My entire professional career can be summarized by what binder I was holding, and where I was while holding it. I waltzed into my interview for graduate school with a small binder, and a ton of nerves; I entered the current school I’m working in (my first job, ever!) holding my giant binder containing my portfolio. However, the most important binder in my very “speechy” timeline is the one I took to my school practicum.
Many departments offer different variations of clinical experience, whether they’re in a clinic, school, or hospital setting. Everyone gets their hours, but sadly to say, some either have poor experiences or don’t make the best use of their time. When I entered into the first day of my school practicum, I was chock-full of bulletin board ideas, and holiday-themed crafts. I almost exploded with Velcro and stickers! Then it hit me–I was going to have five faces staring at me every day as I navigated teaching them everything they needed to know. All while attempting to be as entertaining as their Xbox or iPhones. I began to panic.
That’s when I recalled the power of supervision. I had almost forgotten the wonderful woman who showed me around the building on my first day. Oh yeah–that nice lady is going to hold my hand through the first few weeks of this! Thank the Speechy Powers That Be!
Not only did my supervisor support me through my practicum, but she let me fly. Our first sessions with the students from the self-contained classroom left my head spinning. Were we shaking maracas and throwing scarves? Did I need to invest in Velcro’s stock? How many times can we sing that song? Oh, and when will this song leave my brain!? By the third week, I was singing, shaking, and velcroing with the best of them. We had an intense caseload with fantastic kids. Everything my supervisor uttered, handed me, sent me, all went in my binder. I knew I only had this window of opportunity for so long and I had to keep it all. I left my cozy clinical experience and now have embarked upon my Clinical Fellowship Year. I went to pick up one of my first students, and was met with a non-verbal child with autism spectrum disorder. He, of course, did not have his AAC device. I grabbed his hand, said a small prayer to the Speech Gods, and we went to the classroom. It was scary, sure, but I had this; I knew what to do. Not only did I have the materials from my binder, but I had the training to go with them. Skills I learned in a classroom are necessary and invaluable (especially when I pull out those technical words in a meeting to prove a very Speechy point!). However, the knowledge I gained from my supervisor, and my school practicum, is what makes me a good speech-language pathologist.
So my advice is this: Take the time to cherish, learn from, and stumble during your school practicum. Rewrite things, ask questions, and most importantly, make sure you’re in the placement where you will learn best. I’m now navigating my CF in a new building, with new students, new faculty, and a new non-graduate student version of myself. I’m surviving and, even better, also learning something every second (or so it seems). However, I always say that if I had not had the practicum experience that I did, or my handy binder that absorbed it all, I most likely would be crying in a corner hugging my Praxis book!
Alexis Gaines, MA, CF, is a speech-language pathologist for the New York City Department of Education. She is using Instagram to document her clinical fellowship and you can follow her @practicallyspeeching and #instacfy! You also can follow her blog “Practically Speeching.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.