Career Pathways & Education

Speech Therapists in Schools: Day in the Life of a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Lacee Johnson
May 16, 2024
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Join me on a journey into the heart of what it means to be a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), guided by my own adventures over the past 10 years. First though, a little about me…I graduated with my Masters in Communication Disorders from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Between then and now, I’ve primarily worked in the schools but have also dabbled in private practice, home-based services, and even worked a few PRN shifts at a skilled nursing facility. The school setting is my home, though, and where I believe I can make the largest impact.  As we walk through my experiences, I'm here to shine a light on the joys and rewards of working in schools, challenging the common misconceptions about this path. 

What does a Speech-Language Pathologist do in a school setting?

In a school setting, an SLP is responsible for assessment and treatment of speech and language disorders, as they relate to accessing the general education curriculum. SLPs work on a multidisciplinary team which may include a Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Special Education Teacher, General Education Teacher, Reading Specialist, and Hearing Teacher. Talk about some brain power! SLPs have the unique opportunity to have a ‘seat at the table’ and serve as the Communication Specialist, improving communication skills and advocating for children.

While I may be biased, SLPs play the most important role. (Alright, I am biased, but without a doubt, SLPs play a crucial role on the team.) SLPs aid in prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of speech and language disorders, including articulation/phonology, fluency, voice, expressive/receptive language, and pragmatic (social) language. To further expand:

Prevention: This involves early interventions under programs known as Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). These terms might sound complex, but they simply refer to the structured steps schools take to help students before they fall behind. For instance, in RTI or MTSS, all students receive some level of support (Tier 1), but those who struggle might get more focused help in small groups (Tier 2), or even one-on-one support if needed (Tier 3). 

• Assessing & Diagnosing: When a teacher or parent outreaches with a referral, you work with your team to develop the best plan for the student. SLPs diagnose speech and language disorders and determine if they have an educational impact. Each state has different guidelines to follow so it’s essential you’re intimately familiar with applicable special education law(s).

• Treatment: If a student qualifies for a speech and language impairment, the team moves forward with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). This is a ‘live’ document renewed annually, or as needed, and includes the student’s evaluation information, present levels of performance, goals, and much more.

What are the responsibilities of a school based SLP?

SLPs manage a caseload of students with speech and language impairments and handle meetings, IEP paperwork, evaluations, services, documentation and billing, and collaborating with general education teachers, along with other professionals. SLPs also serve as related service providers for students with other learning impairments such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, developmental delay, and hearing impairments. We have such a unique and important job to do in the school setting. It is rewarding, fast-paced, and impactful, if I do say so myself.

How to become a school-based SLP

At this point, I hope you’re asking yourself, “alright, I’m sold – how do I become a school SLP?” I pride myself on changing the minds of my interns from absolutely not wanting to be a school-SLP to having a job they love before they even graduate school! 

School SLPs have the same degree as medical-based SLPs, private clinicians, and early interventionists. To be an SLP, you’re required to have a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. Upon graduation, you enter a clinical fellowship (CF) and upon completion, you apply for your Certificate of Clinical Competence from ASHA. Some states will also require you to take a teacher certification test to work in the school setting. 

One unique benefit of the school setting is the opportunity for SLPs to hone in their skills with a particular population, such as Autism, deaf or hard of hearing students, or phonological impairments. This varies from school to school but I’ve found opportunities are commonly available, if you so desire. 

Additionally, SLPs may be able to move into an administrative role to have a larger impact on education policy. You really can set your own trajectory, based on your goals and aspirations.

How much do SLPs make in schools?

As an SLP, not only are you truly making a difference for your students, but you can also make a healthy salary. SLP compensation varies greatly state-to-state. ASHA reports the median salary for school SLPs is $69,000 per year. 

Every school district makes their salary schedule available online, which is great for transparency and making the best decision for you and your family. It’s important to research districts and schools to find the right fit for you from a salary and culture perspective. 

Additionally, some Districts offer stipends and allow you to advance in the pay scale if you complete professional development or earn college credits. It’s an added bonus that helps increase your base salary, while also increasing your knowledge in the field.

How I Thrive as a School-Based SLP

I’d recap by recognizing that, quite frankly, the school setting isn’t for every SLP and every SLP isn’t right for the school setting. If you hop on to Facebook, you may start to think the school setting is a terrible gig with high caseloads, low salaries, and far too much paperwork. While I’m not dismissing anyone’s experience, in my opinion, the pros vastly outweigh the cons.  For example, one of the biggest pros to working in a school is the schedule. Having holidays, breaks, and summers off allows me to spend time with my children and make memories as a family. 

Use SLP Tools & Resources

Having systems and tools in place that streamline your workload has been an absolute lifesaver for me. For example, systems like SLP Now and SLP ToolKit have taken hours off my paperwork load, allowed me to collect digital data, bill Medicaid faster, and plan therapy sessions with ease. I highly recommend checking those two platforms out.

Set Boundaries between Work & Life

At the end of the day, any job is what you make it. Being an SLP in the school setting can be a phenomenal job with a wonderful work life balance. For me, it’s essential that I have the freedom to spend time with my family when the kids are not in school. It’s also important to set boundaries as a school SLP. I leave work at work and am a big advocate of ‘being where you are.’ 

Foster Positive Relationships with Colleagues

The last thing I’d share is I’ve found it makes a world of difference to maintain positive working relationships with your Team, Administration, and Teachers and maintain focus on the students. This approach allows for the most successful collaboration and tremendous results, all around. All of this while getting to work with children in their natural environment, and watching and experiencing their joy through progress and accomplishments. I can’t think of any better way to make a living!  

Interested in a travel Speech-Language Pathologist job? Visit Trusted Health’s Job Board!

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