If You Call Me “Speech Teacher” One More Time

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by:  Jenn Alcorn, CCC-SLP 

So what brought me to this post was a conversation I had on Twitter.  I’m not sure how it started, or even where I got involved (it’s actually acceptable to butt in on a convo!) but it came down to SLPs being labeled, treated, and paid like a teacher.  Now.  Backspace.  I have the utmost respect for teachers…gen ed, special ed, music, art, I love you all.  My mom was a fabulous teacher and I am ever inspired by her.  I think teachers are amazing creatures and I could never never never never teach a class of 18 or 20 or 25 kids all day long.  Did I say never?  I really couldn’t.  Teachers probably feel the same way about us….although I do get told pretty frequently “I should have been a speech path!”.  I think they think I must play games all day.  Which I do.  But its more complicated than that, as you all know.  I digress….

I happen to work in a district where I am considered a teacher.  I am paid like a teacher.  I get no stipend for holding my CCC’s and no funds to pay my licensure or certification or CEU’s.  I am thankful I do not have to hold teacher certification, as some of my other SLP friends do.  I’m evaluated like a teacher.  I have a caseload of around 65, am a member of my school’s RTI team, have a revolving door of people to help, and never seem to have enough time to do many things I want to.  However, I love my job.  I am lucky enough that I get paid to do what I love.  It brings me incredible amounts of joy.  But sometimes I wonder…usually after someone calls me the speech teacher… am I shortchanging myself working in this setting?  Am I doing enough?

The plain and simple fact is:  we are not teachers.  I do not have an education degree.  I do not hold a teaching certificate.  I did not know a thing about curriculum and standards and literacy centers until I started working.  I am an SLP.  I know ASHA, the Big Nine, acronyms for a million dx tests, phonetic symbols, treatment plans, cranial nerves, and how to make any person say any sound in the English language.  I know what dx means.  And tx.  Point is, my skill set is different. I sometimes joke with teacher friends that I don’t teach, I pathologize (said with a dash of sassy, of course).   Fighting this battle almost seems never ending.  I know a lot of SLP’s don’t mind being called the speech teacher.  I am not one of those.  I do not think any of us should be.

I know the policy differs from state to state…even district to district.  I have friends in other counties in Florida that must have their speech-language teaching certificate to practice.  We definitely need more uniformity. It just is crazy that there are different sets of expectations when I cross a border…whether it’s county or state.

I read a great blog post recently on advocacy by a fabulous SLP, Mary, over at Speech Adventures.  Her thoughts on advocating for ourselves as far as our workload, spill over into this situation.  We have to continue to educate others about what we do and who we are.  Command the respect that we deserve.  I think the complacency that occurs is because we are tired.  We work hard and wear too many hats.  We like to help and do everything we can to make everyone happy. It seems like such a battle that isn’t as important as the 4 IEP’s I have to write and the lesson plans I need to make and the Medicaid billing I’m behind on.   But it is.  It’s important.

I am not asking for my name in lights on the school billboard.  I don’t think I am any better or more important than anyone else in the building.  I just want my title, the one I worked so hard for and earned in the master’s program that was required of me to get national certification so I can be here to play the games that make our children better communicators.  That’s all.

I would love to hear your comments on this one…  Are you considered a teacher in your district?  Are you ok with being called the speech teacher?  If you don’t work in the schools, what is your opinion of all of this?

Featured Contributor:  Jenn Alcorn of Crazy Speech World

Jenn Alcorn is a fifth year, school based Speech-Language Pathologist in Florida.  She currently works with students from grades PK to 8.  Jenn is also the author of the www.crazyspeechworld.blogspot.com

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17 Responses to If You Call Me “Speech Teacher” One More Time

  1. Linda Church says:

    I don’t work in a school district, but I fully agree with you. How about this one–when admin refers to “the speechies”—-instead of speech pathologists. Really? Does he also refer to the psychologists as “the psychos?” No….

  2. Kayla says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I totally agree and thought I was alone in my dislike for not being referred to as the therapists we are. I’ve even gotten into countless debates with my dad for introducing me to others as a teacher (not even including speech in the title) just because of the setting in which I work. I love teachers, my mom was one as well but what we do is simply different than teaching, that’s all. I think a lot of it has to do with a misunderstanding from others of what we do. Thank you for reassuring me I am not a crazy speech therapist who has lost all her marbles in the shuffle of endless things we do day to day. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for any other career, I would just like to be referred to as the title I worked so hard for.

  3. sue says:

    In meetings with parents I am a speech/language pathologist, but with my little students PS-1 I am the speech teacher. They know what teachers are and it helps them figure out what I do. I’m proud to be both!

  4. Sher says:

    Yeah, I hear you. I work in an elementary school, both in a classroom and out. You know the perception townspeople have about teachers – that they get out of school early and have summer off to rest? …well, that’s the attitude that teachers have about us SLPs. We play, we have a few kids at a time, and all those meetings…well, it must be nice to have such a cushy job as a SLP. There are some teachers who still are not able to tell the difference between kids that need artic vs kids who have language issues or potential classification needs. They think that if I see the child for speech sounds, that will straighten out all the other issues. We’re part of the school ‘family’, but we’re also the eccentric ‘aunts’ (or uncles) who go their own way and no-one is clear on what they do. Our district could use a refresher at the beginnning of the scholl year staffing meeting to describe what the SLPs do, and how we can help.

  5. Emily says:

    I could not agree with you more! The hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear “speech teacher”!!! I’ve laughingly corrected sometimes– “I’m not a speech teacher– I don’t teach how to give speeches ‘cuz I won’t even a speech myself”. Although I’m not terribly fond of any of them that leave the “language” part out. Maybe Communication Specialist?? That might be one that people might not actually butcher… LOL!

  6. Reagan says:

    I am also paid on the teacher schedule. I otfen think it unfair that my psychologist counterparts that also do testing, report writing, caseload management, team chairs, but NO therapy, are paid on the administrative schedule. They make roughly twice what I do with less experience, and get an office day at our central office to bounce ideas off each other. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, they are great, but we do everything they do, and more. I hate being called a speech teacher, it gives false impressions, especially to really old and really young teachers that all I do is sit in my room and practice the s and r sounds all day. If they only knew. That said, fighting that fight is hard, and I am tired. Unfair of course.

  7. Kayla (a different one) says:

    I am in my Masters program and mentioned this to one of my instructors once, who had talked about the different names that SLPs could go by- I said I would prefer to be called an SLP as opposed to a speech teacher, within the school setting. She sort of snapped at me, saying that we don’t give teachers enough credit and that we don’t necessarily work harder than them just because we may have went to school longer. I realize they have a tough job but that wasn’t my point. My point was that, as you said, we do not hold education degrees, and we are NOT teachers and if I obtain my master’s in Speech Language Pathology, well, I want to be referred to as an SLP!

  8. Trina says:

    I am a Speech-Language Pathologist in Private Practice. I have contracts in both medical and educational settings, including the Public School system. I am frequently referred to as “the speech teacher” when I work in a school setting, and have no negative issue with it whatsoever. We all know that our official title is Speech-Language Pathologist. How often do you reply as such when asked your occupation, only to be followed up with, “Oh……….what is that?” SLP: “Speech Therapist……?” Layperson: “OHHHH! Okay! My niece ‘goes to speech’ at school!” In my opinion, being labeled “the speech teacher” in a school setting is a simple and effective way to describe to parents, staff, and students, who I am and what I do. In the school setting, we are often diectly “providing instruction”. We sign IEP documents, assessment reports, and other relevant paperwork with our credentials “CCC-SLP”, not “speech teacher”, so I fail to see why one would feel any lack of acknowledgement. A simple solution which also can address a number of other potential issues for SLP’s working in schools, is to ask your site principal for 5 minutes at the1st staff meeting of the school year to introduce yourself, briefly summarize your role, and hand out a colorful chart outlining age-appropriate sound production/referral guidelines, etc. (with your “SLP” business card attached!!!) Keeping in mind that our job is to facilitate communication, is it really THAT big of a deal to be referred to in a manner which not only accurately describes our role in the setting, but simplifies it for others?

  9. Jill Topp says:

    With close to 20 years of experience, I have worked in a variety of settings and have been called and have actually given myself a variety of different titles to fit in. I am in agreement with Trina and live by the motto “When in Rome, do what the Romans do”. Blend in with your surroundings and do a good job. This will command the respect you want and deserve. Also, if you are not in favour of the way your workplace is treating you on the pay scale, then go where you feel you will be treated fairly and write a well constructed letter to your old workplace explaining why you left. If enough people do this, then maybe the voices of the masses will speak louder and the district will change their policies. Every workplace has a different set of rules.

  10. Pamela Williams says:

    This thread (and Mary’s) only serves to give me the motivation to put together my “What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?” presentation. I created an outline of the idea, as a “curriculum”, for different presentation levels for grades K-12, for a graduate course that was a requirement for SLPs to work in Maine schools. The instructor liked it so much she encouraged me to flesh it out and market it! It would be fairly short and would explain the profession, what we do, what kinds of people we serve, and also, for the older grades outline how one goes about becoming an SLP (we need more recruitment!). I also included some modeling and practice for the older grades as well, so they could get an idea of what it felt like to be a student needing speech services. I believe this would also educate school personnel and explain our profession as well as our roles and responsibilities, thus removing any stigma and misconceptions.

  11. Cindy says:

    I work in a state where you must hold a teacher’s certificate to be a SLP in the public schools. However, I started out as a teacher. So I mentioned to my administrator one day; I can do what a teacher does, but a teacher can NOT do what I do. Yes, I may be a speech teacher to the students, but I prefer SLP by my co-workers because like all other SLP’s we have earned our titles.

  12. Cherie says:

    I have a bigger pet peeve than that. In Arizona there is a special license for people who have bachelor’s degrees in speech. It’s called the limited license. They can only work in schools. The part that drives me nuts? They can do everything I can do except bill Medicaid. They eval, diagnose, treat, write IEPs, everything, WITHOUT any kind of supervision. Some of them work as a limited while working on their masters but many stop with the bachelors because they can. It makes me crazy.

  13. Diana says:

    When I first started as an SLP in the schools in my state, a teaching certificate was required. The coursework and student teaching experience proved to be critical training that allowed me to work closely with classroom teachers, administrators, and special education professionals. I also racked up a significant amount of experience working directly with children. My teaching certificate together with my CCC-SLP allowed me to take my passion for oral language and literacy to new levels as a literacy coach. In my view, SLP’s that work in schools should be willing and able to venture into the classroom for a first hand view of how their students are functioning. My job as an SLP in the schools according to the law is to assist children with speech and language difficulties to access core curriculum. I need to be able to demonstrate for parents and teachers how their child’s speech and language challenges are impacting them in the classroom environment. I don’t have an issue with being called a speech teacher. I don’t think it diminishes me as an SLP or the profession at all. In twenty-five years, I’ve never had a parent inquire about my credentials. What they wanted to know was how I planned to help their child be successful.

  14. Heather says:

    I work in a school district, as wel,l and face the same issues. I am evaluated 3 times a year by my principal who has a background in education, not speech-language pathology and I feel like I constantly need to explain my role, over and over. The district says we are there to help with “access to curriculum” which forces us all too often into a “teacher” role as opposed to a speech-language pathologist role. I agree, I could never be a teacher, and I respect teachers immensely. But I also want to be acknowledged for the degrees I worked so hard for and earned!

  15. Julie says:

    I work in California which means I need a teacher’s credential, state license, and my ASHA CCC’s. I have always hated it when people refer to me as the Speech teacher. I am the type of person who stands up for myself and my profession and will politely let the staff know that my title is Speech Pathologist or Speech Language Pathologist. Speech Therapist is ok but I prefer Speech Path. I changed districts in April, 2012. In my new school district I am considered certificated management which I love! I get paid more than the teachers and I work 10 more days which does not bother me since I would have work those days anyway. In addition I no longer have to pay union fees. I never have to take another stupid class so I can earn more credit and go to the next column. At my old district I was paid as a teacher and had to be in the teacher’s union. We did work very hard to have the official title of Speech Language Pathologist and the district started using a new SLP evaluation form last year. However the site administrator usually fills out the evaluation paperwork which has never made sense to me since principals and AP’s have no idea what an SLP does.

  16. Albert says:

    I live in Arizona and have been working in the schools for five years. As a previous commenter stated, someone can work with a “limited license” with only a Bachelor’s Degree in the school. Their role is identical to mine with the exception of billing medicaid. Some even go so far as to refer to themselves as legitimate SLPs, which has always bothered me – especially since I was told at my university (Indiana) that I would not be able to find a job anywhere without a Master’s Degree. When I talk about all the BA-level “therapists” running around Arizona, their jaws drop to the floor! While some of them are actually very good at what they do, that’s not the point. It undermines our qualifications and makes all the student loans and time I put into going to graduate school seem pointless.

    In Arizona, most districts compensate us fairly well through stipends or a completely separate pay scale that is significantly more than classroom teachers. If not, there are contract agencies who will.

    As for SLPs being “teachers” – I’ve went on rants about this in the past. I get along great with many teachers, but some have an attitude of “We have to do it, so you have to do it, too – it’s only fair!” This is in regards to things like test proctoring and playground duties. One teacher snarled over the fact that I don’t have to submit weekly lesson plans like them, to which I responded: “Want to see my 75 IEPs?”

    There’s a common misconception that if we’re not treating kids, we’re not working, despite all of the hours I spend on planning, data, medicaid billing, writing reports, referrals, testing, and tracking down transfer student paperwork. I get evaluated once per year by the principal, but since he clearly doesn’t understand my position, what little criticism I do receive is taken with a grain of salt. Taking reports home for the weekend is standard practice in my world. I’m used to it.

    The kids call me a “speech teacher” – but they refer to me as “Mr. FIRST NAME” rather than last name. This is fairly common with SLPs. Most teachers don’t even know what SLP stands for. Most just refer to me as the “speech therapist.”

    I love the schools. Even with a high caseload, all the paperwork, and deadlines, I seem to thrive on it all. I prefer working with kids. But based on my experiences doing PRN work in the hospitals and SNFs, I definitely sensed that I was treated with more respect :)

  17. Sarah says:

    I’ll throw a firecracker into this fire. I’m a PT (Physical Therapist). I work full time in a school district and love it. I totally respect SLP’s and I’m usually the one who tells teachers we need for the Speech Path to see this kiddo. I’m the one saying this kid is not a safe eater at lunch. We need help from the Speech Path. However, we too get little respect in the school system because NOBODY knows what we do. My “job” is to assist/facilitate participation in a school environment. So, when a teacher comes to me and says “His Mom said he needed range of motion every day. When can you do that?” I always want to say ummmm…never? Nobody understands the difference between a medical vs. an educational model. Not parents, administrators or teachers. I will teach a para in the classroom how to do range of motion. I will work with the student on being able to tolerate sitting up in a chair, participating in PE, Art and Music and I will help set up the child’s area for him/her to be successful.
    I have been educating this district for the past 8 years and little has changed but I will keep pressing on. Oh, and my pet peeve? Teachers and Administrators saying “there’s no difference in PT or OT right? THey are the same thing..right?” Some of my best friends are OT’s…and it aggravates them too.
    And one more thing…we get paid on a scale similar to the teacher pay scale. Thankfully, though we don’t have to do their professional development requirements in addition to our own. Whew!