Dear Administrator: An Open Letter to Why Your SLPs Are Leaving
I have spent the majority of my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist in a traditional, elementary school setting. 18 years to be exact. Recently, I jumped head first into the world of teletherapy. With that venture, I started my own business, Facebook page, Blog, and Teachers Pay Teachers Store. As a result, I have been immersed in social media, and these platforms have connected me with SLPs across the United States. I have spoken to countless numbers of you via phone, email and instant message. One message is clear. We are burned out, stressed out and, sometimes, feel hopeless. To be honest, some of our conversations have kept me up at night.
So, today I feel compelled to write this letter. This blog post might anger you. It might validate you. It might make you want to throw tomatoes at me. However, my goal is to inspire and empower you. Not to cause friction. If you don’t like how you are treated, or the position you are in, you have the power to change it. I have been where you are. And I know what it is like to have a voice that goes unheard. I left the stress behind, and started anew. And you can too.
We are leaving. We love our job. We love these kids. We LOVE this community of people. But, nonetheless, we are leaving. We know you won’t find anyone to replace us. We know there is a shortage of us. We know you will spend countless hours scouring want ads and job posts to find someone to come in here and do the job we do. You may have to hire a contract person at twice the rate I’m paid. But, it’s time. And we want you to know the reasons why.
First, you still don’t “get” us. No matter how much we educate you and your staff, most of you still think that our job is “cushy”, “easy” and “fun”. You still comment that “it must be nice to play games all day” or “make your own schedule”. You still think we sit in our rooms with a tongue depressor and a mirror, and simply “fix” an /s/. You don’t realize the depth and scope of our education, and the pain and sweat it took us to get those letters after our names. You still call us “speech teacher”. You have no idea what language processing is, or auditory memory…..or phonological disorders. Even though we have tried to explain it.
Second, let’s face it. We’re always at the bottom of the list. If we get a space at all, to do our jobs, it’s typically an old janitor’s closet with a buzzing light and a broken desk. We don’t get a budget for materials to do our jobs effectively, even though we have 60, 70 or 80 kids who all have diverse needs and ways of learning. No “curriculum” for us. No technology. No furniture. The psychologist who only visits the building twice a week on odd days gets a window. And a new office chair. Her tests are new and shiny, while ours have outdated stimulus pictures the kids have never seen. You’ve hired an intern to help the social worker who has 40 kids too many. We are still waiting on that request to get some red construction paper to make a communication book for Johnny.
Third, no matter how much we have tried to gently explain it, the math and reading trainings you send us to do NOT help us keep our licenses in good standing. In case you have forgotten, we need these licenses to treat your 60, 70 or 80 students per that legal IEP. Continuing education in the field of speech-language pathology is expensive. But I’m willing to take free webinars and attend local conferences to keep costs down. Or order a video so all of my colleagues in the District can benefit. If you would only read that brochure and purchase order I put on your desk 3 months ago.
Fourth, a caseload of 60 kids with articulation disorders is not equal to a caseload of 60 children with Autism. There is a large “back end” to this job, which includes planning, documentation, consulting, collaboration, and yes, LEGAL paperwork. It has become absolutely impossible for me to see these 60 students AND complete the administrative responsibilities in an 8-hour day. When I ask you for “help”, year after year, I don’t mean for you to come and sit in my therapy room and watch me. And I don’t mean for you to mark me down on my evaluation (or transfer me) because I can’t “handle” my responsibilities. I’m only asking because I care about my students. And I want to do my job well.
Lastly, I am NOT a teacher. Don’t get us wrong. We love our teachers. We know they work just as hard as anyone else. We admire them and look up to them. But, we are PATHOLOGISTS. Education is trying to take us “round pegs” and shove us into square holes. We diagnose and treat disorders of speech, language, and fluency (to name a few). My degree has earned me the right to work in a hospital, rehabilitation clinic, skilled nursing facility, or private clinic. I can successfully treat patients that have the inability to swallow, have experienced traumatic brain injury or are learning how to speak after needing a tracheostomy tube. I can help a foreign business man reduce his accent, or remediate a singer after her vocal cord surgery. Can your second grade teacher do this? She can not. She has other skills that are unique to her. My skills are unique to me.
At the end of the day, we are exhausted of fighting the good fight. Although we derive so much joy from our students, it’s not enough anymore. We are tired. And we want to move on to something else that makes us happy, or renews our passion for this field we love so much. If you want to make a positive change for the SLP who succeeds me, consider the points above. Maybe you can make things better for her. Maybe one year, give her the room with the window. Ask her what materials she needs to help her students. Go to bat for her when she’s drowning, and be kind to her on evaluation day when her session doesn’t go as planned (we work with special education students, you know?). Help her get the continuing education she needs to upkeep her licensure. Maybe ask her what those CCC’s mean after her name.
Thank you once again for giving us the opportunity to love these kids, these teachers and this community. I will miss them on my new adventure.
Your Speech-Language Pathologist
If you'd like to learn more about teletherapy to start your OWN adventure, click here https://www.thewhimsicalword.com/single-post/2017/03/17/Teletherapy-Through-the-Eyes-of-a-Seasoned-Therapist