually just include the materials and the objectives. As therapists, we also have to be very flexible as things may need to change mid-session or be differentiated for each student, so you may not always be able to stick to a detailed plan.

If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask: sarah@slptoolkit.com.