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SLP Corner: The Power of Perspective

by Debra L. Kerner M.S. CCC/SLP

perspectiveI had only been an SLP for a few years and still had the grandiose ideas about life and speech therapy. I just KNEW that in Suburbia, MY students were going to be fixed and would make their way in the world as successful graduates.

My high school students always started January sad and dragging after being on holiday break. This was the month I focused on helping my students create resolutions and goals not only for speech therapy, but also towards graduation and beyond. My students seemed to enjoyed the goal-writing process and thinking about life after speech therapy and high school, or at least with minimal grunting.

The adage ‘it only takes one’ to make a difference is definitely true. I always started my New Year’s lesson by introducing vocabulary terms such as resolutions, ideal, realistic, materialistic etc. to start the activity. Students had to create goals for a day, week, month, 1 year, 5 years and 10 years. They created both short term and long term goals for speech therapy with me (my ultimate goal being dismissed prior to graduating) as well as personal goals they wished to achieve within those parameters.

A sophomore on my caseload, Jose, refused to write his long-term goals. In my naïveté, it was difficult for me to grasp why this activity appeared to be so difficult after all the examples I had provided and continually tried to help him. This was a student whom teachers labelled a troublemaker, always skipping school, never participating and basically one that was written off in their books.

I remember continually hounding this student asking why he couldn’t/wouldn’t write those goals because I was determined to help him. Frustrated, he finally yelled back at me (words that continue to haunt me) “Miss, I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing in five years, much less ten years because I’ll be dead”.  I couldn’t fathom how a young teenager could think like that, much less make a statement as that with such conviction.

Jose was in Brown Pride gang and began to open up to me and tell me his life story. It was unlike any life I’d ever known nor been exposed to living in my Suburbia.  It was difficult to imagine that gangs could exist at that time on my side of the tracks but they were slowly infiltrating the suburban high school I was at.  It devastated me to realize that this 15 year-old had been exposed to and was living life like that in the movie, American History X.  He was the man of the house and responsible for taking care of his mom and sister in addition to trying to go to school. If you hear kids tell you that gang members ARE their family and they live and die by that credence, it is true. Jose taught me that.

Over time, he began to trust me and open up about the intimate details of his gang and home life.  In return, I listened attentively and helped him with academics while encouraging him to remain in school.  Some teachers actually asked if I was afraid of Jose and thought he might slit my tires as I was leaving school. I honestly felt completely safe in his presence and knew I was protected.

One day while working in my office, he came to say goodbye.  He said he was dropping out to get his GED because regular school was not for him. He had come by to personally say goodbye and thank me for believing in him.  I was devastated to see him go but told him I believed he would pass his GED and be successful.  While I never saw Jose again, his words have continued to resonate with me. I continue to wonder if his prophesy was true about not living for another five to ten years.   While I fear the worst for him, I am very thankful our lives crossed and he was able to teach me much more than I know I ever taught him.

Hope you have had a student that has changed your perspective!


About the Author:  Debra Kerner has been working as a speech pathologist since 1996.  She worked in the public school for 16 years and then transitioned to home health and private practice.  She works with children and adults in a variety of settings.  She is a member of ASHA as well as the Texas Speech-Language Hearing Association.  She alsoholds her Certificate of Clinical Competence.   She graduated in 1992 with her Bachelor of Science in Deaf Education and in 1996 with her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Texas Woman’s University.  You can contact her at [email protected] and she frequently tweets about speech pathology and other information on Twitter as @dibsondebs. 

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