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Pros and Cons of the School-Based Setting for SLPs

by Heidi Martino, MS, CCC-SLP

young-woman-doctor-older-man-patient-smiling

While there are many benefits to becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist, a few of the main attraction points are the flexibility it entails and the variability in opportunities. If you're ever feeling stagnant in your position, you can easily work within different populations, specialty areas, or settings. This can range from choosing an SNF opportunity to becoming a school-based SLP.

If you're considering becoming a school-based SLP, this list will discuss the various pros and cons and help guide you to determine if it's the type of setting you can envision in your future.

The schedule of a school-based SLP

Pro: Holidays!

One of the greatest perks of working in schools is the holidays and summers off. It provides you with an ample amount of time to recharge and serves as a focal point to keep you motivated. And if you aren't someone who wants to idly sit around all summer long, no worries! Most school systems offer opportunities to work over the summer, either completing assessments, attending IEP meetings, or participating in Extended School Year.

Con: Pay schedule

When working as a school-based SLP, you need to make sure your budgeting skills are on point. With many school-based positions lasting 10 months, you may need to stretch out your paychecks to cover the summer months, and your pay may look less than your medical SLP counterparts. Additionally, since the school schedule allows for multiple breaks and summers off, your “personal leave” can be limited; this can make it difficult to schedule off-peak vacations.

The school-based SLP's caseload

Pro: Working with a variety of disorders, needs, and behaviors.

Working in the school system is always going to provide challenges that may vary compared to other typical settings. With such a young age group, you will need to think outside the box! Get creative, engage in continuing education, and collaborate with other professionals to problem solve. It's a great field to feel challenged professionally and is an extremely rewarding experience.

Con: High caseload numbers

Caseloads in the school system vary based on your location. Typically, your caseload can fluctuate between 45-55, but in some cases, you may be working with upwards of 100 students at a time. High caseload numbers can seem intimidating, especially if it isn't something you've experienced before. However, over time you will adjust, you just need to be patient! 

Paperwork!

Pro: No productivity requirements!

As an SLP in the medical field, you may be required to demonstrate productivity and document how you are spending your time. Some medical settings require productivity as high as 92 percent. This means that 92 percent of your day must be spent directly working with patients, figuring out how to fit documentation, meetings, and family education into the remaining 8 percent of your day. These standards do not exist in the school-based setting!

Con: Documentation, IEPs, Medical Assistance

Although school-based SLPs do not need to demonstrate productivity standards, we still have our fair share of paperwork! Obviously, IEP development is a big part of our job, but it’s only a fraction of the paperwork required. You must be organized and efficient in completing additional documentation, including attendance sheets, daily progress logs, quarterly progress updates, and medical assistance forms. Evaluations and screenings also take up a lot of time in your busy day.

Side note: Although this documentation can be overwhelming, it does get easier to organize year after year. I always tell new CFs: Year one is all about survival. Once you get through the first year, you figure out your organizational “groove” and things get easier. Don’t get me wrong, I still haven’t perfected the art of effective data collection and documentation, but it does get better.

The school-based populations

Pro: Opportunities to work with a variety of students

One of the greatest parts of working in the schools is you will never get bored! You will always meet new students who challenge you and force you to learn new intervention strategies or consider teaching a skill in a different way. Additionally, my district offers multiple programs for students with more significant needs (e.g. AAC, Autism, Emotional Disabilities, Early Intervention), which I can apply to should I need a change or a new challenge.

Con: Mixed groups

One of the biggest challenges my graduate interns face when starting therapy in the schools is managing mixed groups. Since scheduling can be a challenge (working around teachers, specialists, and other schedules), you may be faced with providing therapy for students working on articulation, language, AND fluency all in one group. Not only do you need to produce lessons targeting different skills and abilities, but you also have to manage various behaviors.

Collaboration in school

Pro: Working as a TEAM

Within the school setting, you work with a team of professionals, tackling student needs from a variety of lenses. Our team typically consists of an administrator, school psychologist, school counselor, general education teacher, special education teacher, Occupational Therapist, and Speech-Language Pathologist. Having a team of professionals is AMAZING because you can both collaborate with teachers in the classroom and brainstorm ideas with other professionals.

Con: Being the only SLP in the building

One of the loneliest parts of our job can be the fact that you may be the only SLP in the building. You may have other professionals to talk to, but sometimes you need another SLP who just gets it. But don’t worry, you will meet other SLPs within your district — or through online groups — who will support and encourage you!

Can you think of any other pros and cons you have experienced in the schools? Comment below!

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