If you’re not an SLP, you may not know that this issue is a perpetual thorn in our collective sides.
On the educational side of the field of speech-language pathology, SLPs are all too often confused for teachers. On the medical side of the field, SLPs are oft mistaken for nurses.
Since I’ve been out of medical speech pathology since my hospital internship during graduate school over 7 years ago, I’m probably not the best person to expound upon the many many differences in that realm. However, as a speech therapist in the educational sector, I can speak to the multitude of differences between SLPs and teachers.
Before I do though, I must issue a very important statement: SLPs respect teachers! We respect them enough not to claim to be them or profess that we can do what they do and I’m sure they feel similarly.
We are a different field and we are proud of our field. I feel that all too often, when I try to explain the differences to others or ask people to use the title I’ve actually earned, people take it as a dig against teachers. Please know that it is not and I would never do something like that.
My English teachers and college professors were a huge factor in my decision to enter the field of speech-language pathology because they opened my eyes to the wonderful world of language, linguistics, and grammar.
However, my brothers, both born with developmental disabilities, were my true inspiration for becoming a speech and language pathologist. As a child, I never attended the same school as my baby brothers; I’m nine years their senior. However, I did accompany them to countless appointments for occupational therapy, physical therapy, and yes, speech and language therapy.
During our visits to the speech/language therapist’s office in a hospital in Chicago, I watched as the SLP facilitated communication through play; I counted and documented one of my brother’s words as his vocabulary grew; I model speech and language for the other through the use of a toy amplification device, and yet, I still wondered how I, at just 10 or 11 years old, could do more to foster communication for them. As you can see, my predilection toward the field of communication began to bud early on in life.
My reasons for entering the field of speech-language pathology are tied to the heart of who I am as a person, so when someone prescribes the role of “teacher” to me, it feels like they are dismissing my true interests and what my day-to-day life actually looks like. It seems like they’re saying, “You are not who you think you are. We will tell you who you are.” In reality, however, what they’re probably saying is more like, “We don’t really know what you do, but you work in a school and we think everyone who works in a school is a teacher in some capacity.” In spite of that, it still feels the same to me. It kind of hurts and it’s tiring.
Through the 7 years of collegiate training it took me to become a speech-language pathologist, not one single course in the field of education was required. However, courses were required in Anatomy & Physiology, Neurology, Motor Speech Disorders, Voice Disorders, Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia), Stuttering/Fluency Disorders, Phonetics, Articulation, Phonology, Language Development, Speech Science, Audiology, and more.
Today, with 7 plus years of experience in my field, I’ve never once had a classroom. I don’t stand in front of pupils and “teach.” The people I work with could easily be called “students” but they could also be called “patients” or “clients.” They are people that I treat for disorders behind a desk in my tiny office, while walking through the hallway, or while sitting on the floor anywhere in the building. In the hospital setting, they were people that I worked with at their bedsides. No matter the setting, I was using principles from the field of speech-language pathology and not education.
As a speech-language pathologist, I don’t have the credentials or the interest required to be a teacher, though I’m glad others do. For a time after deciding to enter this field, I even thought I would work within the medical side of speech-language pathology in an out-patient hospital or clinical setting. However, my squeamish nature and emotional sensitivity prompted me to re-consider (…and the idea of having summers off didn’t hurt either 😉 ).
Again, I must reiterate my profound respect for educators. Teachers are remarkable people. I think the best ones are those that felt a lifelong connection to the idea of helping and supporting children. However, that’s just not me and I won’t feel ashamed to admit that. I feel about communication the way that I think teachers feel about children. However, my love of communication spans the lifetime and fortunately for me, so does my field. SLPs work with everyone from newborns to super-centenarians.
Speech-language pathology is my passion. It’s what I feel I was born to do and because I view my field as my purpose in life, I’d appreciate people not taking that away from me by trying to simplify my title or overgeneralize careers based on settings.
Not everyone who works in a hospital is a doctor or nurse just as not everyone who works in a school is a teacher or principal.
A plethora of people play a role in shaping and improving lives. I’m happy with the role I worked hard to get.
SLPs are just as much health & medical professionals as they are education professionals, and to strip one aspect of the field from the other through terminology does a disservice to the community at large. It leads to people not understanding the ways that an SLP could be used to improve lives and that leads to many missed opportunities for treatment.
Each of us SLPs, regardless of work-setting, must maintain our position of having one foot in healthcare and one foot in education. Both medically-based and educationally-based SLPs must recognize disorders, decide on treatment methodologies to implement based on patients’ needs, and collaborate with team members including, doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, parents, students or patients, teachers, and others.
The role of the SLP is to diagnose and treat communication, swallowing, and feeding disorders across the lifespan, from 0 to 100+ years of age.
This important work allows patients/students/clients to improve quality of life. Within the educational setting, improvement of quality of life is intrinsically linked to access to education and so we work hand-in-hand with school professionals. However, we must never forget that the heart of what we do as members of the healthcare community is improving quality of life overall.
As I’m sure you’ll understand, the abilities to communicate and ingest food by mouth are paramount to that goal. Because of that, I will continue to communicate the role of SLPs and clarify misconceptions about who we are and what we do.
For more information on the differences between SLPs and teachers, please see the chart below. You can also find information about speech-language pathologists by visiting our entry in the U.S. government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.
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