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30 Pieces of Advice for New SLPs

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I recently asked for advice for new SLPs on my Facebook page and the response I got was AMAZING. The feelings I have after starting this new job have been crazy. I love it, but it can definitely feel overwhelming at times! I still sometimes feel bad for the clients who get assigned to me instead of the more tenured therapists!!

So if you’re a new SLP and anything like me, check out the amazing tidbits of advice from other wonderful SLPs below:

1) Don’t spend lots of money at the retail stores. I accumulated a lot of products my first year from yard sales and thrift stores. Also, wait until you know your caseload before purchasing products as well.

2) Do your best to leave work AT work. Sure, there will be a few times you need to bring stuff home, but don’t make a habit of it. Figure out what you NEED to do for your job and students, and don’t burn yourself out on things that don’t really matter all that much.

3) It’s ok to have a complete meltdown at least once the first week!!

4) When I started out in 1984 (yes, 1984!), my colleagues were choosing to work either in the school setting, or in the medical setting—but not both. I remember thinking that I didn’t really want to give up one or the other of those choices. So, I did not give up either one and have practiced in schools, acute facilities and SNFs continuously for thirty years. Yes, it was a little crazy at times, but I encourage ALL newbies to attain and keep up their skills in both areas. Yes, I know a great deal about learning disabilities, IEPs, assessment in the schools, along with bedside swallow evals, modified barium swallow studies, Parkinson’s, CVAs, etc. I’m proud to say I’m both an educational and a medical SLP and YES I would absolutely do it this way all over again!

5) One, don’t feel like you need to have absolutely every material you want on hand when you start. Start with the basics and be content to add a little at a time as you see is necessary for your student population and as you have money and time (two commodities you didn’t have much of during grad school!). Two, choose one thing each year to become better at. For example, for your first year, you might want to focus on IEPs and paperwork, for your second year, incorporating classroom curriculum into your therapy, for your third, homework and better parent communication, etc. Don’t feel like you have to master everything in one year! Third, use your creativity and passion for our field to connect with your students and staff, while still maintaining time for yourself to relax, have fun, and detach from the job.  HAVE FUN!!! You have so much freedom now that you’re out of grad school, so take advantage of it!

6) Don’t be afraid to say no. If you have to much on your plate ask for help. Always stand up for yourself.

7) Don’t be afraid to ask questions!! No one expects you to know everything! You’ll learn by asking and getting advice from those with more experience.

8) Act confident…even when you’re not!

9) ALWAYS take your lunch break. I skipped mine and worked through about 3 months before I started to feel burnt out. Don’t do it to yourself! The work will get done, I promise  and make friends with the teachers! You see your kids once or twice a week. They have them everyday.

10) Build a support network and nurture it.

11) Don’t forget to have fun!

12) NEVER be afraid to try new things. I am in my 30th year and still am learning and changing. CHANGE is good, so they say!

13) PR is a huge part of your job!! Parents, teachers, admins, etc. Make your parents feel that you are working WITH them. Even though you are the expert in the field, be humble. Give your best. You will do well!

14) Be open minded about job setting. Accept PRN jobs if you can to keep your skills fresh. I thought I only wanted to work with adults as a CF. I worked in a nursing home for the first two years and slowly started doing PRN early intervention and realized that I loved working with children and adults. 13 years later, I work mostly with children. I have encouraged all my students and CFs to explore PRN opportunities in fields they think they may not want to work in just so if they need to change they have the experience.

15) If going to work in a school system, be flexible, and respect the teachers, get to know them, eat lunch with them, ask their advice about the kids—they spend more time with the kids than we do, granted in a different way. Also, get to know your school secretaries and custodians–they really run the school. And remember, we are hired in schools to be ‘support staff’, not the ‘Queen’. In your very own Speech room, should you be lucky enough to have one, you can be Queen, but only in there.

16)  1) Therapy sessions go awry sometimes and it’s not the end of the world. There will be amazing sessions and some that go WHOMP WHOMP. If you’re working with kids, only YOU know it bombed- they don’t- so no worries! 2) The paperwork and pressure WILL make you cry occasionally. Hide behind a file cabinet or find a clean bathroom and let it all out. The beautiful moments when you know you changed the course of someone’s life will make up for it. Savor those.

17) If you’re working with preschoolers, always have an extra shirt on hand!

18) Be a team player. Although you are the expert about speech and language skills, there are many other professionals and parents who see the child in different settings. I always tell young SLPs to listen to the parents because sometimes they see things before the educational staff. Also develop good relationships with your teachers. If you sell the importance of speech and language therapy to the teachers, they will be your best friend realizing the importance. Eat in the teachers lounge. Yes, sometimes they drive me crazy asking me questions about referrals, but they value my advice and my professional expertise. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I learned so much from a mentor by asking questions.

19) Focus your passion, find your niche… Never settle!

20) Ask questions! Ask parents about their kids and what works/doesn’t work. Ask experienced therapists why they choose one approach over another. Ask kids for their opinions. Stay open-minded and positive.

21) It is ok to ask questions. It is ok to not know EVERYTHING!

22) Do not be ashamed to say “I don’t know, but I can find out!” Our profession always changes and is growing. You will not always have the answers, and that is ok!

23) Do your best, but cut yourself some slack. I entered the ‘schools’ after 15 years in 0-3. I was old enough to know I didn’t know everything and am giving myself time to learn. My first year went well and I will up my expectations for myself this year based on what I learned last year!

24) Keep learning. Keep growing and most importantly, keep an open mind about setting. There are so many opportunities for us as SLPs. You may find yourself using your degree in a way that you never thought possible or imagined. Roll with it!

25) It’s always about what is best for kids. Focus your work on that and you can never go wrong.

26) You know more than you think you do. Follow your gut. Do what you know is right. Befriend the right people. Do the best by your clients/students!

27) Make friends with teaching assistants in the school system, and with CNAs in hospitals and nursing homes. They can make your job easier, and you will get more carryover of goals when they are on your side.

28) Stop to breath for just a second. The race, however, isn’t over. Graduating is the first step. The CFY is up next, your licensure, your C’s…there is a world of opportunities, but you must finish all if those steps to avail yourself of them. Once you are finished, do what you love. Don’t think for a second that you “must” stay in a place where you are not 100% loving it. The employers need you more than you need them; and it is a great position to be in. Participate…ask questions…be mentored and then volunteer to be a mentor. Everyone remembers those first days as a newly graduated SLP. Help someone make the transition.

29) Read speech blogs, find fun ideas on Pinterest, stay current on journal articles, and keep your therapy both fun and evidence-based!

30) And mine… give yourself a break once a while 🙂

Anything they missed? I’d love to hear!

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Shannon

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13 Comment

  1. Reply
    Marge Blanc
    July 16, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    Great post! After many years as an SLP, I could relate to every one of the comments. But my most valuable lesson as a new SLP didn’t happen until my third year (oh, dear!), but it has mattered every year since! And that was to actually take the time to observe without feeling any ‘responsibility’ to *do* anything about what I observed. I actually had to take a day off from my school job to feel that elusive lack of responsibility — but what I learned from observing my kids in their natural school settings has stayed with me for all the years since (nearly 40 years — yikes!) Anyway, now I ask families to take movies of their kids in their natural home environments so I can watch them without feeling any responsibility to make things better. I am *just* observing — and learning so much!

  2. Reply
    Mary
    July 16, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    Excellent advice…all of them! One more thing I would add: Don’t take things personally, especially things that are said during an IEP Meeting by parents. Remember that they want the best for their child!

  3. Reply
    Kathy Burnett
    July 16, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    Great advice Shannon! I copied this and will give to my 2 new CFs for this coming school year. Thanks so much!

  4. Reply
    Kathi Ray
    July 16, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    Wonderful advice! I too will share these with my CF this September!

  5. Reply
    Beth Qualley
    July 18, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    Like everyone else has shared..Great advice!!! I have been practicing since 1985 and my job in the schools changes every year. I have been traveling between buildings for the last 19 years…different buildings. There have been years I have done preschool, Elementary and Midddle school all at the same time. My mini van (plus my three kids ) was a mess!! I have to say, I like traveling. It keeps me on my toes but it is tough. I think my biggest piece of advice is to have a thick skin. Most parents are extremely appreciative and happy with the work you do with their children. i got beautiful notes and very generous gifts at the end of this school year. That being said, I also cried for the first time in about 15 years. There is one family I work with that will NEVER be happy…no matter what I do. It is still hard to take. BUT…..my friends and colleagues are there to encourage and support me. You can’t make everyone happy. It is always worth it.

  6. Reply
    Susan
    August 7, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    New SLPs working in the schools need to stand up for themselves especially when it comes to the CSTs. They will try to tell a SLP how to do their job. Be firm and respectful. Remember, you will work with the CST all year. Less frustration and stress will go along way and your first year will be great!

  7. Reply
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    August 13, 2014 at 7:16 PM

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  8. Reply
    Kelly Landaal
    October 27, 2014 at 7:31 PM

    One of the most relevant pieces of advice my school supervisor said to me has stuck with me throughout these past nine years of practice. “You work to live. You don’t live to work.” I find myself going back to that mantra every few months.

    Regards,
    Kelly

  9. Reply
    Sarah Lea
    October 29, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    I totally agree about keeping up your skills across the different areas. I have gone from school based, private practice with an AAC focus, SNF, and home health. Having skills in all of these areas makes me an invaluable team member in each area I work. I completely recommend it!

  10. Reply
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    February 9, 2015 at 9:47 AM

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  11. Reply
    Megan
    November 1, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    This is my 5th year working in the schools. I am still learning. One tip I’d give is try to keep up on being organized. I have so many materials I’ve accumulated over the years, but I have 2 filing drawers that are a complete mess! So it’s hard to use what you don’t know you have. And of course, there’s always something else that’s more pressing to do before I can get to them. 🙂

  12. […] article from Speechy Musings is a great resource to find advice from a varied group of SLPs who are […]

  13. Reply
    bkmrampley
    July 10, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    As an upcoming grad and beginning my first “big girl job” as a school SLP in just a couple weeks, this was EXACTLY what I needed to hear. THANK YOU!!

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