I think it’s time to brush off these cobwebs. I’m considering presenting on the continued need for SLPs to advocate for their students and their sanity.
Advocacy…Advocacy…who has the Advocacy…
Also known as 7 Habits of the Burnt-Out SLP
Alternately known as 10 Ways to Dump an SLP …
Affectionately known as Who has a Life? I have Reports to Write…
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4 thoughts on “Adventures in Advocacy”
I am curious – is anything being done by ASHA to establish a nationwide criteria for caseload caps in the schools? I was guilty of the “trying to do it all” mindset over the past two years because I love a challenge and thought I could whip this speech department into shape – efficient, well-oiled, runs-by-itself kind of department. 80+ IEPs and about 15-20 Tier 2 and Section 504 Plan kiddos makes for a huge workload, and even with two full-time assistants, I can’t do it all. I sat down one day and listed all of my job responsibilities and nearly burst into tears – the list was HUGE. My saving grace this school year was a new director and she is helping me take a real close look at my students and making decisions about dismissal. I found that we had (and still have) a lot of students that really don’t qualify but because the previous director had been there forever, as well as the SLP, students were kept on because of emotions getting in the way and too much pandering to parents. I am drafting an eligibility form with rubrics that clearly define severity of speech and language disorders as well as a policy of how many standard deviations below the mean will mean identifying or not. It was kind of a gray area (and still sometimes is, but at least I will have a better guideline) and students were being identified (for example) when they got only two subtest scores just below the average range out of about 8-10 tests. I’ve gotten better at speaking up at meetings and letting the team know that those scores are (usually) outliers and (almost without fail) are tests that require memory or strong attention skills. I feel more confident now to be able to say, “Yes, there are a couple of trouble areas, but overall, these results indicate that Johnny’s language skills are within normal limits but he may have some trouble with memory tasks.” The school psychologist’s report usually backs this observation up, thank goodness. Even though we may pare down the caseload, I still think I will have too many. I see all my “heavy-hitters” and closely supervise my assistants (who have no field training) who see the rest. Meetings take up an inordinate amount of time and the evaluations seem to come in waves, furthering the problem of time management. One thing I did do this year was to put my foot down about taking work home. I decided I was not helping my cause by trying to do it all and I wanted them to see that it CAN’T all be done with the time and staff we’re given. I do stay every day at least an hour later, sometimes up to three, and on occasion will take something home if it means having an evaluation report in on time for a meeting. I have presented my findings at meetings if the report wasn’t finished and we have two weeks to get the copy to everyone, so that helps as well. But still – I am definitely stressed out and the money just isn’t worth it. This is my defining year – if I don’t get relief by the end of this year, I am moving on, but also fear that I will be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. I love my school and almost everyone in it and really don’t want to make another move. I’m 5 years away from school retirement and want to stay, so I am hoping that my director will be the one to make that happen. She is VERY supportive and I am grateful for that, but at some point, the school board is going to have to find a way to get some more help to manage this huge caseload (it’s a small, low socio-economic town with a very high percentage of special needs children). I am hoping that ASHA and/or the State will step up and do the right thing.
It sounds like you’re on the right track Pam. I know ASHA is aware and is trying to work something out so that states follow guidelines. States really need to step up to the plate. Unfortunately, I did a survey about a year ago now and the majority of SLPs who complained about too high a workload – never complained to the state association…Many of them had no idea WHO to complain to, which is a big problem.
I think you are making some great headway into advocating for yourself and your students. Keep it up! Encourage others to advocate too. We have an ethical obligation to do so…not to mention, no one wants to burn out! I wish you lots of luck and hope your caseload diminishes! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.
Thanks, Mary – and you’re right – I have NO idea who to complain to. I am also guilty of not joining my state’s SLP association (so many things to do and keep track of that one slipped by me, and, I can’t remember ever being approached to join!) and that will be a first step toward advocacy for myself and others. My cynical side says that I don’t think it will make a difference, because districts are autonomous and can pretty much do what they want, being only constrained by union demands and school board decisions.
It may not have the desired effect, but it’s a step in the right direction. ASHA doesn’t pass laws. It can only make recommendations to states…State associations have to lobby within the states and unions. Belonging to, and volunteering with, a state committee is a great way to make changes from the inside out. If you are one that has to belong (or has chosen to belong) to a union, start talking with the union rep about concerns – they may be able to help. I can’t imagine a teacher’s union allowing a teacher to have 80+ students in their classroom, teaching in closets, no planning time, etc.
One voice may not seem like much – but when it’s used the right way, it can make a world of difference.
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