Election day is coming up (I voted early for the first time ever so I feel relieved that’s over) and our national ASHA convention is in a few days as well! I think it’s time to think seriously about governmental and educational policies that impact our profession from the national to the state and local levels.
This is my 11th year as a speech pathologist and I’ve been doing a lot of deep thinking about many challenges facing our profession, including the shortage of SLPs (extreme shortage of bilingual SLPs like myself, too) and the things that need to change to make sure that our career is a viable profession for people over the long-term. Even though there are some areas of the country that do not have a shortage of speech therapists (like New York), there are many districts that desperately need speech pathologists, but there are many speech paths that are feeling burnt out and stressed. So how do we fix this? Some of the things I’ve been thinking about this November:
- The continued reliance on caseload number versus workload. ASHA’s position statement on caseload says SLPs should not have more than 40 students at once. But clinicians regularly have close to 60 or more students to see on a weekly basis. I believe that having a large caseload is the quickest way to burn out of this profession. There was a time when I was in Chicago Public Schools and I had a caseload of 70 while supervising a speech paraprofessional who had 30 on her caseload (she was at my school for half the week). It was too much. It’s hard to feel confident and able to treat serious disorders and delays when you have too many students. And I would never want a starting clinician to experience that as one of his/her first professional jobs in this profession, but when they do, they are more likely to burn out. We just can’t afford to lose any more speech pathologists!
- Lack of affordable childcare. Let’s face it: the field of speech pathology is female-dominated and many women want to be moms at some point. Oftentimes, in spite of our best intentions, the burden of childcare falls to the mother. Or for some families when a parent has to sacrifice their career for children, it’s the woman who makes that choice. I’m not judging at all — I went to part-time this year out of my own choice. But when families have to work, kids have to go to childcare. Childcare expenses in my house have cost more than half of my monthly income. Full-time daycare for my son costs $260 per week. If you want to have two children, you’re looking at close to or more than $2000 per month. At that point a lot of families have to make the decision…is it worth it for the woman to work? Many countries offer subsidized childcare because they know it’s important for women to stay in the workforce. When women do leave the workforce out of their own choice or because they have to, it is hard for them to recoup those career earnings, even when they go back to the workforce after the children have grown. With respect to speech therapy, there’s a huge loss of of knowledge to the profession if masters level clinicians leave the workforce. I believe that if there was subsidized childcare, it would be easier for the profession to retain highly qualified women.
- Misunderstanding of and lack of respect for SLPs. How many times have you been asked to do things at your school that aren’t your job? It’s frustrating when you are asked to teach or tutor a child with a reading problem…. or you are pulled to sub….or you are pulled to help proctor testing…or even pulled to do bus or lunch duty (sometimes you can happily do that when you aren’t stretched between multiple buildings)…or you are assigned to handing out papers to teachers during staff meetings that don’t apply to us…the list goes on. I’m just going to say it: that’s not my job and I’m not going to do it. Many times it’s demeaning and, over time, it takes a toll because I have a big SLP workload. I know that those little incidents add up and make it hard to feel positive about your job. I have come to the conclusion that I had to say no a lot and then follow it up with education about what my job is. That’s my homework assignment to you: Say no and make sure that management/bosses/principals know what you *are* doing to impact student growth at school.
Not only do we have act and take the long view about our profession for ourselves, but we have to help out future SLPs by advocating for ourselves. If we can light the way for the next generation of SLPs, I think that would be wonderful. Be brave with your life so others can be brave with theirs. Anything I forgot about? Please comment below and thanks for reading!