In my six years as an SLP, I have been very fortunate to work in good conditions with supportive administration. I am also fortunate to live and work in a state that has a caseload cap for school SLPs. However, I have repeatedly heard of unfortunate and upsetting situations from my fellow school SLPs.
Here are some examples:
- Being told to add more students to a caseload that is already too large.
- Being forced work in an environment that is not conducive to therapy. I’ve had my share of random spaces and closets to work in, and I totally understand that space can be at a premium in our school buildings. But there are some situations and spaces that are not appropriate.
- Being told to take on more evaluations at the end of the year, and that you must get them done before the school year ends, even though with your state-required timelines, you have 60 days.
- Taking on more than your share of responsibilities and work without assistance.
- Using untrained staff in place of hiring fully qualified SLPs. There is a reason why speech-language pathology requires a masters degree to practice. It is a very complicated field, and proper training and experience is needed to adequately provide evaluations and treatment for often-times very complex cases.
- Being told to do your job with insufficient or outdated materials.
- Being told hiring a bilingual therapist is out of the question when a bilingual student is being assessed or treated.
- Being told to make unethical decisions. Ultimately, it is your license and professionalism on the line, not your employers’. You are the one who needs to abide by the Code of Ethics. Say no when you have to, and mean it.
Why do we let this happen?
I think there are a variety of reasons. Most SLPs don't want to rock the boat or be seen as a "problem" employee. Maybe it feels like your job might be at risk if you speak up. Maybe the situation feels hopeless, and like there's nothing that can be done, so why bother trying? Maybe you have tried to effect change before, and been shot down. Maybe you are just so overwhelmed you don't even know where to start!
What can you do?
First of all, make your concerns known - especially before you get past the “crisis” point - and offer some possible solutions to your situation. (If all you are doing is complaining to yourself, things will never change! An important part of our job is advocating for the needs of our students - and yet, if we can’t even advocate for ourselves, how good of a job can we do for them?)
- Does your workplace need to hire more SLPs? Offer to help with recruiting or interviewing new SLPs. Contact a local university graduate program - maybe you will find some graduate students who would love to get some extra supervised hours that can help you with preschool/kindergarten screenings, or who might be looking for a job for next year. See who on your staff might be willing to put in some paid summer hours to help catch up on the backlog of evaluations.
- Do some of your SLPs need to be shifted around to help lighten the load across the board? Offer to help analyze the overall workload and figure out some possible solutions. Be flexible and open to change from "the way things have always been done."
- Do your SLPs need more tests/materials? Start looking for grants or other ways (like Donors Choose) to help fund this, or look for lower cost materials where possible (hint: TeachersPayTeachers.com is a great place to start!). Offer to start a lending library of materials for all of your SLPs to share. Start making a list of what tests will likely need to be updated and when, so your budget people will be able to plan accordingly.
- Do you need a different space to work in? Walk around your entire building, and find some possible spaces, even if they’re only available one day or morning a week. Talk to other staff in your building to see if they know of any solutions.
Support your fellow SLPs. If you see something going on, offer your support and present a united front. It’s much easier to ignore one employee than all of them.
Advocate on a local, state, and national level. Join your state SLP organization or ASHA, and work on advocating for yourself and other SLPs. Do laws need to change in your state? Help start a lobbying campaign!
If there is truly no way the situation will change, find a way out. Dust off your resume and start searching for new job. With the shortage of SLPs in this country, there has to be somewhere else for you to work. It’s not worth the stress and compromising your ethics - not to mention your students’ future - to continue in a work environment like this.
One thing I know, though, is situations like these will not change unless you stand up for yourself. If you are in one of these situations, I hope this post will give you the courage you need to do something about it!