"I Love the Kids, but I'm Burned Out"

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As a Speech-Language Pathologist, you may be the only SLP in your building.  When I was in the schools, I was the only SLP in each school I worked at.  Honestly, at times, I felt alone; surrounded by 50 teachers and administrators, and 600 kids—working my butt off!

As I contemplated what to write this week, I turned to the survey that I sent out last October.  It blatantly occurred to me as I studied your very straightforward answers, I think I’ve been missing the mark with some of these weekly Therapy Matters (TMs).  I’ll strive to be more focused on your needs.

Therefore, today my intent is very simply twofold:  1)  I want you to know that I truly hear what you are saying, and, 2)  I want you to understand and believe that YOU’RE NOT ALONE.  There are thousands of other SLPs that relate to your ups, your downs, and your frustrations, as well your positive desire to help others.

I think you’ll find the following interesting.

Survey Results—Written by You and Your Fellow SLPs

A brief, nine-question survey went out to all of you (unless you recently signed-up) in October, 2017; almost 300 SLPs replied.  The following are a few of the most telling and significant responses.  I’m sorry if yours is not included; the post would be another five pages.  Thank you to all of you who took your time to complete the survey and for your candid comments.

Here are the detailed results of two of the nine questions.

Question #5 listed sixteen issues of potential concern and you were asked to check the ones that applied to you. 

While all of the following are concerns, some are more urgent than others.  Here are the percentages, listed from the highest level of concern to the lowest.  See if your concerns parallel your colleague’s selections:

Therapy effectiveness – 64.1% [your greatest concern is the QUALITY of your therapy--y’all are amazing!]

Keeping up with research – 61.7%
Paperwork – 61.4%
Time-efficiency and use – 56.9%
Data keeping – 55.9%
Classroom involvement – 49.2%
The oral-motor controversy – 42.7%
Caseload issues – 39%
Behavior issues with my kids – 36.3%
Organization – 36.3%
Motivating my kids – 35.9%
Using touch-screen devices with kids – 33.6%
Motivating myself – 30.2%
Concern about my role in the workplace – 23.1%
Communication in the workplace – 21.7%
Marketing myself in the workplace – 19.3%

 

Do you agree?

The above responses were then reinforced by the following statements in Question #6.  They were written by your fellow SLPs, and maybe even written by you.

Question #6:  Describe your primary professional challenge(s) or concern(s); please be specific.

“Time management; I am spending many hours on the weekend just to keep up.  I also get to work 2 hours before school starts.  I’m burning out and need help.”

“Lack of planning time.”

“How to handle all my responsibilities.”

“Organization, report writing, and data management.”

“Not enough time with each student to truly make a difference.”

“Finding evidence-based treatment techniques.”

“My concern is improving my student’s speech and language in a timely manner. Many students seem to be in speech forever and I want them to improve and move on.”

“Difficulty when students get "stuck" and are unable to learn correct speech sound productions.”

“Connecting therapy to the curriculum.”

“Paperwork; we have to give progress reports and report cards on all of our students.  Every 4.5 weeks we are doing these reports to send home to parents, on top of having to bill Medicaid and conduct IEP meetings. With the paperwork demands it is very hard to plan effective lessons to make my therapy time the best it can be.”

“Concern about my role in the school setting.”

“Being effective with so many students on my caseload.”

“Trying to test and do the paperwork while managing a caseload.”

“The school district does not supply the speech dept. with the materials, tests, apps, devices and supplies that we need. We do not get professional development related to speech and language.”

“Using curriculum materials for therapeutic intervention. How to best access the materials without stressing the teacher.”

“Writing relevant goals that address the many many needs of my students.”

“Encouraging teachers to refer students to me for language, not just artic.”

“Time efficiency, organization, as well as working with those behaviorally challenged students.”

“Having to see students in large groups and with a variety of disorders.”

“Progress monitoring students and staying in contact with classroom teachers.”

“Motivating myself beneath a pile of paperwork.”

“Teachers do not understand my role.”

“Am I using research-based approaches?”

“The best way to keep data.”

“Carryover of mastered skills outside the therapy room.”

“How to teach vowels to kids with apraxia.”

“Motivation: Working with older students who do not want to be in speech anymore.”

“Being viewed as just another "teacher"; pulled from therapy to help with lunch duty, school wide testing, etc.; not recognized by admin as important.”

There were many, many more.  

My Response—There is Light at the End of the Tunnel

We all entered this field to work with our kids.  We love working with them, but sometimes circumstances make it difficult.  We can do better.

I know you know the following, and you’re probably already doing these, but do continue to keep them near the front of your mind:  Stay focused, as much as you can, on the sweetness of your kids, give and get hugs, and look for and acknowledge the small increments of improvement.

A few more thoughts come to mind, all of which I’ll expand on in future TMs.

  • Work smarter, not harder—what does this mean and what does it look like for an SLP? After 30+ years, I’ve got suggestions.
  • Generate a systematic organization that supports you—I’m referring to: What you call your program (and how this can alter other’s perceptions), your delivery model, your therapy philosophy, and not only techniques but the session-to-session continuity of your therapy.
  • Be forthright in your communications—learn to tactfully say NO.
  • Do big-picture therapy planning for language kids. Consider doing this over the summer (I’ll show you how) and is a lifesaver throughout the year. 
  • Keep data-keeping in its place.
  • Have an artic therapy sequence that helps you (and diminish your stress level) and remediates your speech-kids—get ‘em in and get ‘em out.
  • Enlist other’s involvement—don’t try to do it all yourself. 

All of the above takes time—which, I know, is in short supply—and also, a willingness to modify.  But it can be done, step-by-step, over time.

Starting next week, I’ll just focus on the above topics.  Let’s work together to make it all more enjoyable—not just for your kids—BUT FOR YOU!

Hang in there!

Char Boshart

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