Sunday, November 20, 2016

My SLP Story

A little over one year ago, I published a post entitled What's the Story, Annie?  I encouraged other SLPs to link up and share their stories as our experiences influence what we think, feel and do. At the time no one linked up. Perhaps my timing was off. No, let me reframe that, perhaps I was ahead of my time. One year later the Frenzied SLPs are sharing their SLP stories and are eager to have others join in the collective story telling. I am republishing my original post (with a little updating) and am grateful for the opportunity to share it again. Thank you as usual to Sparklle SLP, Kelly Woodford-Hungaski (Speech2U,) and Lisette Edgar (Speech Sprouts) for their grit in getting us organized. 

If you lived in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut in the 70s you remember a commercial for an appliance store that used the tag line, "What's the story, Jerry?" I am eleven weeks into my 34th year as an SLP! I've been thinking quite a lot about how I got here. What is my SLP story? What makes me the SLP into which I have evolved? It comes as no surprise that my experiences uniquely prepared me for my future, but how I used those experiences to become the woman, the professional I am is worth considering. Here is my SLP story.

My childhood was complex. My parents were loving, but had significant baggage of their own. After their divorce my poor Mother struggled with finances, teenage sons, and her difficulty caring for her sixth and and seventh children while getting a graduate degree and working. We weren't lacking in love, just having our lives organized. I most definitely learned love and compassion from my Mother. After losing my Mother when I was fifteen, my anxiety was tremendous and I had virtually no confidence in my abilities nor my potential. My 27 year brother and his 26 year old wife moved in with my younger brother and me. We worked hard to forge a stable family relationship. My grades in high school were good, but I never pushed myself. I did what I had to do and no more. I didn't participate in any extracurricular activities, no sports, no theater, no clubs, nothing. I wanted to take risks, but was afraid to do so. As a senior in high school there were no college visits, no aspirations, no desire to go away. I applied to two colleges, was wait listed for one and accepted into the other. When completing the applications I suspected I could learn how to do most anything, so I closed my eyes and pointed to the page listing majors. My finger landed on speech-language pathology. I suspect divine intervention! I chose to attend William Paterson College and majored in Speech Path. In May of my freshman year of college my Father died. I was eighteen. Still reeling from my losses, I commuted for four years dividing my time between classes, working at a drug store, and partying with my friends. I did work harder in college than high school and was consistently on the Dean's List, but as a commuter, I still didn't gravitate toward campus life. I was, nevertheless, the VP of the speech pathology club and the Secretary for Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education, but what I really excelled in was playing quarters.

I graduated in 1983 and my first year as an SLP was spent working part-time in four schools in four towns. In those days a master's degree was not yet mandatory to work as an SLP. It is hard to believe; I was 22 years old and worked in two high schools and two elementary schools. Three of my students at the high school were eighteen year old boys! I often think about that year and wish I could go back and do a better job! I was so young and had so much to learn. I remained positive despite grasping at straws at how to motivate kids who were only slightly younger than I was.

Really, during that period I wasn't sure if I was going to continue in the field, but as luck would have it, a position for a graduate assistant at Montclair State College was advertised in the paper and my brother suggested I apply. I called the number listed and waited for a response. The following day I received a call, not exactly the call I wanted, however. Evidently, I dialed the number inadvertently using MY telephone exchange and not the exchange of the graduate office. I had left a detailed message and the kind soul I contacted was thoughtful enough to return my call and tell me I had the wrong number! I remember her saying, "This sounded like an important call, so I wanted to be sure to tell you, you had the wrong number." I went on the interview and was accepted into the communication sciences and disorders program as a graduate assistant! Interestingly, my graduate assistant supervisor and I are both currently presidents of our state speech, language, hearing associations! Isn't is crazy how life unfolds?

I continued my part-time SLP work and my job as a cashier as well as completing the responsibilities of a graduate assistant for the first year of the program. I then found a full-time school position during my second year of graduate studies. This was the period I found my passion for speech-language therapy. As you know graduate school is tough. I think it is tougher now than when I went, but it still kept me crazy busy and crazy stressed. I passed the "ASHA exam," as we then called it, and completed my CFY. I began to realize I was competent, creative, and smart. I took risks. I found my voice. I found my heart. I found my passion and like a butterfly from a chrysalis, I found my wings and I soared!

How have my experiences prepared me for my profession as an SLP? I am able to view each child as worthy, even the ones with dirty clothes. I am able to see the smile in every child, even the ones with downcast eyes. I am able to see the leader in every unmotivated middle school student, even the ones who don't play sports or get the lead in the play. I am able to advocate for each student, especially the ones who feel silenced. I am able to ease the sadness of every child, even for merely thirty minutes, especially the ones who have little hope. I am able to state with conviction to every child that you are good at something, even if you don't believe that today. I am able to listen with a compassionate ear to the child who believes "nobody likes them" and to reply with certainty, "I do." I am able to gently encourage those students who are fearful to take a risk. I am able to explain to every child that this place is the beginning of their story, not the end.

It's always a good practice to reflect. If you would like to share your story link up. What is your SLP story? How have your life experiences primed you for your career?

Write it! Dream it! Love it! Share it! Live it! Be it!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Supporting One Another: The Power of Encouragement

This post has been on my mind since July. I have hemmed and hawed about writing it, and then thought, "It's time." I've been contemplating what support looks like in our profession. As speech-language pathologists we are 100% behind our students. We go the extra mile, we devote our time, energy and talents to helping our students/clients achieve. We spend our own hard earned cash. We create, remediate and advocate! All this for our students and clients. We would never consider suggesting our students can't or shouldn't try something new or hard. We would never suggest they not try something innovative or daring. Would we? I think not.

This summer while at ASHA Connect I was enjoying some social time with friends, old and new. We were a mixed group, ranging in age from 30s to 50s. Some of us worked in the schools, some in SNFs, some in private practice and some who even are COOs of health care organizations. Our common thread, speech-language pathology.  The conversation moved to our college days, as some of our group were reunited with college professors while at ASHA Connect. One would think the reunions were happy, not so.  I was shocked to hear from these accomplished and successful individuals that while they were in undergraduate or graduate school they were DISCOURAGED from continuing in the field, despite high marks. One was told she wasn't a "good representation of the profession." Another was told her voice was "too harsh." I recall a professor in graduate school posing to our class, "How many of you might pursue a PH.D? None I presume, you are not good graduate students." I felt flattened.  I was a great student with a 3.87 G.P.A., a graduate assistant in the department, and I was looking forward to a long and successful career. Clearly, however, I was NOT Ph.D. material. I have carried that with me my whole career.

Fast forward to today's internet driven world. We have SLP blogs and TeachersPayTeachers. We have Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. We have SLP glitterati and followers. Just the term followers makes me cringe! And yet, we all have the same goals, to help those who need it. For some reason a strata has emerged that breaks my heart. Sellers versus buyers. Posters versus likers. Names versus followers. Groups versus individuals. Who's in versus who's not.

Our field is fueled by advocacy and support and yet, it seems we have forgotten how to support each other. It isn't always outright, sometimes it's more subtle, like ignoring the efforts of groups/individuals viewed as rivals. Rivals for what? Followers? Likes? Sales? While at ASHA this summer I was flat out, face to face ignored by a "friend" who only chooses to speak to me when others aren't around! Of course, I know my value. I was initially hurt by the dismissal, then quickly realized it had nothing to do with me. On the contrary.

I may not be a big TpT seller (by choice, I have decided to focus on my practice and create when I have a need) but I have a lifetime of experience. I did therapy before lesson plans could be downloaded for $5.00. I was creating goals for diverse populations before goal banks. I was writing evaluations by hand before spellcheck. I was using ditto masters and thermofax machines before some SLPs were born. My hope for this community is that at some point we all realize the contributions we can offer to each other. Not just those in our niche.

My hope is that collectively SLPs learn to view each other as assets, not rivals. That we move forward as a group with each person sharing their vision, so that collectively we support those who need our support. Support doesn't necessarily mean advice, either. It may just mean encouragement. It means a professor encouraging the graduate student who needs to take a risk or make a change. It means offering encouragement to the person who thinks they can't to, "Yes, start a blog." It means encouraging a creative SLP to author products. It means encouraging the seller who just posted a picture of her new creation by commenting. It means encouraging the author who is successful and not begrudging them their success. It means so many things that are kind and loving and inclusive.

Imagine then a field where we all use growth mindset thinking and encourage each other to work hard and strive to be the best version of ourselves we can be.  How would that then trickle down into our own lives, our interactions with our families, colleagues and students? It may just be a dream, but it's a good one and it IS POSSIBLE. "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11