Middle School Speech Therapy:
Let’s Be Honest
An interview with middle school teachers about
Middle school speech therapy carries a unique set of challenges to service provision. Older students, more difficult class schedules, and rare opportunities for true communication between professionals create large gaps in what can and should be a collaborative service delivery model. I wanted to learn more about this environment and discover ways to help middle level teachers and SLPs work together. So, I contacted two of the most wonderful middle school educators in the world: my mother, Sue, and my sister, Wendy.
What are some challenges you face with speech therapy and the SLP?
Sue: Scheduling. My class gets lots of kids pulled out because I am not a core teacher.
Ashley: I always say that making a schedule is the hardest part of the SLP job in schools. What can the SLP do to help with scheduling?
Sue: I understand the need for the speech therapy services and have a heart for them. I have asked that they be allowed to come at a different time and sometimes this is doable. I never know when my kids are being pulled out. She shows up and they go. I am so lucky to have block schedule with 86 minute classes because they have time to come back and catch up with what we were working on when they left. I do like for the speech therapist to tell me how long they will be gone. And she is so good to let them use the restroom or get a sip of water before they come back to my room.
Wendy: I’m not so much affected by that because I am a core subject and they stay away from math.
TAKE AWAY: Be flexible
What are some other challenges you face?
Wendy: It’s frustrating that the caseloads are so big that the SLP doesn’t have the opportunity to tell me what I could be doing to help with speech goals in my class. We got a new SLP this year and she’s doing a great job, but we never see her or know what she’s doing with the kids. I would love for her to interact with the kids around us (teachers) so that we know who she is and what she’s doing. It’s hard to support someone you’re unfamiliar with.
Sue: Not being invited to the conferences when I could have made arrangements to attend and then being asked to sign off on goals/modifications that I had no part in writing. I like to attend and take part.
TAKE AWAY: Be available or at least, approachable.
How can the SLP support your classroom curriculum in speech therapy?
Sue: I LOVE to hand the SLP a list of unit-related vocabulary words…the students get to say them and spell them and define them and use them in sentences. These kids are so confident of the terminology when we have a class discussion (to the point of correcting classmates before I can!)
Wendy: Pushing vocabulary, but it also depends on what the speech goals are. If the SLP needs to listen to the kid speak, have the student walk through a math problem with you. Teaching someone else to do something is the greatest form of proving mastery.
TAKE AWAY: Speech is in everything we do at school.
What are your favorite ways to collaborate with the SLP?
Sue: I try to invite the SLP to come and listen when the speech kids are doing an oral report or presentation of some kind. They have a cheerleader there, another friendly face to look at, and they often practice in the speech room before coming to class to do it.
I also have had the SLP come to get a kid for pull out but we were busy with something hands-on. She came in and joined the group for a minute then talked with the student about that later when they are together. It gives them something real to talk about and it is a win-win for all of us.
TAKE AWAY: Goals can be targeted outside the speech room.
What would you like to understand more about speech therapy services in your school?
Sue: Having a child in class that is so difficult to understand and finding out that they were never offered speech services…
Wendy: So many middle schoolers go to speech and then slack on the sounds when they think we aren’t listening for them. That’s my biggest thing. I don’t want to tell a kid that they are mispronouncing words if they don’t know how to fix the sounds. And, if they do know how to apply needed changes, how can I encourage them to do so respectfully?
Ashley: So, you want to encourage carryover into your classroom but aren’t sure if you should address it because you’re not sure of their mastery level in speech therapy? Is that right?
Wendy: Correct. Or if the SLP even wants me listening for those sounds. I don’t want to make student uncomfortable with me because they think I’m listening to how they are saying something vs what they are saying.
If a kid is getting services in middle school they need more time than what is allowed in the speech schedule. Share some ideas with your teachers as to what they can do in their classrooms or what you can do in yours to help everyone reach the same goal. Goodness knows everyone has been asked to support math and ELA for state testing. We can make room for real life things the kids need…like knowing how to talk.
TAKE AWAY: Teachers want to teach! SLPs can educate classroom teachers to support speech therapy goals in the classroom.
Let’s talk about speech therapy IEP meetings. Love them? Hate them?
Sue: Please invite me. If I can’t be there then at least I was invited to participate.
Wendy: The way they do IEP meetings in my current district is speech takes care of speech goals and I, as the case manager, take care of everything else. We are both at the meeting and take care of our part. As far as a “speech only” kiddo, they invite a regular ed teacher because I have so many other meetings. With that said, there are kids that I didn’t know had IEPs for speech therapy until now…and it’s January.
Sue: Bring things to me that need to be signed. I will forget to come to your room to sign things. Bring a really good ink pen and hand it to me so we aren’t scratching around to find a pen!
TAKE AWAY: We are all busy, but we can help one another accomplish everything that needs to be done.
As for the needing services part: Do you know the process in your school to refer a student for speech therapy? How would you handle that?
Sue: We can mention it to her casually or there is a form to put in her box. She is good to get back with us if needed.
Wendy: Or go through our lead case manager that there is concern and she would set up a meeting with everyone.
Do you know when certain communication skills should be mastered?
Sue: I do not know when sounds are mastered, but I know when a student is having trouble.
TAKE AWAY: Teachers may need more information from SLPs.
How can the SLP help you be aware of the speech student’s goals?
Wendy: Make a snapshot of your goals and send it out to the necessary teachers at the beginning of the year so that we know what to be looking for or listening for.
Sue: We get a grade-level list of every child that is on her caseload and what they are being seen for – same from school nurse…no surprises about allergies and such.
Wendy: Does that not violate privacy rules? You shouldn’t know about kids you don’t have.
Sue: I teach every 7th grader, so no.
Wendy: Ah, I see. We get a report from the grading system, but not in an easily accessible manner. Ours just says if the student has an IEP or has allergies. Not for what or to what.
Sue: Our speech therapist comes to our faculty meetings…all of them. She is nice to ask if any of us need anything or have concerns. It is nice to know that she is there if we do. She will often get needed signatures at that time, too.
TAKE AWAY: Teachers know about HIPPA and want to do what’s best for speech students.
If there was one thing you could say to all SLPs from the teacher’s point of view what would that be?
Sue: I am so glad that you are here to help these students! I appreciate working with you because you help them do something that I can’t! (Now I have a daughter who is an SLP and I hope that she is appreciated!)
Wendy: We are all here to help this kiddo be successful so let’s help each other throughout the process.
Take away: We’re all in this together!
Sue is a 7th grade Family and Consumer Sciences teacher with over 33 years of experience, including early childhood education and special education. She enjoys traveling and being active in her professional organizations.
Wendy is a Special Education co-teacher in math and science. She has 5 years of classroom experience. She enjoys random and useless trivia and spending time with her family.
Ashley is a Speech – Language Pathologist with 8 years of experience in the public schools and more recently, private practice. She blogs here at Speech Spotlight and at sweetspeech.org. She enjoys seeing new places and creating new materials to share with other speech therapy providers at AGB Speech Therapy on TpT.