Sunday, October 26, 2014

One "StressLP" Rocking the Boat

Photo credit: Lois Metzger
It was a beautiful day. I woke up feeling well rested and eager to go to work. I felt completely prepared as I entered the building and even had time to connect with my colleagues in the teachers' room over a cup of coffee. We laughed and shared stories of excellence in teaching and supportive administrators and parents. Some suggested we meet later in the day to collaborate on how to best implement a push-in lesson. A great start to a great day. I walked down the hall to my room meeting smile after smile. I grabbed my schedule and when the bell rang my first group was at my door ready for some top shelf speech-language therapy. Their homework was complete and they were eager to leave my room and use the skills we had addressed. When I met with their classroom teachers they asked how they could help reinforce the students' speech-language skills in class. I had a preparation period next and since all my IEPs and evaluations were up to date I was able to work on my therapy plans for next week. I have a wealth of materials available all paid for by my school district and I realize how fortunate I am, and then...I woke up!
I am hesitant to write this post, because I 'm not a whiner.  I am well aware of the fact that I am incredibly fortunate to have a job and I appreciate that. The problem is every day I read with sorrow, the posts by SLPs, young and old, who are overwhelmed. They are faced with staggering caseloads, paperwork burdens that threaten to smother them, shrinking budgets that cause them to spend their own hard earned money on supplies, professional isolation, and the list goes on. When I read about bright young SLPs, who are more talented and better educated than I, considering leaving the profession I have to ask, "Why?" When I read about a veteran SLP who weeps the first week of school because she feels powerless to help her students, I ask, "Why?" When I read of a young SLP who is reprimanded for having a pile of papers waiting to be sorted through, in the corner of a room, I ask, "Why?" I know first hand the effects of this stress on my well-being and that of my family. By the end of the week I have nothing left. I have to force myself to go out and socialize, because by Friday I am spent. I bring home evaluations to type, goals to write, and plans to create. Just yesterday the banter on Instagram was desks. One die-hard SLP was committed to keeping her desk neat and that spawned a dialogue of desk madness. My contribution included a lunch eaten at my desk over a period of hours. Last school year I was criticized for this and had to defend my actions by stating that a meeting had been scheduled during my lunch and rather than chowing in front of parents, I felt more comfortable at my desk.
Understand, there is no one person to blame for the situation facing SLPs. It is the system. Without legislation mandating caseload caps we will drown in a sea of paperwork. Without legislation that requires certification of SLPAs, districts will continue to hire individuals lacking the proper credentials who we are responsible for training and supervising. Without universities promoting the field and educating future SLPs we will continue to experience a critical shortage.
It has, unfortunately become our culture. We know each other by the bags we tote back and forth between school and home and the bags we sport below our eyes. We seek support for the abuses we face on social media and while we all try to hold the hand of the affronted SLP, we are still rendered powerless. We are on a quest to validate ourselves in the schools; emphasizing constantly that we are not just the speech teacher, that we are integral to the system, not simply part of an unfunded mandate. We have stormed social media with blogs and websites and tweets and photos. We are a huge presence on Teachers Pay Teachers and still we struggle.
I don't pretend to have the answers, but I believe it is time to rally! I am convinced that we can effect a change. Many of us are members of teachers' unions who should be advocating for our needs. How many SLPs are in administrative positions within the NEA or the AFT? ASHA needs to hear us and work for legislation that mandates caseload caps. Individually, we must get involved with our state associations and demand that the lobbyists we pay are actually working for us. There is power in numbers and I believe that we can change the status quo together.
I am still trying to do something everyday that scares me, and this post has been lurking in the back of my mind, but I was terrified to open myself up to the criticism. I then realized that that is part of the problem, I don't want to rock the boat. Well, it's time for me to rock. I for one am going to begin to advocate for my profession and myself. I am going to write to my legislators. I am going to contact my union. I am going to contact ASHA. I am going to do whatever I can to support my fellow Speech-Language Pathologists.  How about you?  Want to rock the boat?

Monday, October 13, 2014


So. This is like, basically a short, fun Columbus Day post about trendy talk.  You know dude, the words kids pepper their conversation with ad nauseum. Years ago, it was basically, then about ten or so years ago it was actually.  What's fun is literally, watching the terms used by adults.  I'm no exception. One of my twenty-something year old colleagues once schooled me on the proper way to enunciate dude. Apparently, I was stretching the syllable out far too long when it should have been a quick burst. I received a manicure once from a lovely fifty plus year old lady who concluded every sentence with "Cool. " On any playground on any given day you can hear the phrases "awesome," "you're the bomb," or "you rock"  escaping from the lips of the cool moms.  In the car one day I decided to have some fun (yes, at my kids' expense) and announced that I was in fact jiggy with dat!   My children both exclaimed that I was never permitted to say that again!! Of course, I do whenever I want to be immature :)

I've noticed also that the overuse of these terms is common in our students with language impairments and social language difficulties. I worked with a Down Syndrome student who began every sentence with actually.  I have students with word finding difficulties who are using yeah as substitutions for elusive words.  In fact, recently one of my students used yeah four times in one sentence. Students with social pragmatic difficulties who call everyone dude are often the brunt of jokes from their classmates. That being said, in order to help facilitate more appropriate word choices I encourage my kiddos to record by tally each time the word in question is uttered. We are then able to use the total as a baseline and then brainstorm other word choices to create a more robust vocabulary. We establish a maximum number of uses per session and compare the numbers over time thus evaluating the fidelity of our technique, right.  Okay, look,  I suppose we in education are not free from the eduspeak lingo.  I do, however, try really, really hard not to use the jargon du jour. I want to stand out!  I want to be different. So, at the end of the day, I can rest assured that I have done my utmost to express myself in as clearly and succinctly a fashion as possible.  We SLPs really are the!!
And now for some poetic dessert: a wonderful poem extolling the overuse of the word LIKE.

Sestina: Like

With a nod to Jonah Winter
Now we’re all “friends,” there is no love but Like,
A semi-demi goddess, something like
A reality-TV star look-alike,
Named Simile or Me Two. So we like
In order to be liked. It isn’t like
There’s Love or Hate now. Even plain “dislike”

Is frowned on: there’s no button for it. Like
Is something you can quantify: each “like”
You gather’s almost something money-like,
Token of virtual support. “Please like
This page to stamp out hunger.” And you’d like
To end hunger and climate change alike,

But it’s unlikely Like does diddly. Like
Just twiddles its unopposing thumbs-ups, like-
Wise props up scarecrow silences. “I’m like,
So OVER him,” I overhear. “But, like,
He doesn’t get it. Like, you know? He’s like
It’s all OK. Like I don’t even LIKE

Him anymore. Whatever. I’m all like ... ”
Take “like” out of our chat, we’d all alike
Flounder, agape, gesticulating like
A foreign film sans subtitles, fall like
Dumb phones to mooted desuetude. Unlike
With other crutches, um, when we use “like,”

We’re not just buying time on credit: Like
Displaces other words; crowds, cuckoo-like,
Endangered hatchlings from the nest. (Click “like”
If you’re against extinction!) Like is like
Invasive zebra mussels, or it’s like
Those nutria-things, or kudzu, or belike

Redundant fast food franchises, each like
(More like) the next. Those poets who dislike
Inversions, archaisms, who just like
Plain English as she’s spoke — why isn’t “like”
Their (literally) every other word? I’d like
Us just to admit that’s what real speech is like.

But as you like, my friend. Yes, we’re alike,
How we pronounce, say, lichen, and dislike
Cancer and war. So like this page. Click Like.
Source: Poetry (May 2013).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Help for Itinerant Evaluators

I remember attending a conference at Stockton State College in NJ, back in the late 1980s or early 1990s presented by Dr. Wayne Secord.  I couldn't tell you the topic, however, I do recall Dr. Secord saying something along the lines of "Today, multidisciplinary means come together-go apart when it should mean come together-stay together."  That sentiment has remained with me all these years. At the time the truth of this struck me like a lightening bolt. Twenty-five or so years later, this idea, by and large, still rings true, though despite our best efforts, the time we need for collaboration is sadly limited. We are overwhelmed by staggering caseload numbers, case management responsibilities, massive paperwork requirements, meetings, playground duty and more. In concert with our general duties come more and more highly involved students presenting with academic and medical challenges that require the need for continuing education and research. Never has the need for consistent collaboration been more crucial.

I am fortunate in that I work in one building.  I have the luxury of having a quick conversation on the run. I also have the benefit of knowing the students in my building, however, the inability to professionally connect becomes an issue when working as an itinerant SLP or evaluator. Recently, several of my colleagues expressed concern that itinerant evaluators may not have the inside scoop on students and subsequently their testing may not paint an accurate picture of our students. As a result, I decided to create a document that could be completed by a classroom teacher or case manager and given to an evaluator as a means of having a better understanding of the dynamics of a student.  I based some of the criteria on the Habits of Mind (HoM), but also included general information such as the types of prompting the student responds to best, preferred reinforcement, response speed, signs of fatigue or frustration, ways to redirect the student, whether breaks are needed and the preferred type of break. The document also includes demographic information and opportunities to incorporate work samples and class schedule.

The HoM present a way to think about the way students learn and are, to a large extent, a determinant in academic success or failure. The HoM include persistence, managing impulsivity, listening with understanding and empathy, thinking flexibly, metacognition, striving for accuracy, questioning, applying past knowledge, thinking and communicating with clarity,  gathering data through the senses, creating and imagining, responding with wonderment and awe, taking responsible risks, finding humor, thinking interdependently, and remaining open to continuous learning. Having an understanding of a child's ability to manage impulsivity perhaps, or task persistence paints a more complete picture for an evaluator.  Such knowledge would allow an evaluator to say, schedule movement breaks or encourage a child to take risks when responding.  The upshot is, the information obtained could yield more accurate test results. I am hoping that this document provides evaluators with greater insight when interpreting test results as well as improving the accuracy of those results.

 I'd love to know what you think! Feel free to comment.
Student Information for Evaluators available for free here
 Find this PDF here
Habits of mind PDF available here