I made it. Summer break. Whew. My clean up at the end of this school year wasn’t the typical ((shove it in the closet and deal with it next year)) kind of clean up. It was more like… holy cow you’re starting a new job next year so you have to take all this stuff you’ve accumulated with you…. So I drove it to my mom’s barn to store it for the summer! I decided to make a change in districts this year. I had to say a lot of bittersweet goodbyes after 3 years. I had the best students, parents, co-workers and friends in my old district. It was seriously the best place to start my SLP career. Making a change is always really hard for me. Just when I was feeling un-easy about it I opened a package and found two of these cards tucked in a candle holder. It was a random raffle package that I won. This immediately made me feel like 1000 lb. got lifted off my shoulders. It also made me break out my ugly cry in the middle of the school day. Once I pulled it together, I taped it to my wall and finished out the last two months of school. Now that I’m on summer vacay I thought I’d do a little reflecting on the fact that I’ve learned about 1023498435 things in the last 3 years that I could never have learned in graduate school. If you’re a CF starting a new job here are some of the best lessons I learned in the last few years at my first SLP job:
1. Be kind. To everyone. Everyday. Learn everyone’s names. Thank your secretaries, clerks and custodians as many times as you can. Seriously be nice and things will go a lot easier.
2. Go out of your way to connect with families. There are a lot of 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 8am 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 program. 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, so 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 Adovcate 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.
After I wrote about half of these I decided to ask my SLP blogging friends what they would share as their biggest lessons from their first jobs. Here’s what they said….
Be flexible! Schedules change constantly in the school setting and it pays to just ”roll with it!’ Oh and use TPT (especially the free stuff) while you get started! – Nicole Allison
In my CF I learned so much more from the OTs! My advice is to get to know the other disciplines and learn as much as you can from them! – Carrie Manchester
You may think you learned a lot in school, but you will learn just as much ‘real-world’ knowledge in your first years on the job. There will be more meetings and paperwork than you ever dream of. Make friends with the secretaries and janitors – cookies at Christmas time are always a good idea. – Natalie Snyders
Think outside the box. Being creative is a necessity when all the standard methods aren’t working. And back up everything on a thumb drive! – Maureen Wilson
Yes! And back up your thumb drive to Dropbox – Carrie (haha I loved this one)
Try to work with the OT/PTs as much as you can… either school or medical settings. You will learn a ton from them! -Kristin Minden
You’re not going to have all the answers! Tips and tricks will come with practice. Be sure you have reliable professions around you that can answer your questions or point you in the right direction. -Lauren LaCour
Some administrators will put speech therapy at the very bottom of their list of priorities. It isn’t like graduate school where you are surrounded with individuals who understand and value all that you do. Special Ed. teachers can be a great help when learning the IEP process. If your first job isn’t a positive work environment and isn’t a good fit for you – don’t stay! – Courtney Gragg
Get to know the teachers and their quirks, Teacher will probably think you have an easy job because you don’t have a classroom. – Patti Bohlman
Don’t get prideful and think you know more than the teachers or veteran speechies. Be respectful of the teacher’s classroom if you want a good working relationship and be willing to compromise. – Felice Clark
Learn the curriculum your school is using. It will help your kids SO much. It’s also your ob to be present in your building and education others. Many people won’t be familiar with what you do. Advocate for your kids and profession. So many doors will open when you start making those connections with staff members. -Jenn Alcorn
It’s ok to ask for help. It’s important to work together as a team… there is no I in team! Also make sure you learn the ‘culture’ of the building. Find out who to be friends with and who you can trust! – Miss Speechie
What do you remember as the most important things you learned in your first SLP job?
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