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  • Writer's picturePaul

2021 Reflection: School SLP, Pandemic, and My "Ah-Ha"

Updated: Apr 4, 2022

January 2019.


It was my first day of my last clinical practicum in graduate school. I was almost at the finish line. I got straight A’s throughout my master’s program, I passed the Praxis on the first try, and my final comprehensive project was going as scheduled. My last placement was working with the school population.


I had an inkling this was the population I wanted to work with, but with all things, I didn’t know how I would do. You can aspire, dream, and idealize your perfect scenario, but it’s a never-ending cycle of being disappointed or even angry when reality fails your expectations. Nonetheless, I walked through the doors of that high school on that eventful first day, not knowing I had found a setting I would call my own.


My supervisors in the schools were amazing. Passionate, energetic, insightful, empowered, and above all, the kindest individuals I had ever had the pleasure of knowing. They are the reasons I decided I wanted to be in the schools. I was so impacted by their personalities! Its true what they say: a mentor can do wonders for their mentees and even go so far as to impact their own career choices. The students I saw were so great as well. They came in with smiles and laughs because they knew when it was speech time, it was time to play UNO, read colorful picture books, and even go outside to do speech in the beautiful nature that was Southern New Mexico.


It was a joy! 2019. It seem way simpler back then.


Jump forward to December 2021. So much has happened since then. I am now a fully licensed and certified SLP working in a high school district in Southern California. I think back to how I was as a graduate student in that placement. I thought I knew everything then; it still makes me laugh whenever I think about it. If only I could tell my younger self to temper your ego, temper your expectations, and as one of my professors once said, “COLLABORATE AND COOPERATE.”


One of the things I found working in a school setting, compared to my clinical fellowship in a private practice, was that I was no longer working with just other speech language pathologists. The jargon and terminology needed to change as well as my methodologies and how I incorporate evidence-based research into my therapies. I was now actively working with teachers, aides, occupational therapists, nurses, physical therapists, administrators, and all other employees on a regular basis.


Writing lesson plans and executing them was something I never really thought about as a graduate student. I was always given plenty of support, but now, I needed to stretch out my own therapy wings and start taking flight. See this world for myself and come up with my own reasons and justifications. That is a scary thought! If I had to summarize what high school speech therapy looks like in one word: generalization.


Basically, I want to empower and educate my students to find their own voices and means of getting through school. It's quite a change. The expectations on you greatly increase, your homework load is pretty substantial, and now more than ever, socializing and putting yourself out there has more meaning to it. The service times change, the goals change; there seems to be more at stake in high school. College, vocational training, and jobs are just a few of the paths our student consider. And they only have 4 years to get some idea of what they want.


And, if we're honest, it doesn’t help that we’ve been stuck in a pandemic for a few years now. Think about it: 6th, and 7th graders back in Spring 2020 are now readying themselves for high school or are even already in high school without a smooth transition or forewarning. Did expect these students to just “be ready”? after 1.5 years of online learning, lack of socialization, and increased anxiety of what was happening outside of their homes?


So how can we help them? That was the question I posed to myself one night as I was pursuing through endless worksheets on Teachers Pay Teachers. Nothing seemed to be clicking. I was inspired or energize by these worksheets. If I wasn’t enthused, how would my students react to them. There has to be a better way to teach inferencing. To teach context clues. To teach social/pragmatic language. But what?


I thought back to when I was a kid. How my school days were filled with Crazy Bone marbles, Yu-Gi-Oh card battles, trading Pokémon cards, playing Gameboy games and Uno. I thought back to my 2019 grad school placements. What were the topics that made my students leap with joy and got them to talk and engage in lively conversation. I wasn’t on boring paragraphs that had no functionality in their lives. They struggle with finding the main idea of those assignments but ask them to give you the main idea of Avengers: Infinity Wars (2018) and they would not stop!


Generalization, right?


This is no way is meant to criticize our current methodologies or practices. Worksheets and powerpoint slides on these concepts all have their place and time. What I would ask to the general population, to my fellow speech-language pathologists: how do we encourage generalization? Is it through consistent worksheets that had outdated language and no cultural reference to our students? Or can it be through interactive board games, researching their favorite video games and movies, and even going beyond our own comfort zones to bring life into speech therapy?


There was so much to think about this year and every year since my 2019 school placement. We always teach our students to be flexible, and that is what I want to practice to for 2022.


Last week, I told all my pragmatic therapy groups that in two weeks we would officially start our Dungeon and Dragons: Speech Therapy Campaign Edition. I have never seen more excited faces and screams of joy when I mentioned it. Its something I want to keep writing about here. Perhaps a recap every month?


The field of speech language pathology constantly moves and shifts with society and culture. It is my belief that we need to always change with it. Our methodologies and EBP will always keep us grounded. It should also give us the courage to move forward into new ways to do therapy, to see the world the way our students see it. And maybe introduce them to new things themselves along the way.


So, if I could go back and give my 2019 self some advice, it would be this, “Be brave. Be creative. Be headstrong. Go and teach kids how to play Yu-Gi-Oh and Super Smash Bros! Help them see they’re actually using those inferencing and social language skills through these activities. You have no idea what impact you’ll have on your students.”


Till Next Time,

the Speech Geek :)

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