Being a new SLP can be overwhelming. I wish I had known these things back then.
I’ll admit this right upfront:
I was not an ideal student in graduate school nearly 25 years ago. While I liked the subject matter of my undergraduate (Linguistics) and graduate (Speech-Language Pathology) majors, I tended to sit in the back of my classes and listen, and was not very open to forming collaborative relationships with my professors.
I was more of a leave-me-alone-and-I’ll-figure-it-out-myself kind of learner. I’m not proud of this, but that was most comfortable to me back then.
I made the choice to move to New York City to do my CFY – a place where I had never spent more than 48 hours before rolling up in a U-Haul. I got my first SLP job at an agency, which meant that I hopped from school to school, with very little in terms of on-site support. I don't remember feeling much of a connection with my CFY supervisor, but I probably was not very open to having a connection either.
I was also skeptical that I could actually help and effect real change in the kids I was assigned to work with.
The 8 things I’m about to share here have been hard-won and learned over time. I sure wish I could tell these things to my younger self!
Here we go:
1) Learn the power of “I’m not sure. Let me check and get back to you.”
When I graduated with my degree in speech-language pathology, I thought I was now responsible to know all the information related to my field. I tried to answer questions right away to the best of my ability, even when I wasn’t sure. It took time and confidence to tell people I didn’t know something.
The fact is, this field is so broad that we simply cannot know everything! In addition, things are always evolving as new research emerges. SLPs continue to develop and deepen their knowledge throughout their career.
It's ironic that I say "I don't know" more now than I did when I started!
Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re going to check on something and get back to them. ASHA’s Practice Portal has excellent, up-to-date information on many topics. And make sure you follow up and give people the information they asked for!
2) Build a network
Keep in touch with your grad school classmates, professors, supervisors, work colleagues, etc.
Now that I’ve been on the other side of things as a clinical supervisor, I know firsthand – your supervisors would love to hear from you and help answer a question you have!
Offer to be a resource for colleagues and they’ll be one in return; you’ll find that many of them also want to grow their networks too. You don’t need to form the closest of friendships with them; just keep in touch online or meet for coffee once in a while. It can be fun to bounce ideas off each other, just share knowledge and resources, or even (gasp) complain!
A network also helps when you’re looking for a new job.
3) Energy in = energy out
After working with preschoolers for a few years, I started to realize that things went really well with my kiddos on the days where I was feeling energetic and really attuned to them. Conversely, they could sense it on the days when I was tired and feeling less focused.
Kids notice when you show up for them and they’ll give that effort right back to you. I also started to realize that simply being genuinely happy to see students and being curious about what they are doing, thinking, and feeling will get you a very long way. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
Also, kids are people and we have different chemistry with different people; you might connect more easily with one kiddo over another. Every child has endearing qualities - figure out what they are and keep them in mind when you're with them.
4) Join a Special Interest Group forum on ASHA.org
I’ve been a member of the SIG1 Forum for several years now and I think it’s worth the extra money when I pay my dues every year. You can ask questions, or just lurk. Either way, you’ll learn a lot from smart SLPs who care enough about their profession to participate in a professional forum.
5) The better you get, the busier you’ll get
The better you get at your job, the busier you’ll get. This is because people will recognize you as a source for support and answers. They’ll seek you out for consultation and collaboration. While this is a good thing, it adds to the busy-ness of an already very busy job.
The only way to stay on top of everything is to develop SYSTEMS. Take the time to develop systems to streamline your tasks. A little additional work upfront can really pay off down the road. Create session planning sheets for each student with their IEP goals on them, so you can stay focused on their goals. Set up auto-completes on your devices for phrases you’ll be typing a lot. Develop filing systems to organize your therapy materials and continuing education information. You'll need to figure out the systems you need, based on your specific work setting.
I developed StoryWhys book companions to help manage the planning, workload, and needs of my upper elementary language groups and am so glad I did! The time I put in upfront to creating them has paid off in so many ways, and I am so happy to share them with other SLPs now!
Explore all of the StoryWhys book companions in my store. You'll find comprehensive book companions that target many different language skills or Spotlight Series book companions that focus on one type of skill, all using high-quality, beloved storybooks.
You can also try a FREE, 71-page book companion on the Special Offers page.
6) There is probably a setting that’ll be a good match for you
I’ve seen threads on Reddit and elsewhere where new SLPs feel so disappointed when they don’t like their CFY experience and they question whether they’ve made a mistake in choosing this field. I've been there and I know how demoralizing that feels.
SLPs have so many options in terms of settings and populations to work with. From medical settings, schools, private practice, from infants to seniors, and so many areas to specialize in, it’s likely you can find something that’ll feel like a good fit for you. Try not to be disappointed if it doesn’t happen right away. Learn as much as you can where you are right now and move on as soon as you are able to.
7) People often use SLP terminology without really understanding it
After going to school for as long as we have, we have developed some very specific knowledge and terminology. Parents, clients, and professional in other fields often use this terminology. Don’t assume they know what it means. Find out what they understand about it and meet them there. One example is the terminology around phonological processing and phonological awareness. See this post to find out more.
8) Get to know the staff in your settings
As someone who has worked in a lot of different schools, I have learned to make an effort to get to know the support staff – the receptionists, the custodians, the paraprofessionals, etc. Learn their names. Ask them how they’re doing and how their weekends were. Offer to help carry something or open a door. You are one small part of a community that works because everyone plays an important role.
Have any tips you'd give your younger self? Leave a comment below!