Picture this, you’re still in your undergrad classes, taking notes and trying to get a good grade on all your assignments. The professors are already warning you how hard it will be to get into grad school. You see the other students in the room as your competition, not not as the peers who you will one day be working in the field with. Like the jungle, each time tests were handed back you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. From the very beginning of your SLP journey, you have put up barriers to make sure you get to accomplish your goals.
Now you might have the personal experience or a friend’s story of the professor who told them they wouldn’t make it in the field. The supervisor who made a comment on what you wore to the clinic, or how they would have done something complete different with a client. You start off your therapeutic career often with lots of scrutiny and second guessing everything you do with clients. For some that helps shape them into amazing therapist, but for others that adds a life long toll of seconded guessing their individual therapy techniques.
Undergrad and gradstudents are fresh and excited and just what our field needs. They need to know that what we do isn’t cookie cutter, and we are excited to support their strengths when they join our field. Help push away the negativity, and loneliness that our undergrad and graduate programs sometimes create (even if it’s unintentional).
Practicing SLPs and SLPAs we need to work harder on realizing we are not alone, and we can lean on each other to create a network of support and change. You may be the only one in your building, district, office, nursing home, or hospital, but that doesn’t mean you have no one in your corner. It’s ok to do therapy different than others, it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to not always know the immediate answer.
I challenge everyone to take the CUEs needed to become a mentor for future SLPs and CFs. To reach out to those via social media, snail mail, conventions and repair some of those competitive feelings that may impact your willingness to find support today. Hopefully our schooling can make some change by allowing more students in graduate programs in order to increase acceptance into our field. Either way, the little things you can do to help go a long way.
IEPs. The thing they never really prepare you for in college, but takes up a third of your time. Whether it’s writing goal updates, summarizing present levels, determining minutes, or sitting through heated discussions, IEPs are a fact of life in the SPED world.
In school you were taught how to write goals using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) or ABCD (audience, behavior, condition, duration). You probably even wrote several evaluation reports and SOAP notes. You learned the basic of an IEP and possibly how your role looks in the ideal team. It seemed easy enough.
Well, I quickly learned I was nowhere near as confident or prepared in my early IEPs as I thought I would be. It’s nerve-racking walking into a new school as a CF, and being the expert for the first time on a student you may barely even know. Parents turn to you to answer why progress is or is not being made. Teachers want to know how to help “Johnny” in the classroom. Your principal may be in the room, and you want to appear as if you know what you are doing.
Here’s the big thing… you do know what you are doing. Be confident that you learned something during your 6 years of education. It’s ok not to know the answer, but it is not ok to make up the answer. You can always offer handouts to parents and teachers if they want more information. Slowly you will gain that confidence to speak up for each student. May the paperwork seem like a lot? Yes, but over time you will find a system that works for YOU! You’re going to have that meeting where you second guess your decisions, and other meetings where you are so excited for the student and their progress.
Below are some helpful hints and resources that really set me on the right path. Be confident, you can do this!
Read the student’s most recent IEP and/or Eval report.
Set deadlines for yourself ahead of what your district expects.
Ask your mentor to read over your first few IEP reports.
Invite your mentor to a few meetings the first semester. It never hurts to have a sidekick! They aren’t there to judge you.
Bring notes in the meeting. You may blank because of nerves, and this is the main time to express concerns.
Sign up for Speechy Musings‘ blog to get her bell curve chart. This has helped me on many occasions!
Start a goal bank of most used goals so you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.
Now do I still have IEPs where I don’t know the answer or I’m nervous for? Of course! You will have those difficult meetings, and that’s ok. Will you get forgotten about sometimes since you may be a related area and not primary? Yes, but keep communication between teachers open. Each meeting and report will get easier. Share your newbie IEP tips in the comments!