Last week, I saw one of my students at Kroger. I see him at school everyday. He is part of my bus duty and also on my caseload. I hugged his mom and talked to his brother while he sat, mouth agape, in the cart. His mom prompted him to say “Hi Miss Jenna”. He dutifully repeated the phrase and then just kept staring. I asked him what was wrong and he finally asked why I wasn’t at school. Contrary to his assumption, I don’t live at school.
On our weekly Blab show last week (watch the replay here), we invited Debra Dixon from ASHA to participate in a discussion. It’s no surprise that the conversation immediately went to caseload. Mrs. Dixon recommended a few things, such as a workload approach and flexible service delivery model. I live in Ohio which already has an educational mandate for a workload approach. I also work in a school that uses a flexible service delivery model (read more about that here). During the discussion, I mentioned that despite all these strategies to manage school caseloads, there is a “take-work-home” culture when you are an employee in a school.
“The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another.” Culture. If you’re an SLP your place of employment no-doubt, has a culture.
Let’s look at three hypothetical jobs.
Nurse: Expected to complete all charting at the hospital.
Rehab Director: Expected to complete billing and scheduling at the SNF.
Teachers: Expected to bring grading and lesson plans home to finish them.
Now consider the SLP working in each of thee settings. If you stick an SLP in each of those settings you’ll find totally different expectations. The SLP in a hospital can’t bring work home due to hospital regulations. SLPs working at a SNF don’t bring home their charting. They don’t bring home a map of the facility to work on orientation activities for their patients. They don’t bring home thick-it to make dysphagia-safe meals. Now, raise your hand if you’re an SLP employed by a school, who is expected to bring work home in order to complete your work on time.
Why are school SLPs expected to bring home work? It’s my personal belief that we bring home work because that’s the culture of teaching. When you are on a teacher’s contract you get the same “30 minute lunch” and “30 minute planning period” that teachers do. We do bus duty, attend staff meetings, and do Intervention Assistance Team meetings. I don’t think I need to remind you what the special education paperwork includes. There simply isn’t enough time to complete all the work required when your caseload is very high. When your administrator expects a teacher to bring home grading and lesson plans, it’s not shocking for them when you explain that you’re spending three hours every evening and all of Sunday night (aka: 20 hours) completing paperwork. It’s the unwritten portion of the contract.
So why, you might ask, are SLPs and teachers putting in 60 hour work weeks? It’s a simple answer, really, with no simple solution. SLPs put in as many hours as needed to do the job for children. You see, if you clock out of work in a car assembly factory without finishing the job, the person you’re slighting is your boss. A middle-aged man, who dishes out wages for work and just delivers that Ford to the dealership a day late. If you clock out of work before finishing as a school SLP, you’re taking away from your students. Kids who already have the deck stacked against them. That makes it easy for administrators to expect you to take work home and harder for SLPs to say “no” and leave that IEP sitting on the desk.
As long as there is a “take work home” culture for teachers, SLPs will have to work hard to create boundaries in their own lives. For the first five years, I was that SLP. I was slugging work home every night. This school year was very different. Partly because I’m a better SLP and faster at paperwork, but mostly because I was intentional about not bringing work home. In my next blog, I’ll tell you the three ways I was able to set up the home/work boundary this year.
Even though my student was shocked to see me at Kroger this week, I’ve changed this year. The culture of schools expects me to give up my spare time, but I’ve had a life outside of the brick walls and it’s made all the difference.
Leave me a comment and tell me about the culture of your school. Is everyone expected to bring work home? How often do you bring work home? Do you feel guilty if you leave work at work?
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