The beginning of my journey to become a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)

The Beginning

All stories must start somewhere… I’m 25 years old, and this is the beginning of my journey to become a Speech Language Pathologist. I didn’t take a very direct route into the SLP field, but I’m excited to be here.

I think I’ve wanted to be a teacher since as early as the 5th grade. I’ve always liked helping others understand things. Career personality tests in high school seemed to confirm that I should “become a teacher.” One of my mentors even told me, “Michael…if you don’t become a teacher, angels will cry.” Talk about pressure, right? So, I became a teacher… sort of…for a little bit…

I went to a great university for my undergrad to earn a bachelor’s in Spanish, and I picked up minors in Education, Business, and Linguistics. All through college, I got as much experience as I could teaching. I tutored for the Spanish department on campus. I tutored in local public schools. I worked with Upward Bound teaching after school enrichment courses and coordinating a team of other tutors. I become an RA and planned programs for my fellow students.

Despite all this momentum in one direction, I wasn’t ready to go into a classroom and spend the next 30 years of my life and career there once I graduated college. I was still craving variety, adventure, and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Luckily (and with the help of some amazing mentors) I was able to earn a Fulbright Fellowship to Mexico. I spent the year teaching English in a public school and interning as a program officer for the Institute of International Education. It was amazing. When I finished, I went back to the US (for some personal reasons)and kept teaching ESL in a language center; it was an amazing experience since I was able to work with students from literally all over the world.

At this time, I started looking at graduate programs in education so I could earn my certification and become a K-12 classroom teacher. Something about it didn’t seem right though. I felt like becoming a teacher was trapping myself in one niche for the rest of my career, and it was something I couldn’t handle. Two things happened around this time. 1) I accepted another teaching position in Mexico as a way to postpone the seemingly inevitable career as a classroom teacher 2) My good friend Hillary suggested I look into SLP.

In the months I had left before moving back to Mexico, I was able to set up some observations with a licensed SLP at a nearby hospital. She was very generous in letting me follow her around for a few weeks and observe her work. It was so interesting! I saw 1-on-1 therapy, modified barium swallow studies, cognitive evaluations, research projects, ethical debates, and so much more! I became super interested in the field (especially considering the good salaries!).

So, I went back to Mexico and let the SLP thing marinade in the back of my mind. I was in my 3rd year of teaching, and still loving it. But, I was beginning to see the cracks in the system. I knew for example that teaching in Mexico was nothing like teaching in the US. Also the idea of doing one job for 30 years before retiring was not appealing. Finally, getting into major debt for a Masters in Education didn’t seem like a good investment considering teaching salaries.

I kept looking into Speech Language Pathology programs, but I had 2 big doubts (and lots of smaller ones). The two big ones were:

1) I don’t think I’ll enjoy working with disordered populations

2) I love being in front of a class. What if I don’t find 1-on-1 therapy as satisfying?

I wanted to find ways to assuage these doubts, but I also didn’t want to run the risk of making them worse. During one of my late night panicky research binges in which I scoured the internet for some sort of magical tool to make my decisions for me, I came across this blog by someone who had just finished her master’s in SLP. The author had a background not dissimilar to my own, so I emailed her.

She was very nice. In fact, I felt comfortable enough to ask her what felt like a stupid question: “I don’t think I want to work with disordered populations. Should I still consider SLP?” She answered, “Does your desire to work with the non-disordered population have to do with your comfort level and previous experiences?” BAM. I hadn’t considered that! I have little training or experience in working with a disordered population. Of course I’m going to be a little uncomfortable at first!

Encouraged by her response, I asked my friend Hillary, an SLP, the same question. She kind of laughed in response. There’s SO much work in SLP that is with non-disordered populations. Ok, first doubt erased. Now the second one? Again my friend Hillary laughed. She explained that there is a push right now to incorporate SLP’s into the traditional classroom more frequently. She (and other SLP’s) are struggling with their lack of experience in front of a whole classroom of learners. There is such a need for SLP’s that you can work in almost any setting you’d want. BAM. Major doubts resolved.

With my biggest doubts out of the way, I couldn´t find anything else to hold me back. So I decided to take the leap!

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