Where’s the Union? Where’s the Advocacy?

Periodically, ugly topics raise their heads, and everyone gasps, and commiserates, and does absolutely nothing but whine.

**Raises hand** I’m guilty. I admit it…raises hand

Inertia is a powerful force in ALL things.  It seems to be even more powerful when it’s a complicated and stressful situation. While no one likes the situation as it is now, it’s less scary to face the bad known than the unknown. I get it. I really do. Heck, the reason I haven’t given notice at my job is because I’m scared of the unknown! But there comes a time when we truly need to DO something. 

Recently on Facebook the school-based SLPs were whiningcommisserating... discussing (really it was a discussion although there was the occasional whine too which isn’t a bad thing) the age-old never-ending situation of caseload. Many of the SLPs were discussing caseloads of 80s and 100s (yes, here in the states). Having to make up missed sessions due to testing or meetings or pretend snow days (you know, those days built into the calendar in case of bad weather – so you have to make up the days that you missed plus the snow day and I gave up trying to figure out that load of cr… brilliance!).

In reality, and in my apparently-not-so-humble-opinion (after all I’m writing this in the hopes that you haven’t closed the page yet), it’s not possible to truly make up days when you have an already insane caseload.

What are you going to do? Create groups of 10-12 instead of groups of 6-7? That’s effective (yes, that was sarcasm). In those situations, we end up simply filling in attendance boxes and to heck with actually DOING any therapy. It’s a waste of the SLP’s time and the student’s time. Now, don’t get me wrong..I’m not blaming the SLP here. Well… No, really I’m not. The SLP is doing what she/he has been told to do by the Powers-That-Be (PTB). But, the PTB don’t understand what it is we do – or how we do it – or the effect that we have on the lives of our kids, or how treating early and well reduces costs in the long-run.

One of the responses was that SLPs need a UNION. Now, I’m not anti-union. I’ve belonged to unions before and agree they have their uses. But, I’m not sure that we need to jump to the good ship Union just yet. It seems to me that what a union does for its members is something our state associations SHOULD ALREADY be doing. (For those of you who are certain a union is the way to go – here’s the link to the AFL-CIO to figure out how to start one.)

Everyone (and I mean everyone – including myself) rants about how ASHA supports everyone EXCEPT school-based SLPs…but no one talks about their state Associations. ASHA’s job isn’t to mandate – its job is to guide, to lobby for federal things, and to educate. State associations should lobby for state rules.

Yep… I said it. What’s your local association doing for you?

**listening to the crickets chirp**

Now don’t go beating down the door to your state association or talking badly about them…Look in a mirror first. Have YOU done anything to educate your association of what the problem is? Or have you, like many, simply stopped when your SPED director (or Principal or Lead SLP) said “deal with it.” Did you go to the next level? Did you get your information in a row so you can educate the PTB in what we do and how we do it? 

Voices are powerful. We teach our kids to advocate for themselves…yet, we don’t follow through with it for ourselves. We need to advocate for ourselves.

An acquaintance of mine, Rachel over at www.graymattertherapy.com had a letter writing campaign to ASHA this past fall regarding productivity and ethics for medical SLPs. ASHA listened and had a bit of a discussion at the member’s forum at the 2013 convention. Unfortunately, there were very few people who attended the members forum. ASHA listened – it’s making some moves…but it’s not going to impact school SLPs.

There is not a single school-based SLP who went into the profession for “the money.” We went into it because we love what we do and we know we make a huge change in the lives of our students. But, now I’m hearing about SLPs who have only been working for 2-3 years are already burnt out of schools because of the insanity. Or others who are telling people to NOT go into the schools because it’s crazy.

If school SLPs want things to be different, we need to step up to the plate and make a difference happen…and yes, it’s scary. Having extremely high caseloads is tantamount to abuse. It’s an abuse to the SLPs and it’s unethical in that it affects the FAPE (free and appropriate public education) of the student. But, like any abusive situation, it’s scary to contemplate change…maybe we deserve it? Maybe it’ll be worse if I leave? What will I do to live? I get that, I really do. But, like an abusive relationship – we cannot truly LIVE if we remain in that situation.

So…where do we start?

We need to decide what’s wrong. Then create ways to correct it (beyond the obvious hiring a thousand more SLPs). If the PTB won’t listen – go to the state association. If the state association won’t listen – go to ASHA. If ASHA won’t listen go to the Union.

Maybe it’s not the actual number of kids we need to look at – but the amount of time and disability. After all 10 students that are severely impaired and require massive amounts of time for services and meetings is more draining than 10 artic kids (oh wait! there are actually schools that don’t let SLPs work on artic because of caseloads – I won’t even get started on that rant!). Maybe we need to look at severity to create a workload model. You know similar to a weighted student count for classrooms: Artic and generic language = 1, Severe Phono/CAS = 1.5,High Functioning ASD = 1.5, Severe ASD – 2, etc., etc. With no more than 50 kids per this model. That takes into consideration both severity, number of sessions, and number of meetings/paperwork. Maybe the answer IS to create a union… I honestly don’t know. The only thing I’m sure of is that the answer is not to bail on the profession and leave something that feeds that hunger in your soul for making a difference in the life of a child.

Speak up…ASHA does listen. States are making changes – but we have to keep pushing them…and advocating for ourselves…and even more so – advocating for those who can’t – our kids.

So…Please don’t leave me hate mail (I hate hate mail)..but I’d love to hear your thoughts about suggestions you might have for how we can make a difference…how we can advocate…and how you will advocate.

Until then…Adventure on!



4 thoughts on “Where’s the Union? Where’s the Advocacy?

  1. Excellent blog! Might I add the concerns of itinerant SLPs; many hear my low caseload number and do not understand the travel time involved (over 700 miles per week). I used to do a lot of travel before and after school hours. Good working conditions often hinge on administrators (PTB) but if we can, as you suggest, go to another influence such as state associations perhaps they can help reign in administrative problems in schools.

    • Agreed! I think the PTB may be even beyond the local administrators (although it certainly starts there). My local admin are fabulous (probably the biggest reason I’m still here)…but I know my case seems to be the exception rather than the rule (sadly).

  2. I work in a small school district and luckily with a small caseload. I have the advantage of giving my students what they need, any where from 60-120 minutes of therapy per week. My problem is the “makeup” time. I make a schedule based on the classroom schedule and can not pull from core subjects or PE. So..when am I supposed to make it up? I was recently out for 2 weeks, with no sub, (which has to be an SLP, which are plentiful). I am supposed to make up that time. Sure… I also do all of my own testing, reports and IEPs. I tested 18 students this past semester, that is a lot for my district. I am supposed to makeup the times I missed students for testing, Once again, when? My PTB, want but don’ always get, names, dates and times of makeup. I never get it done. Paperwork??? never enough time.

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