You’ve done it! Congratulations! Six years of school, countless clinical hours, and the Praxis. Now that it’s time to start your first job as a speech-language pathologist. Your first job will teach you all those things you didn’t learn in graduate school. After my first few years, I’ve reflected on the most important lessons I learned and here are the top twelve:
1. Be kind. Be kind to everyone! Everyday. Learn everyone’s names. Thank your secretaries, clerks, and custodians as many times as you can. Don’t underestimate the amount of help they will give you!
2. Go out of your way to connect with families. There are many reasons this is important. You won’t get the full picture of your student’s life if you don’t know something about their family and their life outside the school day. Your parents will be much more likely to buy-in to your homework plans and carryover if you’ve made a personal connection with them. Lastly, you are taking care of their baby (the most precious thing to them in the whole word). If you’re working with their 3-year-old they will feel so much better if they know who the heck you are!
3. Don’t procrastinate. You’ll need help and there is no getting around that. If you are writing an IEP at home at 9 pm for an 8 am meeting and then the printer doesn’t work, you won’t have time to make other arrangements.
4. Be a team player. Bite the bullet and volunteer to do things that take extra time. If you have a talent use it to help others. For example, whipping up visuals is super easy for me. Even when a student isn’t on my caseload, I often make up data sheets or visual posters to support students going through our RTI team. Your team will appreciate your talents and you will be able to ask your team to help you with their specific talents.
5. Think generalization from day one. Ask your student’s teacher what is the ONE thing you can work on to make the biggest difference in the classroom.
6. If you make a mistake, admit it, and find a way to solve it. Then don’t make that mistake again. You’re going to make mistakes, just be gracious when you do.
7. Ask for help, but do your own research first. Your co-workers and administrators will be willing to help as you get to know the paperwork. If you can do the research yourself and spend the time to try to solve problems yourself before you check in for help.
8. You aren’t done learning. Get involved with ASHA, blogs, conferences, whatever it takes. When a kiddo comes along and you haven’t seen that disorder before, get busy researching.
9. There’s nothing worse than being out of compliance or completing paperwork incorrectly. Your supervisors might not see how great your therapy is everyday, but the minute you’re out of compliance they will notice. The ‘take home message’… get organized early. Double check your dates and get with your teachers, clerks and intervention specialists. Get yourself organized before you get busy decorating that cute therapy office!
10. Advocate for all things speech and language in your buildings. You might even need to advocate for new ideas within the SLPs in your district. Speak up when you have a good idea, but remember that you’re new. Sometimes it pays to be quiet and listen to what seasoned SLPs have to say. They seriously know so much.
11. Document, document, and document. Remember, if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen.
12. You’re just one fish in the sea. Remember that when it comes to scheduling, therapy time, etc. everyone needs ‘time’ with the students. Work with your team. Just get over the fact that you think you’re done with your schedule the first time. It will change monthly if not weekly.
The best part of being a speech language pathologist is that you’re never done learning. You’ll get new interesting children added to your caseload, be challenged to use new technology, and collaborate in ways you never thought you would. By this time next year you’ll be able to make your own ‘top 12’ list of valuable lessons.
Jenna Rayburn, MA, CCC-SLP. is a school based speech-language pathologist from Columbus, Ohio. She writes at her blog, Speech Room News. You can follow her on facebook, twitter, instragram and pinterest.