Looking back, there are so many things I wish I had known in grad school about being a school based SLP! Classes can only teach you so much, and there is so much more I wish I had known starting out. Looking back, here are five of the things I wish I had known!
Grad school for speech language pathology is difficult, but it’s difficult for a reason.
Our field is so broad that you really need to have a wide base of knowledge to draw from to be successful. Even in the school setting, you’ll be faced with all sorts of challenges and different disorders every day, and it is essential to have that knowledge base to fall back on.
That being said, you won’t know everything as a new graduate, and that’s ok!
It’s only now, going into my ninth year, that I feel fairly confident in my knowledge base, and yet I know I could have a new student walk in tomorrow with an issue that I will know nothing about. It’s perfectly normal not to have an answer for every question you are asked – the important thing is that you know where to look or who to ask for an answer. My go to line is always, “I am not sure on that, but I’m going to do some research and get back to you.”
The first position and salary you have won’t be exactly what you expect.
That median salary data is just that – the median, compiled from SLPs with many more years of experience, and from around the country, particularly in places with high living expense costs. I can tell you with certainty the pay range in central Illinois is very different from California! Most school districts have salary schedules for all employees, and there’s generally not much (if any) room for negotiation.
Along those lines, your first position will likely not be exactly what you had your heart set on. As the newest employee, everyone else with more seniority will generally get the chance to switch or move positions first, generally leaving single position open for you. You may have really wanted to work with preschool, but all that was available was a middle/high school position. No matter what position you end up with, I guarantee it will make you a better therapist, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you wanted. And don’t worry – you won’t stay in that position forever! I don’t know any of my friends from grad school who are still in the same exact placement that they started in their CF, even if they are still working for the same district.
Get as much supervised observation time as you can now. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Observing different therapy sessions and styles is invaluable experience – you won’t realize it until you’re out in the field and don’t feel like you know what to do with a particular student! Observe as much as you can – and don’t be afraid to ask the SLP why he or she did or said things a certain way. This is one of the best ways to grow as a therapist, and once you are out of grad school, there won’t be much opportunity for this. Even if you don’t like something the therapist is doing, you can learn and make informed choices about what you would do in therapy and why.
Being a speech-language pathologist is the best job in the world!
Being a speech-language pathologist is such an amazing role and responsibility, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I truly believe the quote from Daniel Webster that says,
School SLPs, what other suggestions do you have to add to my list here?
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