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Life of a school SLP

I have finished my 14 weeks of student teaching and will truly miss the 60+ kiddos I got to work with in preschool through 5th grade. I also worked with an amazing speech-language pathologist (SLP) who taught me so much about working with kids, collaborating with other educators, problem solving, and being flexible. Being flexible is a huge deal, especially when you have a constantly changing caseload.

Although there were stressful and frustrating moments, I have many sweet and funny memories from my time student teaching. In case you didn’t realize it, kids are hilarious. The world would be a boring place without their energy and curiosity.

Here are just a few examples from this semester:

  • While giving an articulation screener, I showed a preschooler a picture of a squirrel. “What’s this?”

“A gurl.”

I repeated what he said to confirm with my SLP that I was transcribing his speech correctly. “Gurl?”

The preschooler looked at me in disbelief. “No, not girl. Gurl!”

Silly me for confusing squirrel and girl.

  • One sweet kindergartner insisted on breaking the no-talking-in-the-hall rule every time she saw me. “Hi! Hi! Hi, speech teacher! That’s my speech teacher!” Super cute. It got to the point where her classmates would say, “Hi, so-and-so’s speech teacher!” whenever they saw me.
  • I loved how kids were excited about coming to speech or language group. Kids I didn’t even know would ask if they could come with me. However, 2nd graders were slightly less enthusiastic. Sometimes we spent more time debating why we needed to do speech than actually doing speech.

One day, one of the 2nd graders came in and started saying his words without being told. I was pleasantly surprised. About halfway through his work, he said, “You know what? I’m not arguing about speech today. Do you know why? Because things take longer when you argue. It’s faster to just do your job.” He acted as if this was a new revelation and not something I had told him every day for the past 2 weeks.

  • I also had an older student who wasn’t thrilled about working on s and z in speech. We had several conversations that went something like this:

“I don’t know why I need to come to speech. I just don’t say words with s and z when I’m not in speech.”

“Well, it’s pretty hard to avoid all s and z words. What happens if you need to ask for a pencil in class?”

“I’d just say I need something to write with.”

“Hmm…something has an s in it.”

“Ugh!”

“And what’s your teacher’s name?”

“Mister…ugh!”

“And your best friend?”

…pause…”Dang it!”

As we walked back to class, he started spinning in the hallway. “I’m dizzy!”

Instead of telling him to stop, I pointed out, “Oh, dizzy has your z sound in it.”

He stopped. Long pause. “DANG IT!”

  • In one of our language groups, we built a model ferris wheel after reading about George Ferris and how he invented the first ferris wheel. This turned out to be a challenging project.

While working on it, one of the students asked, “What’s that word we learned? The one when someone is stronger?”

“Advantage?” I guessed.

“Yeah, that’s it. Miss Emily, will you help me with this? I think you have the advantage.”

(Proof that kids really were learning!)

  • I worked with a preschooler who had a hard time even saying vowels. We worked on vowels with two of the consonants he could consistently say: p and b. So, one of our target words was “poopoo” (after all, it’s very functional vocabulary for a preschooler). The first time we worked on it, I had him say it 5 times. “Poopoo. Poopoo. Poopoo.” At this point, he stopped and started giggling uncontrollably. Super cute.
  • One of my favorite conversations with some 3rd graders:

Me: “If you could meet anyone in the world, who would you pick?”

Student 1: “I would want to meet my great great great … [there were a lot of greats] … great grandfather.” He proceeded to tell a story about what it would be like to meet a caveman during the ice age. The students then had a debate over whether there were cavemen before or after the ice age.

Student 2: “I would pick Adam and Eve, so I could stop them from eating the fruit. Then there wouldn’t be sin in the world.”

Student 1: “Oh, dang it! I wish I had thought of that!” He was sincerely disappointed in himself.

Student 2: “Well, maybe it wouldn’t matter anyway. There are so many people in the world that someone would probably mess it up eventually.”

  • I worked with a hilarious, sweet student with autism who brought so much energy and excitement to school.

We had a rule that she had to finish her work in 30 minutes. Otherwise, she wouldn’t get a break playing with the toy animals. One day, she finished in 31 minutes. So close, yet so far. I had to tell her that she didn’t earn break.

Instantly, she plopped down on my lap, laid her head on my shoulder, and burst into tears. I have to be honest, it was hard not to laugh at her dramatic response.

We talked about how next time she could work hard and get break. She seemed to accept this and calmed down.

Suddenly, she burst into tears again and wailed, “ANIMALS ARE RUINED!!!”

My SLP just smiled and said, “Well, she’s making progress. She used to say Christmas was ruined even when there wasn’t anything related to Christmas.”

  • After reading a book in language group, I asked the students to draw pictures of the story. When I asked one student about her picture, she said, “I drew a picture of the city council. That’s you. You’re the chairperson.” She pointed to a girl in a rainbow dress.

You know you’ve arrived when a student draws you as a key character in a story wearing a rainbow dress.

  • On my last day with the kids, I gave them each a pencil with a note that said, “You’re a sharp student.” I had to explain the double meaning behind “sharp” to most of the kids. When I gave it to one of the students, I told him, “Sharp can have two meanings. You can have a sharp pencil. Do you know what else it can mean?”
    He looked down bashfully. “Yeah, it means you’re really handsome.”

 

Can you see why I’m going to miss these kids? And now I’m starting my next school adventure. During December, I’m subbing for an SLP at another school. I’m actually getting paid to do this work! I’m very excited and nervous.

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Rejoicing in suffering

Last week, four of my speech pathology friends and I piled our stuff into a car for a road trip. Risking fog, snow, and tumbleweeds, we drove to Colorado for the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA)  annual convention. We joined approximately 14,000 other women (oh yeah, and a handful of men) for several days of nerding out about speech-language pathology and audiology. It was so fun to go on this adventure with some great friends and to learn more about this amazing field I’ve chosen.

I’ll spare you the nerdy details about the sessions I went to about co-teaching, counseling parents, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, and working with kids who have craniofacial anomalies.

One thing that stood out to me was the opening session by Kelly McGonigal on stress and dealing with challenges in life. She discussed several research studies that looked at how people cope with trials in life. Research shows that we are better able to deal with stress if we acknowledge it instead of trying to avoid it. One interesting study had participants sit with a family member or close friend who was about to have surgery. Half of the participants were told to think about how stressful the situation was and to take their worry out on a stress ball. The other participants were told to focus instead on the other person and that person’s pain. Instead of a stress ball, these people were told to hold their loved one’s hand.

Results from these studies showed that the best way to deal with challenging situations is to acknowledge the stress, think about the purpose behind the situation, and to focus on other people and their pain. When we do this, we still perceive pain but not as much as when we try to ignore it. Also, studies show that thinking this way results in neurological changes in our brain. People become more resilient, hopeful, and stronger because of these trials.

As Kelly McGonigal used words like “perseverance” and “hope” to describe how difficult situations can make us better people, I thought of these verses from Romans:

IMG_1690God promises that trials will lead to perseverance, character, and hope. He is able to promise this, first of all, because He is God. He gives us the Holy Spirit to supernaturally bless and strengthen us in the middle of stressful situations. After listening to Kelly McGonigal, I was struck by the idea that He can also promise this because he has neurologically set us up to respond in this way. When we are in the middle of stressful situations, God has given us a way to positively cope with trials by focusing on others and persevering to become a better person. He takes the bad and turns it for good. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel pain, but He’s given us the means to grow despite the pain. As a result, we can rejoice in our suffering.

We live in a world where science is too often viewed as the rival to the Bible. I was thrilled and encouraged to discover another example of research aligning with God’s Word.

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Moments

I’m already a third of the way through my second semester of grad school. There are many days when I wonder if it’s physically possible to get everything done even though I’m often on campus for 12+ hours. Through the chaos, stress, and exhaustion, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

For an assignment in stuttering class, I had to talk to 2 strangers in public while stuttering. The poor barista in Starbucks had to slow down and wait quite a while for me to finally get out my order. As much as I dreaded the assignment and disliked doing it, it made me realize what a fast-paced world we live in. We rush from place to place and use “I’m so busy” as the ultimate complaint and excuse. But how many amazing moments do we miss by being so busy? So I wanted to take time this weekend to stop and marvel at the “ordinary” moments of life.

  • Mondays are crazy class days. We have aphasia, motor speech, and dysphagia which means 6 hours in class. In dysphagia, we learn about swallowing disorders. Have you ever stopped to think about how you swallow? We do it 100s of times a day. So much has to happen to make sure the food is chewed, doesn’t come out your nose, is efficiently swallowed with no residue, goes down the esophagus and not into your trachea/lungs, etc. We have an amazing Creator.

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  • Twice a week, I go to India to work with one of the most grateful, hardworking men I’ve ever met. Through the wonders of telepractice, I help him with his English pronunciation and language skills. The fact that anyone can learn English as a second language amazes me. Every time I tell him a rule for English, I also have to say, “But there are a lot of exceptions…”
  • I’m also working with a bubble-loving preschooler. She can’t walk, but she doesn’t let that dampen her joy for life. When I do something silly, she covers her mouth with her hand and giggles. Too cute.
  • My third client is a sweet elementary student. For her, every complete, intelligible sentence is a huge victory. She reminds me not to take the ability to communicate for granted.
  • I’m so thankful that I’m not on this adventure alone. I have 34 fantastic classmates to laugh, brainstorm, commiserate, cry, eat donuts, study, make Boardmaker cards, and party with. No one else quite understands the hatred for the spinning wheel of death on the HIPAA computers, the joys of Spurtle Turtle, or the humor in our corny speech pathology jokes.
  • Last but not least, my family is pretty awesome. They tell me how much they missed me after I’ve been gone for 13 hours and put up with me when all I seem able to do is sleep. My mom spoils me with yummy food and clean laundry, and my dad is always there to help with any computer problems (and any other woes that come up).

Don’t miss out on the incredible moments in your life this week.

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I haven’t failed

Week 4 of the semester is in the books! Grad school is testing my time management and organizational skills, but I’ve been enjoying the challenge. No matter how prepared I am, I never know what to expect when I greet my little client at the door. There have been ups and downs for all of us as we learn how to apply what we’ve spent years learning. We’ve decided that, at this point, our job is to make mistakes and then learn from them. As Edison put it…

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This quote rings very true for me right now. I’m not sure if my client has learned anything yet, but I certainly have! There’s so much to think about in a treatment session. What behavior should I model? What should I do in response to the client’s actions? Was my utterance too long or was it something he could imitate? Did I give him enough time to respond? How can I keep his attention on the activity for longer than 3 minutes? Am I accurately collecting data? Which behaviors should I reinforce? How do I get him to stop rolling on the floor or running around the room? Am I using an effective strategy or should I try something different? Should I let him clean up or make him play for another minute? Am I smiling and having fun or am I checking my watch too often? Should I let him sit on the floor or make him come to the table? Even little things like seating arrangements at the table are significant and require planning and thought!

But then there are those precious moments when I think, “This might actually be making a difference!” Right now, those moments are few and far between, but they remind me that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

This upcoming week, we have our first exams AND STATE CONVENTION!!! WOOT WOOT!

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The graduate adventure begins…

Three weeks ago, I joined 33 other speech-language pathology students as we began our graduate program. Since then, we have organized and stocked our desks with office supplies, chocolate, textbooks, snacks, and colorful markers (Target made quite the profit off us the past couple weeks). We’ve also started classes and successfully conquered our first neurology quiz.

AND we’ve been entrusted with other human beings and expected to help them become better communicators. They call that clinic.

While the 12-hour days can feel long at times, I feel blessed to be at this place at this time with these people. I love it. Looking back over the past 4 years, it’s amazing to see how God has brought me to this point. My freshman year, I did not enjoy college and basically chose to major in speech pathology because I didn’t know what else to pick. Now, it’s second nature to use terms like…Screen shot 2014-09-06 at 12.35.31 AM

 

I’m nerding out right now just thinking about speech pathology. When you stop and think about it, it truly is extraordinary how God made us to communicate with each other (and Him!) through speech and language. The human brain is amazing!

So this next week, take a moment during your busy days and mundane tasks to notice the extra in the ordinary of your life. And once you find it, go ahead and nerd out over it. Trust me, it’s fun.

 

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