One of the joys of being a Speech-Language Pathologist is the flexibility! A lot of us were drawn to the field due to the variability in opportunities. If we need a change, we can consider working with a different population, specialty area, or another setting all together, from choosing an SNF to becoming a school-based SLP.
A lot of my undergraduate students ask this simple question: “What do you like about working in a school?” The first time I was asked this question, I had two positives ready: “The summer vacation and snow days!” But working in the school system offers way more than just calendar perks. Hopefully this list will help guide you to determining if the school-based setting may be in your future!
The schedule of a school-based SLP
Let’s just start here: one of the greatest positives of working in the schools is the opportunity to take summers off and recharge. I, for one, have enjoyed having an “end” to my year; it’s a focus-point to help me get through those last grueling months. However, if you are someone who loves keeping busy, most school systems offer opportunities for work over the summer. Whether it is completing assessments, attending IEP meetings, or participating in Extended School Year, there are often many flexible opportunities to work during the summer months.
Con: Pay schedule
Since many school-based jobs are 10-month positions, you may need to stretch out your paychecks to cover the summer months, and your pay may look less than your medical SLP counterparts. Additionally, since the school schedule allows for multiple breaks and summers off, your “personal leave” can be limited; this can make it difficult to schedule off-peak vacations.
The school-based SLP's caseload
Pro: Working with a variety of disorders, needs, and behaviors.
Working in the schools has always provided (positive) challenges for me. Every year I have a student who doesn’t present “just-like” the others (surprise, surprise!). This forces me to get creative, engage in continuing education, and collaborate with other professionals to problem-solve. I LOVE this part of my job! I can get complacent and bored when I am not challenged professionally; and believe me, schools can be CHALLENGING (in a good way)!
Con: High caseload numbers
I remember being in graduate school with a caseload of eleven and thinking, “How am I going to plan and provide effective therapy for ELEVEN clients?!” Little did I know what real-life caseload numbers would be like! Caseloads in the schools vary based on your location. My caseload fluctuates between 45-55; I have never had more than 60 at one time. I have heard from other school-based SLPs who have caseloads upwards of 100 and beyond. High caseload numbers can be intimidating, especially to a brand new CF. Learning to juggle the needs of 50+ students and meet paperwork requirements can be overwhelming, especially your first year.
Pro: No productivity requirements!
As an SLP in the medical field, you may be required to demonstrate productivity and document how you are spending your time. Some medical settings require productivity as high as 92 percent. This means that 92 percent of your day must be spent directly working with patients, figuring out how to fit in documentation, meetings, and family education into the remaining 8 percent of your day. These standards do not exist in the school-based setting!
Con: Documentation, IEPs, Medical Assistance
Although school-based SLPs do not need to demonstrate productivity standards, we still have our fair share of paperwork! Obviously, IEP development is a big part of our job, but it’s only a fraction of the paperwork required. You must be organized and efficient in completing additional documentation, including attendance sheets, daily progress logs, quarterly progress updates, and medical assistance forms. Evaluations and screenings also take up a lot of time in your busy day.
Side note: Although this documentation can be overwhelming, it does get easier to organize year after year. I always tell new CFs: Year one is all about survival. Once you get through the first year, you figure out your organizational “groove” and things get easier. Don’t get me wrong, I still haven’t perfected the art of effective data collection and documentation, but it does get better.
The school-based populations
Pro: Opportunities to work with a variety of students
One of the greatest parts of working in the schools is you will never get bored! You will always meet new students who challenge you and force you to learn new intervention strategies or consider teaching a skill in a different way. Additionally, my district offers multiple programs for students with more significant needs (e.g. AAC, Autism, Emotional Disabilities, Early Intervention), which I can apply to should I need a change or a new challenge.
Con: Mixed groups
One of the biggest challenges my graduate interns face when starting therapy in the schools is managing mixed groups. Since scheduling can be a challenge (working around teachers, specialists, and other schedules), you may be faced with providing therapy for students working on articulation, language, AND fluency all in one group. Not only do you need to produce lessons targeting different skills and abilities, you also have to manage various behaviors.
Collaboration in school
Pro: Working as a TEAM
Within the school setting, you work with a team of professionals, tackling student needs from a variety of lens. Our team typically consists of an administrator, school psychologist, school counselor, general education teacher, special education teacher, Occupational Therapist, and Speech-Language Pathologist. Having a team of professionals is AMAZING because you can both collaborate with teachers in the classroom and brainstorm ideas with other professionals.
Con: Being the only SLP in the building
One of the loneliest parts of our job can be the fact that you may be the only SLP in the building. You may have other professionals to talk to, but sometimes you need another SLP who just gets it. But don’t worry, you will meet other SLPs within your district — or through online groups — who will support and encourage you!
Can you think of any other pros and cons you have experienced in the schools? Comment below!