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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What a great post Jenna! I am only in my second year and already have the thought process you do. I do not take work home. I learned in grad school to separate my work (school) life and my social life. I didn’t leave the clinic until things were done, I never brought them back to my dorm. The same for my school job now! There are some days that I do stay a half hour to an hour after school to catch up, or sometimes I may miss my lunch – but I leave work at work and don’t feel guilty about it!
I don’t get paid to work at home! And I feel that I’m servicing my students just fine by doing so! It keeps me sane! 🙂
You have set yourself up for success! Way to go!
LOVE LOVE LOVE your post!!!! Thank you for encouraging us to have BALANCE!!! This is my second year and I’m so glad that the SLP team here in my school district feels exactly as you do.
I think we as professionals benefit from this “balance” and so do our students. Our therapy is more compassionate and engaging when we’re rested and relaxed vs. exhausted and burnt out.
Thanks for expressing what most of us are feeling!!! 🙂
Thank You Susan!!! You’re right! Balance is the key.
As an SLP starting the 2016-17 school year with 67 students age 3-5th grade, it’s always a struggle around November and then again in April when we feels pressed and spread ourselves too thin. The workload becomes so heavy. I think part of it is that our schedule changes at least every month as we add students, change IEP times, dismiss and adjust RTI. My lunch and conference time moves up and down constantly in order to meet student needs. Sometimes I just try and have lunch before 3:00.
There was a job once upon a time when I took my 30-minute lunch in the staff room every day. I stayed late on Friday evenings to set up for the next week, but “late” meant I left by 5. It was a beautiful thing. Then, I changed jobs. Ironically, it was so that I would be able to work closer to home, thus eliminating my 45-minute commute. Well, the job is different here. I very quickly realized I couldn’t get it all done no matter how hard I tried, no matter how diligent I was about closing the door to my office so I didn’t chit-chat, no matter my attitude. Part of it is that the school I currently work in has a *wonderful* culture and there are lots of *extras* that I enjoy helping with. Literacy night, Winter Wonderland, decorating our doors for this year’s retirees. But mostly, I have a higher caseload with needier children. Jenna, I look forward to your next post to see if there are additional tweaks I can make to continue to manage my workload, but by and large, I think this particular job comes with the work. Fingers crossed that changes though! 🙂
Oh, I so agree! The extras can get you in trouble!
Yes Jenna!!! I agree…it is expected! I love my job so I don’t like to complain. I work in a special needs preschool in a district 30 minutes from you, who refuses to use the workload approach or a weighted caseload. It is difficult to maintain high standards of practice when I’m drowning in a huge caseload, and off the charts initial evals and re-evaluations. Not taking home work is not an option for me as long as my work conditions remain the same. I wish there was more support for school slp’s and we had advocates! I have tried numerous times to meet with administration to discuss making changes, sharing the law with them, and trying to think outside the box in terms of service delivery options. I was warned to stop or there would be repercussions. Nevertheless, I love my kiddos and my staff! Can’t wait to read your suggestions. =)
How frustrating that you were told to stand down or face repercussions! There is nothing more frustrating than begging for a life ring, only to be told to keep doggy paddling. Hang in there!
I’m a second year SLP, worked in two different situations in last 2 years. First, public, then an inner city parochial/private and the “culture” is the same: work, work, work. All. The. Time. However, I don’t think it’s as much a cultural thing as the ridiculous increase in bureaucracy-ballooned paperwork combined with school administrations’ ability to take advantage of young, hard working (mostly) women, fresh out of grad school who do it all “because it has to be done, it’s what’s expected, it’s the nature of the job.” Added to that as Jenna says, a very noble and valid reason: for the children’s sake, and because they are first in all of our hearts as human beings and clinicians. It’s the nature of the profession. My first master’s in education, I was a teacher for years, and I left public schools because of the increasing more-work-for-less-respect/pay. It’s exactly WHY when several years ago, after a cross-country move and had to make yet another a career change and re-tool as an SLP, I knew in grad school that I did not want to ever be in the schools –EVEN though my gifts and strengths are with children. Alas, for reasons out of my control, here I’ve been….in the schools. Unfortunately, my experience with the workload, paperwork, and total lack of anything remotely resembling quality of life has left me seriously considering leaving the field completely. I LOVE the students, I hate the job. All the success of students, warm affirmations from colleagues, and thanks from parents cannot make up for how demoralized and spent I feel. For some context, I was a good, 150%-type, all-in teacher, but I will tell all you wonderful SLPs out there that I never even came close to working as hard as I have as an SLP these last two years. Successful, balanced school SLPs deserve golden crowns filled with diamonds and rubies! I look forward to reading Jenna’s next posts.
Thanks for your post!!! “I don’t think it’s as much a cultural thing as the ridiculous increase in bureaucracy-ballooned paperwork combined with school administrations’ ability to take advantage of young, hard working (mostly) women, fresh out of grad school who do it all “because it has to be done, it’s what’s expected, it’s the nature of the job.”
^^^^ YES! I think administration squeezes us for every drop we have in us! And they area squeezed and squeezed by a lack of funding from our state!!!!
And you don’t have to be young and fresh out of school to feel the squeeze. Some of us may just be hard-working people who stress about incomplete work hanging overhead. 20 years in I’ve found the numbers have increased significantly and so has the severity and need. With all of this comes increased demands and a ridiculous number of hours to do the job. (Could be I lack healthy work boundaries as well) Good news is I love my job more than ever, I am passionate about what I do and I am so thankful for social media connections with colleagues. This has been a great source of encouragement for me.
Lisa. Gribler says
Jenna, I can’t wait for your next post! After 31 years, I take home more work than I ever have in the past ( I’m slowing down, but not THAT much!). I serve 7 special needs preschool classes in 4 buildings. I do all PS Spch/Lang evals in our district, with the exception of Head Start, and all transition to Kdg evals. My caseload is just below the max of 50 preschoolers (Ohio). I stay late almost every day & still take work home. Will take any & all suggestions! Thanks!
Oh, Lisa! I think ANY of those things would be hard. I am doing all evals (100 last year) and only 32 kids on my caseload. And I’m in ONE building. I don’t know how you’re keeping up with all those little vikings! I hope my suggestions will help, but I fear you will still have TOO much!
The only way I ever get anything done in the spring as an SLP at a special needs preschool with transition evals is to get an intern every spring from the university here in town. Otherwise I’d go crazy!
I was an elementary teacher for 15 years before I went back to grad school to become an SLP. My first few years of teaching I put in a lot of extra time and brought home a lot of work. After a few years, I finally realized that I could spend an extra hour after work, every single day, and not really ever be caught up. So I started setting boundaries then because having a life outside of school was important to me. I try to do the same as an SLP. Unfortunately when deadlines are looming it is sometimes necessary to bring home paperwork. Good for you Jenna!
There is a very similar culture of bringing work home in many medical settings. There are computer programs that allow charting from home while still meeting HIPAA standards. Unfortunately these issues are not limited to the school setting.
Thanks Kate! In my local area, the SLP at our pediatric hospital has only 24 hours to write the note in the computer system so while, yes, they technically have time to bring it home and write it – they all end up commenting that they have to get it done that day or they can’t bill for it. I’m sure there is a lot of variation in paperwork systems and billing. The paperwork is the worst part of the job in all settings! I appreciate your comment!
Judy Hale says
I am the worst offender to comment on this, as I take home work all the time, feel guilty about it, and know it’s wrong, but I can’t help myself. I have had so many cases that were considered “high profile” and litigious, that I ‘over do’ it on reports, so that way, they cannot be questioned as to not being thorough enough. One more year for me, then sweet retirement!
Oh my…I can’t wait to see the next post. This was my 19th year as the only SLP in my district and I feel like the paperwork is more overwhelming than ever.
Joann Haas says
I have worked in varieties of schools for over 20 years and I still bring work home…how about those weekends of doing progress reports?! Just as there is an increase of more diversified issues that our children have..there seems to be an increase in paperwork. Then there is our the CEU maintenance. I love learning and like the option of doing so online. However it is still work related. Can anyone not check their email for the weekend? I am getting better but still do. Long story short…great post if anyone can figure out how NOT to do weekend work that would be awesome 🙂
I’ve worked in 2 vastly different districts. In one district, without union mentality, teachers and SLPs regularly stayed for hours after work and/or took work home to complete it. There were many extra morning and afternoon meetings (outside of contracted time) and other “volunteer” events that weren’t so “volunteery” if you catch my drift. However, I’ve also been in a school district, with unions, where teachers, related service providers, etc. have more time built INTO their day for paperwork completions, 45 minute lunch times (though we typically work during some/all of that), and therefore don’t take as much home. I have really enjoyed only doing paperwork outside of the school a few times this year. I would agree, however, that it is such an expectation and we can be such people-pleasers. It’s SO important to prioritize and set limits. Looking forward to your next post!
Lisa Dymond says
This boundary between work and home is crucial. I find it even more so now that I have two young children. I’ve requested to go part time next year so I can at least be around some of the time for my kids. The balance is truly a struggle.
This really hits home Jenna. Thank you. The SLPs in our district are more motivated than ever to help administration understand the differences between SLPs and teachers. We are severly understsffed. Our pay and workload are not in line with other districts in our state therefore we are stuggling to recruit and retain SLPs. We are in contact with our state SLP school issues chairperson as well as our district negotiations committee president. We are curious if other districts have special education negotiations committees?
I have been an SLP for 20 years and the district I work in now is very good at looking at our workload and not just caseload. One of the biggest differences between this district and some other I have worked for is that we are not considered employees of the campus that we are placed at. We are employees of the district and not “ABC” elementary school. This has helped us draw a line with duties the campus can give us. I don’t do duty, I don’t attend campus staff meetings, and I don’t have to jump at the demand of the campus administrator to help with a variety task. Don’t get me wrong, I will at times to keep a wonderful working relationship but they know to come to me only as a last resort. I have also learned that from year to year the ability to leave work on time does depend greatly on the size of my caseload and the time of the year. Do I leave on time in May… HECK NO! Most of the year, however, I do leave within 30 minutes of my scheduled time. The ability to do this has also come with my 20 years of experience and being able to do paperwork in record speed time.
Love this post. First, I am in Ohio and even though there’s an educational mandate for workload, my boss refuses to use it. We were basically told we make good money so we have to do what they say. :/ I have 50 DD students and 20 EI. It is impossible to get everything done. I take work home because I don’t get a lunch or a planning period most days. It is what is expected of me and my colleagues. We are all way over caseload and workload and there’s no end in sight. My heart loves my kiddos but my mind needs a break badly. I feel my husband and children don’t get the best of me because I spend so much of my free time working. The culture has to change and I think the only way it will is when we have support from ASHA, our state boards and local education departments and when there are consequences in place. At this point, nothing is going to change for me or my colleagues because there are no repercussions for not following the workload approach. Teachers and therapists should be paid for 40 hours a week and should get a 10 month contract to help make up for the time spent after hours and all during the summer! Thanks for being willing to step up and say what needs to be said.
You’re so right!! As I told Mrs. Dixon, the mandate doesn’t mean anything until the state board gives us a mandated calculator!
I don’t think I’ve ever been told that I “have” to bring work home. But I do when I feel rushed against a deadline. Sometimes I bring things home I have the best of intentions to work on at home, and it doesn’t get done, because I have a husband and a daughter, and those are my priorities when I get home. Sometimes though, when there’s an eval or IEP due and I haven’t had much time during the week to work on it during my work hours due to staff meetings, child study meetings (both early childhood AND K-5), etc., I will work on eval report or IEP after my daughter goes to bed. I have supportive administration, but I don’t know if they all understand the true workload combined with the caseload, especially when I’m expected to volunteer at more “extras.”
I would like to learn more about the workload approach and bring it to my administrators’ attention, as well as the flexible service model. This is second year implementing the 3:1 service model approach. It’s nice to have that one indirect week every 4 weeks to schedule evals (if it works), IEP meetings, catch up on MA billing, attendance, etc. I do wish there was a fair pay for teachers an SLPs working overtime. I feel like I do work over 40 hours a week. I’m trying to get to that point of leaving work at work, so I can enjoy my family at home and not stress over what I have to get done the next day. It’s definitely a balancing act that in my second year, I have not yet mastered. I know I will get a bit more efficient with the amount of time it takes me to complete paperwork. However, there are also continuing education that I want to be able to do, or research certain evidence based practices in treating some of my students at school, and I feel like I don’t have the time to do this due to the high caseload (63 students) I have, and the paperwork involved.
As a veteran therapist I admire where you are professionally and emotionally. I used to be there. Almost two decades in, I feel I can’t be the only one who “cares about the kids”. The administration and district need to care about high caseloads and children receiving therapy in large groups for a minimal amount of time. The expectations are ridiculous and I won’t sacrifice my health, family or sanity for the districts bottom line. Two therapists with 80 students saves the district an entire employee. Let’s ALL invest in the kids! Not just the SLP’s.
Lisa J. says
After many years working in a school setting, I have learned to manage my paperwork. The main thing that has helped me do that is starting my paperwork early. When I know I have a vast amount of present levels to write, progress reports to completed, and IEPs to generate, I begin completing them early on (about a month before their due), that way I am not overwhelmed by having to do so much at once, it’s almost like writing that college paper a few weeks before it’s due. I do a little bit each day until it’s all complete.
Love this post! I am doing this job for a long time. In the beginning I did bring home some work . Usually around progress report time. When my kids were younger, I left most of it in school. Now, I feel I just can’t get it all done. There is also so much more to do! Reports, IEPs, Medicaid, planning for groups that are too big and with so many different goals. I have been trying to get my colleagues to think about a workload instead of caseload approach. There just is no time to even get together to talk about it. My colleagues in the classrooms are also being loaded with more to do and less time to do it. Our district almost expects us to be on call 24/7. Sometimes emails are sent out after the school day is finished.
Today is Saturday. I am working Extended School Year. I work 8-12 and do 7 sessions a day. Plus Evals. I spent today scoring 2 Evals and writing 3 IEPs.
A big part of the solution is the misconceptions the public has about teachers.
Looking forward to your next post explaining how you manage.
I’m looking for Jenna’s follow-up post on this but can’t find anything. Can anyone help?
I would love to see it too! I’m the only SLP in my district and my caseload and workload is certainly increasing!
I worked for 3 years in Skilled Nursing Facilities. I worked for 7 years in schools. All those years in schools, I didn’t take work home. This year, I am drowning. I work after school at a clinic, and cut my own hours there from 3 nights a week, to only 1 night a week……….at the hints of my own colleagues. With the culture of schools, there is no back-up from our own colleagues, whether they are teachers or SLP’s or physical therapists. It’s sad how we don’t support each other, but actually guilt each other……..as if the caseload demands by the government and the paperwork demands by the lawyers wasn’t enough. I earn half the income of a SLP who works with adults, but I must work more hours, and have more expensive clothes. I’m not taking work home, or staying late. 🙂 I’m using those extra nights to work towards a career with adults. I have to believe that I deserve to be paid when I work, or no one else will.
I’m glad you posted an article on this topic! This has been my biggest beef with the field for a long time, and the biggest reason I shied away from schools for a while. I was lucky enough to find a school where work-life balance is a huge part of the culture, and the SLP before me set a precedent that she did not stay late or take work home. Because of this, my supervisor doesn’t expect me to work outside of my scheduled hours, and even shared some of the tricks the SLP before me used to be efficient with her time. I have a caseload of 60 and it is rare that I take work home (maybe once every few months it happens, at most). I still get my paperwork done on time and my students still get seen. I take on interns every semester as well and the biggest thing I try to impress upon them is that we don’t have to take work home or stay after to get everything done.
Lee Ann Borden says
Thank you for your post!
There must be some solution… and I think we must advocate with the board of ed and/or county commissioners (who fund our school system), If mental health is so important, and if excellence is so important, the why doesn’t administration set us up for success? We have to share what we do! We have to invite those who CAN make a difference into our day. IT is really unreasonable to expect a school slp or any slp (or OT, or PT or specialist in any setting) to be given the same amount of time to prepare and document and monitor progress as a. teacher. We are not teachers and don’t have the same responsibilities. There is an slp shortage right now in Maryland. I see counties trying attract Slp’s with salaries. But what if county school systems put a cap on caseloads and gave therapists the time to do their jobs at work so they could go home and live their lives – with their family and friends! What is you got set up for success and got paid what you should — would that atttract Slp’s to work there? Yes! People would flock not only to that workplace but might actually go into the profession! I wonder how many young people hear about the workload and paperwork and say “no” to the profession?
We may be losing many creative and wonderful SLP’s because they don’t want their lives to be sacrificed for work.
I love my job but I love my family and my friends and my life more… I’ve sacrificed thousands of hours of time with my sons over the years… does my employer even know or care? How would they unless we speak up? How can we do this? The. more we take on the responsibility to coping with these workloads and paperwork, the more we mask the problem. I think ASHA or the state speech-language-hearing associations need to be more involved in advocacy and demanding equity for salaries and work load.. For example, do you know in our state that teachers are being enticed to get national board certification by getting a $10, 000 stipend added to their salary? [https://marylandpublicschools.org/Blueprint/Pages/NBCTProgram/index.aspx]. While SLP’s in our county are getting a $500 stipend? What the heck? Doesn’t this make anyone else mad?
Thank you for the post Jenna. I will try to implement more changes to help me. Thank you for opening this topic!! Lee Ann