Schools still don’t know what we do

May 13, 2024 by

May 13, 2024 #5 reflection series

I still find it amazing that so many teachers, administrators and some team members have no idea the extent of our knowledge.  They sit in meetings with us, listening to us explain in depth evaluations, progress and service plans and seem to pick up nothing.  

Why don’t people know what we do beyond working with articulation skills or getting words out?  We are somewhat responsible for this, however ASHA is the bigger problem.  Changing our title to Speech Language Pathologist back in the early 80ies didn’t help with clarification.  ASHA has never put in specific guidelines about our roles in schools, areas we address, skills we may have or even caseload limits.  As a school speech language pathologist, I have always felt abandoned by ASHA and any suggestions/questions/ concerns I’ve presented over the years have fallen on deaf ears.

In the recent past I’ve attended 2 ASHA conventions.  I have felt the School SLP was pretty much ignored as a focus, even though I would bet most of the SLPs who attend are school based.  Two things have lead me to this conclusion.  First, at the last ASHA convention I attended in Boston, I went to the opening welcome session.  During that session they went on and on about the good things ASHA was doing mostly medical based, political or international.  I was paying attention, the contributions/needs of the school-based therapist were mention only once and that was in passing.  I also noticed that any session that I was interested in as a school-based therapist was being held in a space that was too small.  Just about every session I attended, I was put in overflow sometimes sitting on the floor.  I don’t know too many other professions that put up with sitting on the floor during a professional conference.

We may have to take a little responsibility for not being understood.  A big part of the issue is there is usually only one SLP in a building.  I’ve only worked in one school system where there was a solidarity among the SLPs, where we could really point out and ask for things.  I’ve never been recognized as different from a teacher in a union.  Maybe we just haven’t done enough to point out the very real differences in our job compared to teachers.  Teachers usually get an hour a day for planning but we often need that hour and more for testing/paperwork.  Even if you have an administrator that understands, their hands are tied.  

 I’ve tried to do some education about our field, presenting a workshop for teaching assistants, writing articles for parents in school newsletters and presenting topics at Ed Camp.  I even wrote a book for administrators.  You would think hearing us present our reports would clue them in a little.  Listening and learning from others is how I learned a lot about motor skills and vestibular skills, perceptual skills and the list goes on.

Some School Psychologists might “get” what we do but it really doesn’t impact them so much. They present their report and we’re left to follow up.  The rest of the team….few read our stuff, less than few take notes during meetings or even ask relevant questions.  Schools just know they have to have us on staff.  They don’t like the fact that we overlap with medical (which is a much bigger deal in schools than most even know).  I do believe that’s where we run into problems, we know so much tied into medical. It is amazing they sometimes don’t even see that there might be a connection with learning.

Side Story….

I’ve approached so called reading specialists pointing out that students are missing key underlying skills (never in a meeting but off to the side).  It was like talking to a wall.  They seem to have little understanding how underlying listening, memory, auditory perceptual skills and other skills affect reading. They put students in whatever reading program is the flavor of the day.   A couple of years pass, the reading specialists try a few other programs by then the student is in 4th grade and barely reading because the underlying skills were not addressed.  Now if you are a therapist that has dual certification or just a vast knowledge in reading be careful because, if they do finally see the light they will have you doing the work of two.  (My thoughts on our role in literacy will be discussed in a later reflection article)

Side story…..

At one ASHA convention I went to the Sig meeting for school therapists.  They stood up there and went on and on about school therapists getting more involved in the Sig.  They felt sure our districts would give us time off to be involved.  The therapists were too polite to laugh out loud.  However, are our jaws hanging open.  No school therapist is going to have time to sit on a committee and few if any schools would allow even unpaid time off for such a venture (I’m not sure ASHA knows we are mandated to see students as scheduled).  The ASHA reps were so far off base in regards to the school SLP.  The SLP’s attending the meeting couldn’t wait to get out of there since there was nothing of substance discussed. 

So after the meeting I go up to talk to the ASHA reps and to give them a copy of my book.  It was not a warm reception.  I ended up talking to the one rep whose husband was a school administrator.  You would think I just insulted the man.  It was just so clear to me that ASHA was also either clueless, had little to no respect for the lowly school SLP and frankly didn’t want to change.  Plus they clearly did not want to make connections even with someone advocating for the school SLP.

Side Story…..

These days I don’t run into too many syndromes, medical issues or disabilities that I have never heard of before. In the recent past I was seeing a student with Tubular Sclerosis. That was a new one on me. Now before sitting down with the team I did some simple research on the disorder. Discussing things with the team I was surprised to hear that no one at the table really knew what disease entailed. I had just showed up on the scene and they had worked with the student for 3 years. Not that it really made a difference in how this student was serviced. I was just taken aback that know one was curious enough to research the disease. Research is so easy these days why wouldn’t you. My brief research explained so much to the team.

My Advice:  We have a very large scope of practice.  Do your best to try and explain your role in schools as situations arise. That is really all you can do.  Don’t wait till you’re old and brave to speak up for yourself.  Don’t take on extra roles, even if you have the expertise.  Don’t work on reading and writing as formal goals/objectives.  School SLPs are not given the time in their day/week to address reading and writing efficiently. 

Related Posts

Share This

468 ad

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.