Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Newbie Advice for Educational SLPs

As quoted by Douglas Adams, the best advice for newbies is “Don’t Panic”. Very calm and comforting words which are easier said than done I’m sure. But you’ve been trained at a certified program, you are at least CFY ready (My professors always told me that their job was to at least get us CFY ready, if nothing else). So, trust your training and jump in head first.

(If you don’t know, CFY means clinical fellowship year, which is when you first start as an SLP working on supervision for the 36 weeks or so. It’s required to obtain your CCCs – Certificate of Clinical Competence, which you obtain from ASHA – American Speech Language Hearing Association. For more information go to ASHA’s website here. Of course if you are not in the United States, then your system is different and I haven’t a clue about your certification. I just wanted to add that for our international friends).

Now I’m a little slower than Kristin for getting blog posts out. I have 3 ½ very good reasons for being so and they range from 5 years old to still in the womb. So, I hope you are patient with me. Being a father of 3 comes with a lot of demands, but its also incredibly rewarding, but on with the blog post.

As for the job, being an SLP on the educational side, you’re in for a treat, but it won’t feel like it your first year. If you’re anything like me you’ll take a couple of hours in the beginning on each IEP (individual education plan). You’ll likely stay an extra 2-3 hours a day as well. There will be many times where you feel incompetent as a therapist, which is normal. (I still do much of the time).

So, relax, breathe and Don’t Panic. The nice thing about working in the schools is that you’re not going to hurt the kids if you make a big mistake. Its okay to be a newbie. Now I’m not telling you to go out and try to make as many big mistakes as you can, but you need to accept that you’ll make some at least. Speech Language Pathologists tend to be perfectionists, with a keen eye for detail. This is a great asset in our profession, but it makes the first year a little grueling. There’s a lot to learn and you’re not going to obtain perfection your first year (and probably not your second year… and probably… never). And that’s …. okay. Give yourself a little credit for what your accomplished and be a little self forgiving. And remember, there hasn’t been a single casualty from /r/ therapy in the history of speech therapy as far as I can recall.

Now as you get going you’re going to find your own way of doing things. There isn’t a wrong and a right way generally. For example, I’ve seen speech therapist do many many different approaches to making their schedule. Some like to have it out on paper, others like to have it on the computer. It really depends on your preference. In the beginning I like to write it out on paper with a pencil so it can easily be changed, then I start to put it into the computer. I had used an excel file to keep track of it, but now I use a private google calendar. I also have the dilemma of having to schedule 4 different tracks at a year round school (as well as a traditional school year preschool). This comes with a whole new host of issues that most SLPs don’t have to worry about. I’d say figure out what’s right for you. In a year or two you’ll have your own system down. I’d write more on this subject, but I think it deserves its own post altogether. Still the concept is important to know. Figure out what works for you.

There are many different things that you have to think about (scheduling, group therapy, IEP goals, homework, behavior system, etc, etc). And its easy for me to say “figure out what works for you”, but I know that wouldn’t have cut it for me when I was brand new. So, let me tell you something, idea thievery isn’t a crime as an SLP (unless you’re trying to make money off it, and that’s another matter altogether). Seriously, ask around what other SLPs are doing, then take what you like the most and try it yourself. You’ll find that SLPs love to share with other SLPs. Heck we just enjoy talking to each other, touching base with someone else who understands what we do. So, don’t be shy and call some of the other SLPs in the district. You might even ask if you can observe what they do maybe shadow them for half a day or something (this was the best thing for me, to watch veteran SLPs in action). Now there are probably several of you out there that don’t have much contact with other SLPs (the nature of our industry sometimes). I then suggest to do some professional networking. There are many networking sites out there such as facebook, twitter, linkedin, forums, etc. I personally like twitter the most (as you can read from this post), but the others I’m sure are just as good.

In the beginning I’d suggest to make friends with the faculty. You’ll likely have to compromise on several issues with the teachers and administration. Always put the students first, but remember that if there is a feud between you and the faculty of your school then you will really be miserable. I’ve only occasional had problems with teachers, never with the administration, but I’ve heard several horror stories. I really believe that they are the exception though, most often working in education means you get to work with great people who love working with children. To the most part you get to work with the cream of the crop. I love the staff that I work with.

You’ll find that you have to sometimes take work home with you, lesson plans, progress reports, goal writing, etc. That won’t completely ever go away, I don’t think. I know some speech therapists that don’t take anything home, but I’m not one of them. I’ve gotten a lot better in the last couple of years, but when it comes time to write progress reports it’s another story. I would suggest to try to keep that to a minimum if (and when) possible. I know you may be having a write an IEP the night before, or sometime you are desperately trying to get a lesson plan ready for a language group. I know, I’ve been there. However, if you are able to leave work at work as much as possible, your chances of burning out will drop significantly. I remember one of the courses that I was required to take in college for this degree was stress management. They taught us many stress relieving activities that can help you stay healthy and sane. Figure out you’re way to unwind, and do it frequently.

Now it's easy to let your focus on therapy slip. There will come a time when paperwork will try to take over, where you have too many IEPs to write with very little of time to do it (often times this comes in May & December where it seems like a lot of IEPs tend to land). You'll start your day feeling like your therapy time is getting in the way of other stuff. This is something you have to fight. Don’t worry, the IEPs will get easier to write. You’ll be an old pro in no time.

As Kristin has said, in the beginning you feel like a fraud. And the lingering feeling never quite leaves. I'm only now starting to feel somewhat competent as an educational SLP. I also agree that you need to appear confident (especially in IEP meetings). You really do know more than you think you do. Sometimes I doubt myself thinking "seriously anybody could do this therapy, how hard is artic therapy after all". But when I've spoken with teachers about doing some simple interventions with students I'm surprised with their reactions. They often are clueless about things I would assume were obvious. You really are your school’s expert in speech and language. No one there has the training you have had. Now don’t get a big head or anything, but remember – you are the expert.

I want to share one last thing that was suggested to me by my CF supervisor. Stay at your first school (if you can) only for a couple of years at most. The faculty in your first school (or schools) see you as new and inexperienced which is okay because you are at your first school, but once a person has established an impression of someone it's hard to change. If you go to a brand new school after a couple of years they'll just see you as a seasoned veteran instead of a newbie. Just an idea, it won’t be possible for everybody. It just so happens that my district is one of the largest in the country so we have a few schools. Its kind of nice to have a fresh start now that you’ve learned the ropes and have figured out the way you like to do things.

Remember it never hurts to ask questions. You still are a student in many ways, something that never really ends. You still need to further your education as much as you can, there is just too much to know in this field. Teachers and parents will ask you questions and will stump you from time to time (happens to me more often than not). Let them know if you don’t know an answer than you’ll do some research and figure it out.
It seems like my blog post has rambled off in my different directions. I just have so many thoughts in my head, but I’ve never been one to think in a linear fashion. I know the second I post this another good idea will pop in my head “Dohhh, I forgot to add that one thing.” If you have anything to add please do so. What were you’re big struggles your first year, or if you are in the middle of starting out, what are your struggles?


  1. Thank you both for your comments; they were very comforting. I'm coming into Speech therapy from an entirely different field so this is ALLLLLL new to me...I'm getting an SLPA license (will go on to grad school next year to get SLP) and recently started seeing clients... struggling on just about everything.... from where to start in a therapy session to how to conduct a therapy session to how to document a therapy session. Panic has become my first name, LOL!

    Thanks again! I look forward to many, MANY more blog posts from you and Kristin.

  2. We both understand what you're going through. I promise it gets easier!

  3. I wish I had found a blog like this when I was new :) Great information and your observations are so true.

  4. Bob, what a great post! I love it. I am on vacation and sorry I haven't kept up my posting schedule. I was whisked away for a surprise trip by Matt, and didn't realize I'd be sans computer and stuff!! I'll be back on track as soon as I get home this weekend. Sorry again! (I'm in the "business center" of our hotel right now, reading your lovely post.)

  5. We'll see you when you get back. I need to whisk Lindy away sometime, but it's a little trickier with three kids and when you're trying to save your personal leave days for when baby #4 comes. Hmmm, Lindy really needs it though so maybe I'll take her out at least for a weekend.

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I am starting my first real-life SLP job ever in less than a week, and the nervousness has really set in. It was an enormous relief to learn that I'm not the only one who feels like a fraud!

  7. This is exactly what I was hoping to find on this blog. Thanks!

  8. Thank you for posting! I am a new CFY (almost hit my 90 days) at a SNF and am getting the swing of things, but there is still soo much for me to learn! I am also wondering if the SNF is for me after my CFY, I've always loved working with kids, so if I decide to switch after getting my liscense I'll have to be a newbie allllll over again :/ aaah, but I find comfort in your words!

  9. Anonymous-what did you end up doing?? I am about to start my CFY soon, not sure where yet, I have to get a job but probably at a SNF or a school. I've always wanted to work with kids. I keep debating where to do my CF though because I feel like I need supervision desperately everywhere! So its a matter of who accepts me then I suppose!!

    1. You know, it's hard to know how great your CFY mentor is going to be. Some are far more hands-off than others. I know all my other colleagues were also great helps to me my first year.