To Teach and Be Taught: Reflections on My Clinical Fellowship Year

February 19, 2015
Brianna Brown, CF-SLP
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All through my undergrad and graduate coursework, I longed for the day I’d begin my clinical fellowship. I did not expect to have all of the answers, or all of the knowledge, or really any idea what I would be doing, but I knew I’d be well-equipped in gathering resources and finding the answers and knowledge I’d need. I thought I would be giddy, motivated, and excited and never miss a beat. I figured this would be the most informative nine months of my life, and boy oh boy, was I right - about most of that.

I indeed do not have all of the answers. I definitely know how to seek out my resources (particularly my wonderful THF team). I often feel as though I have no idea what I’m doing. My giddiness ebbs and flows (depending on how much paperwork is piled up), my motivation changes day to day, my excitement seems to be a function of my motivation, and I definitely feel like I miss some beats. And, I was absolutely correct – this has been the most informative period of my life.

The past nine months have taught me so much more than any formal education could have ever attempted. I have learned what it means to work on an interdisciplinary team without a syllabus outlining duties, without an instructor or supervisor guiding us, and without any real idea how to solve some of the …”social communication barriers” I may face or observe with colleagues. I have also learned that this sort of team work is absolutely necessary, and though we all may have varying communication styles and/or agendas, the topic of utmost importance is the students and their goals/needs/well-being. I have learned to be a flexible team member as well as a diplomat. I often find myself attempting to mend communication breakdowns in the moment between colleagues and then planting seeds of positivity regarding team members during personal conversations. I have learned that what I want more than anything in this job is to see the students – not just mine, all of them – succeed, or at least do their best at trying to, and that without their educators collaborating effectively and selflessly, it’s much more difficult for them to do so.

During my formal education, I knew my CF would deliver a lot of knowledge regarding speech and language intervention, assessment, goal writing, IEPs, etc. etc. etc. When I got to the “real world”, I discovered an entirely new realm of learning. I have learned (and will continue to learn) SO much more than I could have ever expected, including:  how to manage outrageous and undesirable behaviors, how to share power with children to build trusting and respectful relationships, how important having that sort of relationship is, how to manage groups of kindergarteners and keep them interested in the activity, how to take meaningful data that will not take away from my therapy session, how to make a functional schedule for 50 kiddos without interfering with core instruction time in the classroom, how to collaborate with teachers to incorporate curriculum-based topics and/or vocabulary, how to efficiently and effectively get through an IEP meeting without digressing into irrelevant (or relevant, but off-topic) conversation with the parents, how to kindly and gently let a parent know their child is presenting with some common signs of high-functioning ASD, how to kindly and gently let a parent know that their child’s communication is severely negatively impacting their access to education and would benefit from an AAC device (but that it will not inhibit their verbal language growth), and so much more!

While I have learned an incredible amount about how to survive as an SLP in the school setting, I know there is still so much to learn. At the beginning of the school year, the thought of how much I had to learn and how little I felt like I knew tormented and totally overwhelmed me. I didn’t feel like I had enough room in my brain to put more information without it popping. I also felt like my mind was so overloaded that I could not access any relevant information. At this stage in my career, however, one month away from completing my CF (!!!!!), I am at a point where I enjoy learning again; it doesn’t scare or overwhelm me. The thought of learning a new therapy approach or working with a new student on a goal I’ve never even heard of before is absolutely thrilling. My focus is no longer on myself, my stress, my caseload, or any of that. Now, my focus has shifted to the students, their success, and their comfort in the speech setting. I want to respect and be respected, I want to teach and be taught, I want to grow and see growth. If there is one thing I can say particularly about my CF and the learning experience therein, it’s that I have shifted my focus from constantly worrying about myself, my stress, and whether or not I was capable of this work, to the students, their needs, and knowing that I am not only capable of this work, but I’m made for it. I love my job, I love my field, I love my students, and I love my team. I love seeing growth and getting feedback from parents and teachers about how much they’ve seen their kiddos’ speech and/or language grow. My CF, though quite challenging, has solidified every feeling I thought I’d have about being a speech-language pathologist; I am absolutely in love with this field and cannot imagine myself doing anything else. I now thrive on the idea of learning more and growing more as a clinician, a colleague, and a person.