Scheduling: School Speech Therapists Are the Experts

Aug 23, 2012 by

The beginning of the school year is always filled with excitement, anticipation and hope.  It is rather nice to have a job the starts “fresh” every year.  Schools look polished, organized and clutter free.  The kids look happy, enthusiastic and clean.  However, for therapists this feeling of euphoria is always short lived.  First we see our numbers and our caseload.  Usually we can deal with that by slowly chanting “it is what it is, it is what it is”.  We start thinking of therapy ideas the minute we know who are students are.  That’s truly one of the fun parts of the job.

Then comes the next step, da-da-da-dum………….working out a schedule.  School Speech Language Pathologists are good at many things but we are experts in scheduling.  There is no graduate course that prepares us for this task.  They can’t teach a course on this because every school and every year the process is different.  In fact, if they showed a scheduling process to speech language pathology graduate students most would choose to work somewhere other than a school.  Scheduling for the Speech Language Pathologist is a self taught skill.  It is also our most challenging task and the task that usually takes the longest.

A pallor actually falls over the room when we sit down to “work out” our schedule.  Unless a therapist is extremely computer savvy, we sit with blank templates, a box of sharpened pencils and a large eraser.  Depending on the school, we might be holding anywhere from 3-8 different schedules in our hands.  We have to cross reference and cross check over and over again, shuffling 8×11 sheets of paper like they were playing cards.  With any luck at all, the school has used colored paper to distinguish the different schedules but that’s a luxury afforded to only the most conscientious administrators (or their secretaries).   Later on we acquire a clipboard and buzz around the school like bees going from flower to flower double checking everything, flipping through those schedules with speed and hopefully accuracy, making our first round of changes as we find conflicts.

How have School Speech Therapists developed such expertise in scheduling?  Here are 15 obstacles the School Speech Therapists faces when scheduling.  We work very stealth and few people realize or care about the challenges we face.

  1. We have to schedule anywhere from 30-80 students.  First you have to figure out their needs, which students could possibly work together, which students can’t.
  2.  Schools rarely keep a consistent or even similar schedule year after year so you have to get familiar with a new schedule.
  3. The school schedule itself may be a five, six or seven day rotation and you have an educational plan that says you have to see the student twice a week.
  4. The school schedule may “waterfall” meaning that the actually schedule will be different almost every day or every week.  If you have to work in a “block schedule” format you might as well retire early.
  5. The administration when making the schedule gave no consideration to children who need to go out for services regular or special.
  6. Students in the same grade may not even be on the same schedule.
  7. If we have a place to work and service kids, it might only be available at certain times.
  8. We also may have to create a schedule for an assistant and find them a place to work.
  9. Team meetings and Special Education staff meetings are scheduled at the most inopportune times or worse yet randomly.  You know students will miss services often if you put them in a particular slot but you have no choice.
  10. We often work in more than one building and have to accommodate each schedule.
  11. It’s actually worse when our buildings are on the same schedule.
  12. We only have certain days available in a building.
  13. We have to try and preserve some paperwork/prep time. (hahahahaha).
  14. Unless we are really pushy, we are usually the last ones to schedule.  Not because we’re not on the ball or know what we’re doing, it’s because we’re the last ones considered.
  15. Then we have to go around to teachers and double check the times we selected.  We have to play nice it sets the tone for the year.  It’s almost like asking permission to see students we are legally bound to see.

Anyone who can coordinate this many factors and come up with a finish product deserves the title of “Expert”.  Speech Language Pathologists would proudly accept the title of “Scheduling Expert.”  However, there is little to no thanks for this skill.  We accept  the fact that it is a skill with only intrinsic value, we stay sane.  Perhaps we should create a special certification for this skill.  We could add Scheduling Expert to our title.  It could look something like this MA/SLP-ccc SchEX.  Anyone with at least 10 years experience school scheduling would be grandfathered in.  We could even add it to our resumes.  Imagine how good that would look.

Happy scheduling and good luck.  I wish you a productive year with no mid year schedule change.  May your evaluations be few and new students limited to 5.

Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc SchEX

Speech Language Pathologist

Scheduling Expert  (25 years experience)

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  1. Mary

    HI Teresa,
    I have been following your blog on and off for quite sometime. I have been school SLP since 1978 in an urban district. I am in constant agreement with everything you blog about. You seem to always take the words right out of my mouth. Regarding scheduling, I have the same experience with each of your 15 bullets. It’s a nightmare and gets worse each year in my district. Our buildings in my district are K-8. Each building does its own thing regarding scheduling. I am the only SLP in my building of 1000 students. There used to be two of us… Now I do it all. I happen to be on a four day cycle so there is no such thing as “days of the week”. It is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4… (This makes it very difficult for other specialists in the district who service more than one building who are on a monday thru friday schedule ). Within my building the different grade levels are on different schedules. None of them are the nice, neat half-hour blocks. Middle school kids have different teachers for each subject. We “interventionists” as we are now called, cannot take them out of those subjects. We can only take them out of “exploratories” (gym, computers, maybe Spanish, etc). Those classes run 42 minutes. I have to keep them the entire 42 minutes. No more or no less. I have to write my IEPs to make sure the service matches this time. And of course, all the other “interventionists” have to fight for this same time. And that’s only grade 7-8. I still have 6 more grades to schedule who are on all kinds of different block times. And I don’t have the energy right now to explain how bad scheduling those grades are. We can’t take them out of literacy (90 minutes a day), math (90 minutes a day) recess, gym, or ELL. We sometimes can take them out of social studies and science time but they only have that twice a week. etc. etc. etc. Administration is pushing us to provide service in the classroom(a discussion for another day). At times, there are 5-6 interventionists (slp, literacy assistant, ELL specialist, adjustment counselor, para, teacher) simultaneously in the classroom doing their thing. The noise level is so counter productive to our kiddos. Everything is group driven in my district. NO such thing as a teacher standing in front of the class teaching-except during a scheduled “direct instruction time”. Actually, there IS no front of the class. And teachers are so micro managed they have to keep timers on their desks to make sure they stop math/literacy time exactly at 90 minutes. Each grade level must be teaching the same thing at the same time AND be on the same lesson…. I could go on and on…. The way I do my schedule is to talk to each teacher, find a good speech time and schedule all the kids in that class at that time. It’s a luxury to service a group based on their disability. (Last year I had to service a sixth grader with a second grader… artic.. quite creative).Just wanted to share that I am going through this and it makes me feel a little better to know, there are others out there with the same issue. I completely agree that our discipline is slowly being pushed out of the public schools.And I am in agreeement with you regarding your other discussion on common core… Ugg.

  2. Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

    Hi Mary,
    I think your reply demonstrates the frustrations felt my many a speech therapist. Thanks for following my blog.

  3. Judy

    I use pads of “Post-Its” on a big grid I draw out on poster paper. I make a big grid on the paper, make post its for each group and make one for each time that group comes. Then I move them around according to when they can come/can’t come. I try to remember to leave time for lunch, recess, and some testing. It’s a yearly headache.

  4. K

    I am sooo happy to have found your page!! I am a second year therapist (not sure how I survived the first) serving three different schools- elementary, middle, and high school. I have the most students at my elem school and scheduling is definitely tricky, but nothing compares to middle school scheduling!! I swear I get eye rolls from special area teachers when I pull some of my students. I have to beg, grovel, and apologize to see the students I am LEGALLY REQUIRED to see. I even had my principal ask if I could see all speech/language students at the end of the day, so that I didn’t have to pull them from special area classes. Really?? 20 middle school students at one time with such varying degrees of disabilities, while targeting individual goals and providing specialized instruction, all the while finding time to calculate a percent accuracy from SOMEWHERE so I can bill Medicaid and keep my EC director happy – not that I could even bill Medicaid for that many students?? Really?? Anyway, I just deal with the eye rolls and say to myself, “it is what it is.” 🙂

    • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

      “It is what it is” seems to be the speech therapists and teachers mantra these days. What a sad comment on our education system. Honestly it took me over 20 years to start speaking up. Sorry I can’t offer more advice other than to validate you situation and feelings. If your principal has actually approached you about the scheduling situation it means his teachers have gone to him. What I would do in the very near future is to set up a meeting time with your principal. Tell him you’ve been getting some bad vibes from the teachers. Ask him to help you problem solve the scheduling issue. Start out by telling him you understand that time is tight. If nothing can be done now ask what can be worked out to avoid the problem next September. Admit it’s been uncomfortable and that you need help working out the schedule. Point out that you are legally mandated to see these kids. It’s quite possible that he has no idea about the children’s needs and your obligations. Bring numbers and education plans with you. If you talk to him at least you are doing something proactive. Who knows maybe he’ll look at scheduling in a different way. You can’t be the only provider with this problem. If feel you can suggest he schedule in a block of time (rather like a study hall)in each grade for providers to see students go for it. You should have some sort of a program mgr or special education director that should be able to trouble shoot for you.

      If your concerns fall on deaf ears I guess it is what it is. Good luck, thanks for taking the time to comment.

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