Know Your Teaching Team: The Role of Speech Therapists in Education

Kids pull from a collection of tools to succeed in the classroom. They use concentration and reading comprehension skills to interpret a passage. They use their motor skills to write questions on a worksheet and speaking skills to participate in a class discussion. When one of these skills isn’t strong, it can be hard to navigate the school day.

Students who experience problems with speech, for instance, face barriers to learning. Not only will they have a harder time answering questions and completing oral assignments, but they also might feel self-conscious when speaking in front of their classmates. Bullying can further push kids with speech problems away from the classroom environment, resulting in disengaged students.

This is where speech therapists come in. Also known as speech-language pathologists, SLPs help students overcome speech problems so they can speak confidently. Learn more about speech therapists and speech-language pathologists, and how they help students of all backgrounds.

What Is a Speech Therapist?

Speech therapists identify problems with a person’s pronunciation and develop treatment plans so they can say words correctly and clearly. These professionals can work in schools, hospitals and in private practice.

Michele Rothstein at SLP Madness does a great job of highlighting what speech therapists do in schools. When you aren’t meeting directly with students, two big parts of working as an SLP are paperwork and planning, she notes. Rothstein provides tips on how to save time with caseload management, IEP paperwork, and developing lessons and activities.

SLPs who work in schools might have a different experience than other speech therapists. They can focus on long-term improvements instead of working with patients for brief periods.

“In a hospital or rehab center, you often only work with patients for a short time, but school speech therapists often treat children over an extended time,” writes the team at Sunbelt Staffing. “You might work with the same child for several years in a row.”

This allows you to set clear goals for your students and develop an understanding of their needs and personalities. You can watch kids improve from when you first meet them to when they graduate.

Amanda Schaumburg at Panda Speech & Language Services sets out the differences between school-based and medical-based speech therapy. She goes into what it takes to qualify, the costs, and the therapy model.

Schaumburg highlights that school-based therapy “focuses on the skills impacting the child’s education performance or their ability to access the curriculum” while clinic-based therapy might be more general and focus on all of the patient’s needs. This is very similar to school-based physical therapy as well.

Speech therapist teaching little girl how to pronounce a sound; speech therapists concept

Why Are Speech Therapists Important?

Speech therapists help students learn how to form different letters and sounds so they can communicate more clearly. This will make it easier for them to speak up in the classroom and feel confident when talking to their peers.

Chelsea Snyder, a speech-language pathologist, notes the different milestones kids are expected to hit in their speech development. For example, the “k” sound is usually developed by the time a toddler is around three years old. Parents might notice speech delays when their kids mispronounce words (yoyi-pop for lollipop) or when they have trouble understanding what their children are saying. Kids can also get frustrated when they aren’t understood.

When it comes to speech or language delay interventions, starting earlier is often best. This prevents kids from developing poor long-term habits and speaking patterns.

“I have worked with so many parents who are frustrated because they waited to get started in speech therapy,” says speech therapist Stephanie Keffer at Toddler Talk. “Sometimes they waited because their pediatrician recommended ‘waiting to see if they catch up on their own’ and other times they weren’t ready to learn that their sweet baby was behind in their development (it’s not easy to hear).”

While many speech therapists work with younger kids, there is a demand for professionals who can help older students. These students might be special needs kids who are still learning or teens who never addressed problems with speech pronunciation when they were younger.

“Speech therapy for teenagers may focus on social skills,” says Eric Caulfield, speech therapist and owner of Verbalyze Online Speech Therapy. “Many children succeed in other areas of speech but may continue to struggle socially. This may be especially true for kids with autism spectrum disorder.”

Speech therapist working with little boy; speech therapists concept

Speech Therapist Qualifications and Certifications

Speech therapists play an important role in child development. They need a detailed understanding of how the mouth and brain work together. They also need to work well with their patients, especially if they are younger and might get frustrated often. This means it’s not easy to become a SLP.

The process to becoming a speech-language pathologist starts with a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders or speech pathology, writes the team at Studying in Switzerland. This usually takes four years to complete. From there, you can enroll in graduate coursework and will need to secure a master’s degree in the field. This should also give you some clinical experience.

After you complete your education, the next step is to pass your certification exam. You will take the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology and need to score at least 162 points out of 200 to pass, according to GetEducated. This exam covers a variety of topics related to assessment, screening, treatment and etiology (the origin of diseases).

As you learn more about speech therapy, you can decide what you want to specialize in and what group you are passionate about working with. This is where some people decide to become school-based SLPs while others work with aging adults. The team at My Degree Guide has a useful list of potential specialties, including audiology, speech fluency and fluency disorders (like stuttering).

Speech Therapist Income

While it isn’t easy to become a speech therapist, the field can be financially lucrative. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recently published a report on the annual salaries of SLPs. In 2022, respondents reported a median calendar year salary of $80,000, the same as in 2020. In 2022, 85 percent of SLPs were paid an annual salary while 15 percent were paid an hourly wage.

While this salary might seem impressive, it doesn’t mean that school-based SLPs are earning that amount. In an article for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Neal Earley reports that while Arkansas has the second-highest number of SLPs in the nation, it still struggles to fill school gaps. More speech pathologists are entering the private sector where they can earn more and have a lighter caseload.

The average salary for a speech pathologist in Arkansas is $77,240, but school therapist salaries range between $36,000 and $53,000. In Missouri, school-based SLPs earn $59,000 per year on average and in Texas, $63,000.

Young girl practicing sounds; speech therapists concept

Demand for Speech Therapists

The demand for school-based speech therapists is high nationwide. Even when working with limited resources, schools must meet the requirements of Individual Education Programs.

“Many parents and caregivers may not realize that when children have speech therapy in school, they are often receiving it in a group,” says speech-language pathologist Abby Barnes. “Caseloads are often very high in schools. This means each speech therapist is working with a large number of students. In order for every child to be seen, group therapy one or two times per week is the answer.”

In 2022, investigative reporter Karla Ray at WFTV Orlando said demand for speech therapists is high in schools and across most sectors. There are three key reasons for this:

  • Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic created developmental delays in kids.
  • More kids who are born with birth defects are able to live due to medical advancements but they need help with speaking and swallowing.
  • Older Americans are living longer but need speech therapy after strokes or the development of dementia.

This highlights how speech therapy is needed across people of different ages and sectors and how demand will increase over time.

The fact is more than half of speech therapists (56 percent) work in educational settings, according to speech-language pathologist Mikee Larrazabal at Better Speech. They work with students one-on-one, lead small groups, and work with teachers to help them better understand the needs of their students. They play a key role in early intervention, correcting speech problems in young children.

If you have a passion for working with young people and want to help them form new letters and speak with confidence, consider becoming a speech therapist. These professionals often work with small groups of students within the larger student body, but they have a big impact on all the kids they reach.

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