What SLPs Need More Than Teaching Certificates: Good Ties to Teachers!

Every so often, a new Speech/Language Pathologist asks, “Why do SLPs need a teaching certificate to work in a school?”

Female school-based Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) helps girl with Down syndrome facial characteristics practice “S” sound.Not every state makes this demand. Not even every state where Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) therapists work does. Delaware, like 10 other states, requires only state licensing.

But anywhere else, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, you’ll need a separate credential from the state if you want to practice in public schools.

This requirement causes a little controversy.

For one thing, practicing other related services doesn’t require a teaching certificate. But because Speech/Language is a standalone special education service and the SLP can serve as case manager, the certificate has become important.

For another, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) SLP certification is a lengthy, rigorous process. Its requirements typically exceed state licensure minimums. While ASHA certification isn’t always necessary to work as an SLP, it does increase your professional credibility and can open doors for more employment, mobility, and career advancement.

And when SLPs need teaching certification to practice, the inaccurate (and, to some clinicians, offensive) representation of SLPs as “speech teachers” continues. Speech/Language isn’t an educational specialty. It’s a scientific, evidence-based therapeutic discipline.

Because the “speech teacher” designation doesn’t describe what SLPs do, it can get in the way of teachers understanding and appreciating our role. Friction and bad feelings can result, making it harder for teachers and SLPs to do their jobs—and for the students they’re trying to serve to make progress.

Help “Tough Teachers” Understand Your Work and Why It Matters

Although we school-based SLPs need a teaching certificate, are considered part of the teaching staff, and are paid on the same scale as teachers, our role is different. We are more frequently expected to attend meetings, complete excessive amounts of paperwork, and provide classroom support and consultation for as many as 65 kids on caseload, sometimes more. 

Female school-based Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) holds mirror for elementary school boy practicing sound articulation.Managing and scheduling a caseload takes flexibility and coordination. Inevitably, however, conflicts come up, and SLPs can’t be in two places at once.

When I mentor and work with new school-based therapists, I advise: Make sure you stick to your schedule, notify teachers when it changes, and know the teachers whose kids you must never miss or reschedule.  

I learned this lesson in a major way about 10 years into my career.

At one point in an IEP meeting, I asked the student’s teacher for input. As she began to talk, she slid a yellow sticky note across the table to the parent. On it, she’d written dates and minutes: “10/3-3 minutes,” “11/25-4 minutes.” The teacher told the parent these were dates I’d been late picking up the student from class, and by how much.

I was horrified. She’d never mentioned anything like this to me. With 25 kids in her class to watch over, who knew she had time to pay attention to my comings and goings?

At first, I was humiliated. Then I was irate! Who was this teacher keeping tabs on me?

Did she not know I had 90 kids to see in a week, while she had only 25?

Did she not know how much paperwork was associated with each child?

Did she not know I was expected to not only see but also sit in meetings for every student on my caseload?

Female school-based Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) coaches elementary school girl to read and sound the letter “A.”At that moment, it hit me: She did not know.

She expected me to pick up her kids at certain times, take them to an “undisclosed location,” do my thing, and drop them back off quietly, being careful not to disturb her lesson.

No wonder she didn’t understand what I was doing. I was acting totally independent of her.

More importantly, I’d failed to show her my worth. If she didn’t understand what I was doing, how could she see the power and value of the work her students were doing with me?

This incident was a significant turning point in my career.

I realized “tough teachers” who gave me a hard time about schedules and convenience were overly concerned the “speech teacher” was making students miss too much of something—perhaps what they considered the “real teaching.” And I realized teachers who never engaged with me never understood what I was doing.

Working with teachers became one of my missions—seeing them as teammates and not opponents, and making sure the goals I was developing in my sessions actually addressed the struggles occurring in their classrooms.

Five Ways to Forge Partnerships with Classroom Teachers

In consulting with other SLPs about how they handle “tough teachers,” I heard again and again about these strategies proving most beneficial: 

  • Happy elementary school girl in speech therapy session sits cross-legged on floor. Female SLP’s hand and clipboard visible.Demonstrate your and your student’s work
    Let the teacher see what you’re doing in the therapy room. If she can’t come to you, push into the classroom and showcase your student’s hard work. And see your student’s struggles in the classroom firsthand. Regular observation ensures everyone stays on the same page. 
  • Show interest in the classroom
    Sit in and observe. Incorporate themes from the classroom into your therapy. Show the teacher you value what’s happening in the classroom and that you are partners in helping the child make progress overall, not just in speech.
  • Treat students in the classroom whenever possible
    I understand logistics can be difficult. But if you ever find yourself able to hold your speech session within earshot of the teacher and classroom staff, do it! The close proximity will help them understand your work and why it matters.
  • Brag on your students
    Make sure you share speech successes with the teacher. Let him know when students meet goals and hit milestones. Saying things like “I wanted you to be the first to know” or “We couldn’t wait to show you” help build bridges of trust and teamwork.
  • Be proactive about scheduling changes
    Teachers depend on related service providers to stick to schedules. I’d never thought about how their lessons had to change if kids were in the classroom who were supposed to have been pulled out, even if only for a few minutes. Giving the teacher a heads-up allowed her to have something prepared in case I ran late or got held up in a meeting. 

Why Building Better Relationships with Teachers Matters

State governments can tell SLPs we need a teaching certificate to work in a school setting, but they can’t make us form positive relationships with teachers. We need to require ourselves to do that.

Often we lose sight of how the itinerant nature of what we do is exactly the opposite of working in the same room all day with the same 25 children. We have such limited time with students. Having support and carryover from their teachers can help us optimize our interventions.

We may talk about “tough teachers,” but the real problem isn’t the person. It’s the relationship with the teacher that has soured. If we make good faith efforts to work with teachers, we show we regard them as important team members, and appreciate how they contribute to students’ progress.

A positive SLP-teacher relationship can make all the difference for a child!

Want more tips for navigating school-based Speech/Language pathology, or for finding a position where you can do the most good for the most kids while growing your career? Contact PTS today!

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