School Speech Pathology Burnout

An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Teresa G. Odle (October 10, 2010) carries the headline, “Hot Jobs: Speech Pathologist.” Such articles are appealing to university students in search of a career.  “This steadily growing profession has plenty of jobs in schools, hospitals, private clinics, public health departments and other settings….Federal laws have affected enrollment in special education programs and services for students add to the need for SLPs in schools.”



The Metro in Paris

On the other hand is the voice of experienced Maggie Horan of Albuquerque, NM.  While she likes her profession and the variety of cases, she notes the hardships for long-term SLPs. Interesting diversity in the field is a drawback.  “She says that for school workers, caseload can get out of hand.” 

 We have two ends of a professional continuum, from idealism to realism. 

The profession has to recruit SLPs, true. But the gap is enormous between the university perspective and the real world perspective. Some young clinicians don’t make it and change professions. They quickly experience burnout and don’t have sufficient understanding of it to make adjustments in skill and expectation.

New SLPs often take over jobs left behind by retiring SLPs. They not only get huge caseloads; they also get chaotic files and materials and school-to-school schedules no one else wants. They find special education directors who do not care about caseload size, and teachers who do not like the idea of collaboration. They meet parents who push for what they want and are used to getting what they want. Some teachers try to push children into the speech and language caseload.

There is also a need for a broad understanding of school speech pathology. SLPs are asked to engage in reading instruction for which they have no preparation whatsoever.  They do not know special education law and they do not know about special education trends like RTI.

The gap is not easily closed by continuing education. It should not be a replacement for preservice education. Grassroots advocacy without a national campaign is not really helpful to new SLPs sinking fast in a world controlled by national education politics.

Yes, the divide between university expectations and hands on service is too large to be easily bridged.  Some SLPS burnout before they even can get a handle on the problem.

Fall 2013 Update

Yes, this is all true. My present writing is on ASHA organization for addressing practice and curriculum changes, where ASHA seems years behind in addressing the needs of school SLPs. The Board of Directors should step back away from the public relations viewpoint to see if ASHA can somehow catch up. This is of course all part of an historical pattern of downplaying the role of school clinicians.

John M. Panagos

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