What’s in a Name?

I’ve been hesitant about writing this post for a few reasons…

1) I’m a fairly new blogger and I would hate to lose readers already…2) There’s a fair amount of controversy that rears its ugly head periodically and this is one of those… and 3) Similar blogs have been written recently and I didn’t want to step on toes.

That being said…I think it’s time to delve in and stir up the waters just a bit. I guess we’ll see who is listening…err… reading.

During one of my undergrad classes we were given a lecture on how to work in the school system and play nice with teachers. In this lecture, the professor talked about everything that SLPs used to be called. You know, “speech correctionist,” “speech therapist” and so on and so on. I remember this professor going on and on about how many SLPs make the mistake of holding themselves above teachers and refusing to do bus duty, lunchroom duty, etc. and that was just wrong! This professor also said that in order to create harmony in the school system, we should be okay (even encourage) being called a speech teacher.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a teacher is a) someone who instructs, or b) a Mormon who ranks higher than a deacon. Since your schools are supposed to be non-religious, I think we can safely rule out the Mormon definition. That leaves us with someone who instructs. Granted, we do sometimes “instruct” as in give directions, teach how to do something, expect compliance…but, we are not teachers.

Teachers spend hours per week with each child, teach a myriad of subjects, and provide appropriate feedback in the way of corrections, tests, grades, etc. I do not spend hours with each child…heck, I’m lucky if I can spend an hour with a child in a week. I do not teach math, health, science, etc. although I do help with those subjects (sometimes). I do not give “tests” for the purpose of providing grades. I do not “instruct” in the traditional sense. I provide a type of therapy.  I am not a teacher.

Now, before I lose too many readers, please know I have the utmost respect for teachers and firmly believe the fate of students today is in their hands. Frankly, I would struggle to fill a teacher’s shoes. I know I would struggle with grading and a number of other things teachers have to do. I don’t deserve to be called a teacher.

ASHA has stated that SLPs should be known as Speech-Language Pathologists. Basically, what ASHA says is that humans communicate through language, without language humans have a significant handicap, and that SLPs are responsible for diagnosing, therapy, and remediation of language disorders. We all knew that and it doesn’t come as any surprise. There is however, a fourth bullet that ASHA makes:

“WHEREAS, this should be immediately and prominently discernible to other specialists and the general public”

This is the part that I believe many people gloss over. Why is it important to be called a Speech-Language Pathologist? So that other people know you are a specialist. So the general public knows you are someone to go to for specific expert help. So the parents of your students recognize you as a language expert. The “speech teacher” teaches public speaking, oration, and possibly speech and drama. The speech-language pathologist teaches children to communicate. There is a world of difference.

Now, I’m not saying we should start a mutiny and refuse to speak unless addressed correctly (although trust me, there are days I’d love to do that!)…but I do think we need to gently correct people. When I’m in my RTI meetings and someone says “you’re the speech teacher” I correct them. When I’m introduced to parents by another teacher or the principal, I’m introduced as the speech-language pathologist. When I introduce myself, I say I’m the speech-language pathologist at so-and-so school. The only time I accept “speech teacher” is from my younger students who aren’t able to see the difference. From everyone else, I expect to be called what I am…a speech-language pathologist.

I believe this mislabeling leads to legislative difficulties and hoops that we as SLPs have to jump through. In some cases, it leads to an inability to be gainfully employed, and at the very least, it costs us, the SLPs, money. I’ll explain that in the next post since this one is getting long.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you object to being called a “speech teacher?” Do you consider yourself a teacher? Leave me a note here and let me know what you think.

Until the…Adventure on!


14 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. You are a brave one to broach this subject 🙂 I was called “Peech Teacher” by my kids and that was ok with me. I worked in a poverty school so I referred to myself as a Speech Therapist because of the educational level of the parents. They knew what a physical therapist was so they then could associate the therapist part. They would have never remembered speech language pathologist. I sensed that when I corrected others (teachers/friends) when they referred to me as the speech teacher instead of SLP they felt I was trying to put myself above them or was somehow belittling their position. While I agree totally with what you are saying about using our title to designate what we do, I found that my personal relationships in my work setting functioned better when I was just the “speech teacher/speech therapist.”

    • We do need to keep the lines of communication open. I agree, Dean, that sometimes we have to use therapist, particularly when talking with parents…I try to use SLP as much as possible, but sometimes we have to accept therapist. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much with the kids.

      Initially my teachers may have felt I was trying to put myself above them, but I have consistently said, I don’t deserve that title. I don’t give grades, I don’t teach the subjects they teach. Thankfully it hasn’t affected my relationship with my teachers at all once I explained why.

      I’ve also explained that I do not hold a teaching certificate…but that’s tomorrows post. 🙂

      • In the early years (back in the 1970’s) we were required to obtain a teaching certificate to work in the public schools, so I do hold a “lifetime provisional teaching certificate for speech and hearing therapy.” LOL There have been many changes in my lifetime in what we were to call ourselves in this profession. It has only been in these latter years that Speech-Language Pathologist became our “label.”

        Personally I was always more outraged by SLPs working in a medical setting implying that public school SLPs weren’t as good as those in the hospital/clinic setting. That upset me more than being called a teacher.

  2. Agreed. Important points! At my last school they tried to call me a Communication Specialist. I wasn’t really happy with that either, it seemed too broad, like I would be addressing public speaking, etc. But it is better than “speech teacher” for sure. I go with SLP or T if people don’t understand the P.

    • I agree with your point about going with T if people don’t understand the P, Sean. While I think pathologist is preferable, at least therapist is less of an error than teacher. Teacher is just misleading and incorrect, in my opinion.

  3. Yes, right on, Mary!!! The label “teacher” is misleading at best and doesn’t serve us well in educating the public about what our job entails. I do allow “speech therapist” as shorthand for adults (especially parents) or “speech teacher” by children, but have “Speech-Language Pathologist” prominently posted on my door, email “stationery”, and on all written and printed correspondence. I also use SLP when introducing myself at meetings, even though it’s a mouthful – I think that may be the main reason people gravitate toward the shorter versions. And being in a school does lend itself to being labeled a “teacher”, but I regularly (and also gently) correct people and remind them that I am a therapist, not a teacher – there’s a huge difference – that you so eloquently described above.

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  6. I agree that “teacher” is not appropriate title for us, but “pathologist” is ghastly, mainly for 2 reasons: 1. a pathologist, normally understood, is a diagnostician. We do more than diagnose communication disorders…we treat them as well (therapist, anyone?). 2. “Pathologist” is not an easy word to say, especially if you have a speech articulation disorder. Why make it hard on many of our clients to address us properly?

    I truly wish we would be called speech-language therapists or communication therapists. I am not hopeful that our title will change, however.

  7. I prefer the title “speech therapist,” and I introduce myself to parents and teachers as such. If a parent states that she was told that her child requires services by a speech-language pathologist, I (pleasantly) state that my “official” title and training is that of an SLP, but I prefer the old title. I really don’t make a big deal about being referred to as a speech-language pathologist, speech, therapist or speech teacher, but I hate our “correct” title. Calling ourselves speech-language pathologists is just confusting and pretentious to our clients, students, colleagues, and parents. We have done our profession a disservice by adopting our ridiculous title.

  8. This is a very interesting discussion. I will be starting my CFY in a public school in August, and I realize now I need to make a decision about how I will approach my title. I do feel that it’s very important for teachers and parents (and admin of course) to have an understanding of our qualifications and responsibilities, but similarly to a poster above, my school is in a very low income area… I don’t want to jargon the parents and make them feel like I’m a fancy-shmancy so-and-so.

    After reading this post and this one [She mentions you Mary: http://www.pediastaff.com/blog/if-you-call-me-speech-teacher-one-more-time-9709 ], I think that I will always refer to myself as a speech and language pathologist when speaking with colleagues, but possibly not correct them; and I will refer to myself as a speech therapist to families, except for at IEPs and on any documentation. Anyone in kindergarten can call me anything they want as long as it’s sweet. It has occurred to me that older artic kids might rather have us be known as “speech teacher” because it wouldn’t have the same connotations as “therapist,” which some older friends would partially understand and feel self-conscious about… so maybe the kids can call me speech teacher. Gosh that’s a lot of names!

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