Welcome to practicing what you love in the public school environment. I am sure you have your tub(s) of schoolbooks and PowerPoint slides, some clinic material you created, and websites that have you depended on with ready to print material. You are set!
Until - you go through an anxiety-filled week of waiting for your state internship license. In the meantime, you will observe your supervisor seamlessly handle all 50+ of your children on your caseload like they were her own children. Her materials can all be stowed away neatly in two folders. She will have an organized binder of data, with ARD dates, RtI information, and the prized schedule. She will fill out her paperwork online quickly, knowing what to fill in every textbox. During that time, you may even be tempted to record all of her ARDs that week to appear just as knowledgeable and confident as she sounds. That weekend, in complete freak-out mode you will scour Teachers Pay Teachers, printing what is free and having a laminating party. You may think to put labels on children to remember names and goals. Fortunately for me, another week went by before my license was approved and I had no need for labeling children. They were all more than happy to repeat their names and tell me what they were working on. As I continued through the semester I found that my expectations changed. I learned some lessons along the way; some that I will share with you to hopefully help you along your upcoming journey.
Your expectations in a school setting will be different. I arrived expecting to have perfect therapy sessions, with wildly creative materials for each child like I did in individual private outpatient settings. Group therapy dominates in a school setting. And while you can get wildly creative in group therapy, you may find that you will be more effective if you also reach out to your campus team. The reality is that you are a part of a team with special education teachers, diagnosticians and/or licensed specialist in school psychologists, general education teachers and parents who need to be informed of what you are doing, how you are doing it, and how they can help. And one important way they can help is by letting you know how the student is struggling because that informs you if their speech and language goals are aligned with their educational needs. Teachers have a lot going on so you will have to ask, ask, ask about your student.
To help with reaching parents, go to the school’s open house. I am not one for confrontation, but it is much easier to talk to a parent at an ARD after they have met you in a friendlier and more relaxed environment.
Try to align when you have ARDs with teachers’ conference periods. Let’s say that on Mondays you will see 1st grade, during their conference period, Tuesdays 2nd grade, etc. By having a set day and time to see a specific grade level, you save yourself from always having ARDs that conflict with scheduled therapy. Toward the end of the semester, it becomes more challenging to make up all those missed therapy sessions on Friday.
Find a data collection method and stick with it. Every week, I tried out a new spreadsheet to help with organizing attendance, goals, and data collection. Had I just stuck with capturing it all on notepad paper and then writing the SOAP note at the end of the day, I would have been better off. Find something quickly at the beginning of the semester, and stick with it.
For Texas: The STAAR test. You may have to help administer the test or work the hallways during those weeks. If you have K-2 in your caseload like I did, you will still have regular scheduled therapy. Take your therapy outside or to another part of the building, your campus administrator will love you for helping them to ensure a quiet test-taking environment.
If you have children on your caseload that require therapy with an occupational or physical therapist, try to work your sessions together. I had a great experience with an OT who helped me to reach communication goals using devices that she introduced to me.
Don’t be afraid to change your therapy session schedule. You may have to rearrange groups as some children work better with others. I was hesitant at first, thinking it would upset teachers. As it turned out, teachers were appreciative of my planning and my willingness to do whatever it took to help my children succeed.
You will have good and bad days. Days when the children you serve give you hugs in the hallways, and others when they say “No” when it is their turn to work. Take heart, dear CF, that the greatest reward in any of our work settings is when our clients reach their goals, and in the public school setting, those moments are plentiful!