Tuesday, April 1, 2014
For one of my classes, I was asked to reflect on why I am here in the program learning to become a Speech Language Pathologist. This is what I came up with. I am a work in progress.
Module 2, Spring 2014
INFLUENCES IN MY LIFE
Thinking back, I am having quite a bit of difficulty coming up with just a few influences in my life that encouraged me to seek out the field of Speech Language Pathology. I can always remember loving my work with children. I have been a babysitter and caretaker since I was 13 years old. As an older sibling, I always felt the need to help. My first job was babysitter and that progressed to camp counselor at 17. Heading to my undergraduate program at University of Georgia (UGA) I honestly had no idea what I wanted to major in and had never heard of the speech and hearing sciences. I entered UGA on scholarship as a duty to my parents, both hard science professionals. My father is a college professor in Geology and my mother is research microbiologist at the Center for Disease Control. It wasn’t a question of IF I was going to college; it was a parental requirement. I entered as an undecided arts and sciences student and waivered too many times to remember between English, Psychology, Biology, and a brief stint as a nursing student before landing on Early Childhood Education and Child Development my junior year. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher, but it was comfortable. My high school self was very individual and independent. I enjoyed writing for the school paper and trying to beat my own time on the cross-country course. I know I have always loved my language classes. I had experience in the field and it promised to get me out of school before my scholarships expired. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher and lead an entire classroom. I loved my student teaching experience. I loved watching children grow and play at their own pace, and very much enjoyed learning about the theories behind why children do what they do. I still remember one student in particular, a first-grader that had recently been adopted from India, in my student teaching class. While I couldn’t recognize what it was that was so fascinating about her, I enjoyed the process of teaching her how to speak when she had no words. I had never seen anything like that before.
As I completed my semester in that classroom with her, I learned her history of being left in a crib in an orphanage. It began to hit me real time, not just out of a textbook. I thought to myself “this is what really happens when a child is deprived of sensory stimuli.” With this student, I began to feel a sense of overwhelming panic and anxiety throughout my student teaching experience that sticks with me today. How unprepared was I, at 22, for this task? What experiences have I had that would allow me the satisfaction of teaching this child? I felt like I had too little experiences to teach. I knew nothing. I hadn’t been anywhere aside from in college classrooms. Learning developmental tables of language and physical development, it hadn’t made sense then. I began to piece it together but I still felt like I was missing something in practice. Looking back now, I think it was my confidence that lacked in the classroom, and prevented me from ever successfully becoming a teacher. I substitute taught, and when a position did come open it just wasn’t the right fit. I spent too much time beating myself up for thinking to much, and eventually moved on to explore other areas. People tell me I think too much. I always thought there was something more going on. There was something that I hadn’t found yet.
After my first half-year of teaching first grade (I made it to Christmas before I decided I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by sticking around) and handed in my letter of resignation. I know it sounds super first world to say, but for a child from an academic family who had always succeeded in school and life, this was kind of a traumatic experience for me. I had no idea what was next. Super depressed with no real direction, I went through a period of working retail before I found a program similar to the Peace Corps that was billed as my “ticket out of town” to my next big adventure. The year was 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast. AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps is an organization that gives young adults aged 18-24 opportunities to serve their community and use new skills. It was modeled after Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC of the World War II days and provided me with an outlet for my wanderlust and curiosity of the rest of the world outside of the state of Georgia. For 10 months (the length of the program) I worked and lived with people that I didn’t know but soon became 10 of my closest friends in some of the most grueling conditions. Have you ever gutted a moldy house in 115-degree heat? Have you ever put shingles on the tar of a roof with a pitch of 5? I did things I didn’t think I would ever do. I received some great training and got to see some of the best parts of the country. When the year was over, I still had no idea about the field of speech and hearing sciences; I didn’t really know it existed. I had no idea what I wanted to do for another year, but the idea of national service was looking better and better, so I signed on for another year of individual service in a state that was foreign to me. Minneapolis, Minnesota was looking for members to serve as classroom assistants and reading and math tutors with the school district. Because of my teaching degree, I was selected for a school in North Minneapolis. The education field still called to me; I wanted to see if there was an alternative to teaching that was not a whole-classroom setting. This was the right fit. I was matched with a fifth-grade teacher that was more of a mentor. I told her my story and where I had been and began working in her classroom and she began to see me for who I was in the classroom. She told me I had great skills working one-on-one and in small groups, particularly in teaching reading comprehension. It was there I could get into the real purpose for reading, language, and communicating. I did a year in her classroom mentoring and tutoring fifth graders who were reading on below a first-grade level. We talked about vocabulary and schema in reading. We built background knowledge. As I watched them enjoy reading throughout the semester, I began to feel more and more confident in my skills as a teacher and as a person.
I enjoyed working with the Hispanic students in this classroom as well, learning about the processes they went through to learn how to speak and write English well. It was in this classroom that the majority of my learning and self-discovery happened. I find it ironic funny, and quite often bill that year as the year I went back to fifth grade at age 25. I completed 1,700 hours of service there. More importantly, it was at this school that I learned what the field of Speech Language Pathology is and how it helps children learn. I came across it rather accidentally too. A woman of short and slight stature appeared asking for a child one day. And then she did it again. She came back again the next day. It wasn’t until the end of the week that I got the courage to ask for her name and what her role was at the school. She said she was a speech-language pathologist and that she helped students understand why they couldn’t communicate effectively, among many other duties. Eventually I ended up asking her if I could observe in her classroom and fell in love with her job. She worked one-on-one with students doing almost what I was doing in reading groups. She was talking about parts of a story, parts of a sentence, and what words meant. I asked her later about her training and made a mental note to look into the field and the requirements. The idea of pursuing a Master’s Degree was not something that I felt like committing to at the time, but I filed it away for later. I was drawn to the variety of topics covered in the field, the ongoing learning, and the fact that I could do what I was doing and earn an actual living.
I finished three more years at that school; I was hired on as a classroom assistant to multiple teachers and given the “Guided Reading” responsibility for several classrooms. I read with students on a daily basis for three years. It was an awesome job. This led me to complete additional coursework (always loved school) in Reading Education. I received my K-12 Reading Specialist license in 2009 and continued working as a classroom assistant while looking for reading specialist positions in my district. Turns out, reading specialists love their job and stay until they are 80. There was not a job in sight in the field, so I continued working as a classroom assistant until school funding was cut. My principal decided that someone that was more authoritative in a classroom would better serve my position as a classroom assistant. I felt defeated, but excited for the change. I still wasn’t ready to commit to a Master’s program at that time.
At the time (2010) I had two friends from undergrad teaching overseas, one in Japan and one in South Korea. I did a bit of research on the two countries and decided I wanted to experience South Korea. I had nothing tying me down to any particular place and was in need of a change of scenery. I was 27 and ready to travel! I interviewed for a few positions via Skype and landed in Seoul, South Korea two weeks later thinking I was being sold into white slavery. (Not quite, but close.) I very much enjoyed learning a little of the language and culture and putting myself in the position of a foreigner. I enjoyed the challenge of 9 (there were only 9 kindergarteners in my private school classroom) Korean students that knew next to nothing of the English language. I learned the importance of routines and songs in English as a Second Language classroom and began to build my confidence as a teacher back. The language acquisition process fascinated me, and I enjoyed watching my students’ sponge-brains soak it up and use it. I was surprised at how fast they learned, as they were fluent by the end of the year. By mid-year they could string together what I know of as a two-word utterance, while I was still struggling to learn the Korean alphabet. I taught students at varying levels of English proficiency that year, from aged 5 to aged 12 and honestly had the best, most interesting year of my life. But my family was far away and eventually the workaholic culture of Korea got the better of me and flew back to my hometown (Atlanta, GA) when my contract was complete after a school year.
Living in my hometown in my childhood bedroom proved to be challenging but I made the best of it by completing my Certified Nursing Assistant license, getting a job a group home and taking the leveling classes I needed to enter graduate school in Speech-Language Pathology. The year was 2011. I loved working with adults with Down’s syndrome and hearing their life story. I particularly enjoyed coaching them through the process of a complete conversation. I enjoyed helping the ladies there live more independent, full lives. I was the full-time live-in weekend support associate at a home for four ladies with varying degrees of disability, all cognitive in nature. Every weekend I gave up my social time to spend with the sweetest ladies on earth. We laughed, we cried, we fed a lot of ducks and went bowling more than I can count. When I wasn’t working, I was in class learning about how such disorders affect the brain and the language centers. I didn’t have much of a social life that year, but it didn’t bother me. I absolutely loved my classes and they were tying in well with my work. I enjoyed being apart of my new family; we were a family when I was at work. I taught one of ladies how to open an e-mail account so she could talk to family out-of-state. We worked on reading and writing skills through e-mail and functional communication. I worked with her roommate on controlling her volume in the house to an appropriate volume for the situation. (This is a skill that I have problems with at times, but self-awareness helps immensely!) I still communicate with them by e-mail today and enjoy hearing updates of their lives. At the same time I was working at the group home, my grandmother was battling a rare-to-us swallowing disorder that followed a stroke. I remember learning about this in my Anatomy and Physiology class at Georgia State University and enjoyed connecting the dots thinking that I am even more excited about my newly chosen profession. I was fascinated when taking her to appointments at the Emory Voice Center in Atlanta and learning about the Modified Barium Swallow procedure. The speech pathologist at Emory was never able to cure my grandmother’s condition, but I have hope that research is progressing in that direction.
After two years of leveling classes while working as a group home assistant and Home Health Aide, I decided it was time to get serious about the grad school process. I had applied to the graduate programs all over Georgia but without the leveling classes all said that I should wait until I finished more classes to apply. I was denied acceptance two years in a row for lack of clinical experience. They would let me take classes but they wouldn’t let me practice in their clinic. Without the clinical experience I wasn’t a right fit for the program. There was no way to get the experience without being in the program. Talk about a catch-22! I was caught in a wheel and felt stuck. I had never really taken off in my teaching career, but I am hard worker and no really recognized that. I finally decided to apply to Oklahoma State University on a whim from a faculty member in a different department and got accepted here. My first semester was rough. Without the clinical experience my confidence waivered. My anxiety flailed and my performance in Voice Disorders class was abysmal. I loved learning about my stuttering client as I worked with him and I loved learning how phonological processes affect speech. I loved Ms. Tefft’s Language Disorder’s class and all of the mentoring I received from her was immensely helpful. Seriously, that woman is a genius in our field. Turns out I was still missing several of the leveling courses due to poor advising at my previous institution. I tried really hard not to let this stand in my way of becoming something I know I’m meant to become. I am still interested in the field. While sitting in Leslie Baldwin’s class this semester, I learned about the SLP-A position for the first time.
I’m still on a journey obviously. I continue to reflect on my personal growth and learning processes as my first year in the program and continuing to take leveling classes that my talents and confidence level is more suited to an SLP-A position. I’m exploring that field extensively at the moment. I know I love the technical nature of language therapy. I am fascinated by what I am learning, but I don’t feel confident I can lead as well as I have to as an SLP. I’m thinking that an assistant position will allow me to build confidence while I continue to learn. I know life is a journey and as cliché as it sounds, I’m learning to love the process.