"Many people think that we mostly work with children who stutter. In fact, stuttering clients make up a very small portion of the population receiving speech therapy."
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do?
I’m a 25-year-old speech-language pathologist at The River School in Washington, DC. I have a Bachelors in Linguistics and Religious Studies and a Masters in Speech-Language Pathology - both from UNC-Chapel Hill.
I am originally from Charlotte, NC and got married in August 2013. My husband knew he was going to be working for a law firm DC, so I started looking for jobs in the area before graduation and found The River School. I eagerly applied and was so excited to accept the job offer.
How would you describe your job?
I serve as a co-educator for the 13 children in my class. I also serve as a push-in therapist for the 1 child in my class with hearing loss. I see 6 hearing loss clients for individual speech therapy during the week and see 2 hearing loss clients outside of The River School for parent therapy sessions.
One thing to know is that The River School is a very unique private school. As such, a day in my shoes is different from a typical day for a speech pathologist in a typical school. The mission of The River School is to not only to provide an exceptional early childhood education for typically developing children (the school goes from toddler through 3rd grade), but to also provide a full, inclusive education for children with hearing loss. Studies have shown that children with hearing loss make greater speech and language gains from having peer models in the classroom than being in a special class. Therefore, every classroom at The River School has 1 master’s level educator and 1 speech-language pathologist serving 1 to 4 children with hearing loss in classrooms of 12 - 15 students.
What does your typical day look like?
My work hours are 7:30am - 3:30pm. I serve as a classroom speech-language pathologist for half the day and an individual therapist for the second half of the day. The children in my class range in age from 3.5 years to 4.5 years old. And, yes, during the first half of my day, I do in fact take kids to the potty, encourage them to wash their hands, and feed them snack. All in a day’s work!
What does an individual therapy session look like?
The children I see for therapy range in age from 2.5 years to 5 years in age. They all have hearing loss, and each session I focus on planning at least one goal for each of the following areas of language, audition, and speech. A typical session starts with a hearing aid/cochlear implant check to ensure they are able to hear a full range of speech sounds. These checks consist of 6 sounds: a, ee, m, s, sh, oo. All of the goals for my kids are accomplished and presented as a game. Some examples of the best games I’ve played include: tying a bucket to the ceiling and having them identify a sound from a set of 3-4, then putting the object they identified in the bucket to practice “up, up, up,”. I have had students complete a scavenger hunt throughout the River School by following two-step directions presented through audition alone. I also have a young girl who is obsessed with playing Candy Land, so I will incorporate her goals within that game (i.e., practicing words that start with the /f/ sound before drawing on her turn or having her answer a wh question, ie.). Everything is presented in a positive way to challenge the students without overwhelming them or making them feel like therapy is a ‘test’ each week. We have a lot of fun! However, as with anything, these students are individuals, and they have hard weeks or weeks where they’re tired or sick, so I’m learning to be flexible with changing activities (sometimes in the middle of the 1 -hour session).
What aspects of your job do you like/dislike?
I have a lot to learn about typical child development and implementing behavior management strategies in the classroom. Group behavior management is hard because it is so different from individual therapy (just you and the child - sometimes the parent)! I’m learning a lot from my co-teacher about this. Again, this is unique to River School’s model.
I love how tangibly fulfilling our work is. We track progress for a variety of goals on a weekly basis. It’s great to see children make progress, hear feedback from the parents, and problem-solve ways to address speech and language goals in therapy and at home. More specifically to my job at River, I love the collaboration. The River School is also extremely supportive of professional development, and they have full-time substitutes on hand so that we have the freedom to observe each other in other classrooms and gain new ideas! We are also given a great deal of freedom to plan in our classes - that’s why we gain so much from observing each other. Every classroom has a different model.
I love my job. I feel so fortunate to have found The River School! Because their model is so unique, we have over 20 speech pathologists in one building. That is amazing! There are a ton of professionals with whom I can collaborate. Everyone at River is passionate about our unique mission and we have extremely supportive parents here. In my first year, I have also been fortunate to have a supportive supervisor (with whom I meet weekly), two mentors, and a co-teacher in the classroom (from whom I’m learning all about typical child development with math, problem-solving, and gross motor skills.
When did you know this is what you wanted to do?/Why did you want to pursue this career?
I was a Linguistics major at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Language acquisition (how children learn to comprehend and use spoken language) was fascinating to me. But I quickly found that many linguists seem to be holed up in a library researching minutiae about language, and not working with people individually. I wanted a very practical way to apply what I was learning. Through some poking around on UNC’s linguistics webpage, I found speech-language pathology courses. The more I read about them, the more excited I got about taking them. Once I started volunteering for a local organization called the CCCDP/CASTLE (connected to UNC Hospital’s cochlear implant program), I was sold that this was the career for me. I also became particularly interested in auditory rehabilitation, which is the spoken language therapy that hearing aid and cochlear implant recipients receive.
How many years of schooling/what program did you go to?
Speech-Pathologists need a Master’s Degree from an accredited program. This typically takes about 2 years (including one summer). During those 2 years, you balance your required course load with hands - on clinical placements in various settings. I went to UNC - Chapel Hill’s Speech Language Pathology program, where all of our clinicals were out-placements with working speech-language pathologists. I would recommend this because I was able to truly learn on the job and get a real feel for what the day-to-day job entails for school and hospital speech pathologists. I was fortunate to receive a grant through the Department of Education, called Preparation of Personnel to Serve Infants and Young Children with Hearing Loss (and it was just as it sounds). To pay back this grant, I have to work as a speech-pathologist in a pediatric field for at least 4 years.
What is the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
Many people who are not familiar with speech pathology think that we mostly work with children who stutter. In fact, stuttering clients make up a very small portion of the population receiving speech therapy. In addition to that, many people also think we only work with individuals who have difficulty producing isolated sounds (speech). However, a big portion of a speech pathologist’s caseload is also providing language therapy, helping children who cannot put more than two words together produce longer sentences, and help them follow 2-step directions and acquire new vocabulary.
Another big misconception about the speech pathology career is that you can choose between working in the schools or the hospitals. In reality, there are so many sub-specialties within this field. That is what makes it so exciting in my opinion! For my other classmates, their interests ranged from children with Autism, multiple disabilities, or stuttering, to adults with Aphasia, dementia, or a traumatic brain injury. There are so many things you can do with this degree! If you enjoy impacting the lives of people on an individual level, then this field is definitely for you.
What is the salary range for speech-language pathologists?
Because the specialties within the field of speech pathology range so much, this is difficult to say. What I do know is that a clinical-fellow is paid less than a clinically-certified speech-language pathologist. School speech pathologists (~$60k) typically make less than hospital-based speech pathologists (~$75k). However, you also have to remember that school speech pathologists have the summers off! In my experience, first-year speech pathologists make around $50k.
Speech-language pathologists are definitely in demand! All of my classmates were able to find employment post-graduation in a field that they were interested in. Working part-time - or taking off from work for a few years - is a pretty common practice when speech pathologists have children. There is also the possibility of starting your own therapy business, in which case, you could completely set your own hours.
WHAT ARE YOUR LONG TERM GOALS WITH YOUR CAREER?
One of my biggest long-term goals is to become an auditory-verbal therapist (AVT). This is an intense certification that is earned over the course of 3-5 years, accumulating up to 900 hours of clinical experience in working with children with hearing loss. The process is time-consuming and expensive, but I expressed this as one of my goals when I interviewed for my job and The River School has been extremely supportive of this goal and has provided me with an AVT mentor who works at the school.
What would you tell someone who wanted to pursue your career?
Find out specifically WHY you are interested in speech pathology. The best way to do this is by shadowing speech-language pathologists who are currently working in the field! Knowing what population you are interested in serving will help clarify your application (and make it stand out!) when you are applying for school and for jobs. It will also give you a tangible idea about whether or not this is something you want to do as a career. Some people think that speech pathology sounds nice, but they forget to look a little further into why it sounds so great. Is it the one-on-one therapy? Is it working in a hospital? Is it working with kids?
Any other advice?
Applying to school for speech-language pathology can be confusing. Do your research! Decide which programs you will be applying to and use those programs’ websites to find application information. Schools vary widely in the prerequisites they want applicants to have completed. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to professors at schools who conduct research in areas that you are interested in. It is a great way to get your feet wet, to know the area you are interested in more deeply, and to make a connection with a professional in the field.
Finally, most speech pathologists love their jobs. If you know one, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask if you could shadow or observe them for a day or a few hours. I had a lot of success and received so much great feedback when I did this. Speech-language pathologists love helping people, after all.