Building Your Speech-Language Pathology Career

As a future or new speech-language pathologist, you’ll face new challenges as you gain experience and learn the ins and outs of your first job. Fortunately, clinical fellows (SLP-CFs) also receive hands-on training and guidance from experienced mentors in their field as they complete their speech-language pathology programs.

We spoke with two of our speech-language pathologists that also work as mentors within our BUILD mentorship program to find out more about their experiences.

Kristen Favro, SLP-CCC works with Summit Academy in Ohio, and Jackie Kay, SLP-CCC works with St. Louis Public Schools in Missouri. They also gave some great advice for future SLPs and clinical fellows as well as those transitioning into a school setting. Check out their answers below!

Questions for School SLP Mentors

What do you enjoy most about working with student populations and mentoring clinical fellows?

Jackie: I have practiced for 25 years and have worked in Texas, Alabama, Illinois, and now Missouri. Most of those years have been spent working with children in inner-city schools. Providing speech and language services to young people from 3-21 years of age has given me opportunities to assist parents and caregivers as they navigate the education system and advocate for their children. I have also enjoyed helping teachers and staff better understand how to meet the needs of students with special needs to increase academic and social success.

For the past few years and presently, I work part-time as a CF mentor, and I absolutely LOVE this position! I love learning from them, helping them problem solve, observing their therapy sessions, helping them grow as therapists, and allowing them an opportunity to draw from my experiences. They are amazing people who enthusiastically face the challenges of working in the educational setting, dealing with principals, administrators, parents, IEPs and loads of paperwork, countless meetings, inclusion, virtual learning, and teamwork! I help them learn to trust their abilities to creatively apply their knowledge while encouraging them to confidently step up to every challenge. As their mentor, being available for them is my privilege.

Kristen: Currently, I am a speech pathologist at Summit Academy, a school that centers its education around children with autism and ADD. I am Supplemental Health Care’s team lead for Summit Academy’s area schools in central and southwest Ohio as well as a CF mentor. I am currently in my sixth year as an SLP, fifth with SHC, and all with Summit Academy! I work full time while I mentor three clinical fellows. It’s a great support network and I appreciate being able to help clinicians new to their careers thrive.

I really enjoy working one-on-one with students to specifically work on their needs. There is also something special when you see a child make progress and seeing a child get excited when difficult matters finally “click”.

What motivated you to pursue a career in speech-language pathology?

Kristen: Several factors were taken into consideration for my pursuit in a speech pathology career. I was a stay-at-home mom for 11 years and then circumstances changed. I took my passion for working with children and my undergraduate degree in elementary education to a master’s program that I could do online while I still raised my five children. So, it kind of found me.

Jackie: I absolutely love being asked this question! I was a stay-at-home mom and my son, Kirk, was diagnosed as a severe stutterer when he was in first grade. At the same time, one of my friend’s sons was diagnosed with a severe hearing impairment. That was my introduction to the world of speech-language pathology!

I came to realize that studying communication disorders was exactly what I wanted. My fantastic husband found a new job in Lubbock, so I could attend Texas Tech University and then Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center where I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Kirk was one of my greatest encouragers during those years. His dysfluency was manageable, and he wanted me to help others (and himself) in the same ways his fantastic speech therapists had helped him. Kirk served as a chaplain in the army and is a pastor in a large Mississippi church. He still occasionally asks for a little personal speech therapy!

What was your clinical fellow experience like compared to your experience as a mentor now?

Kristen: I was only a clinical fellow five or six years ago, but I got a lot of support and I was always encouraged to ask questions. And so I bring that to my clinical fellows as a mentor.

As I received in my fellowship year, I am also there for my CFs for support, guide, and certainly questions and concerns. I encourage questioning and never feel like you have to have it all together. I even have offered continued support to “graduated” clinical fellows that are still within our Summit schools.

Jackie: My CF mentor was a great person and therapist, but she carried a caseload of approximately 70 students and wasn’t really available to lead and help me identify and improve my strengths and weaknesses. The biggest change is that ASHA determined a higher quality of CF supervision is essential. Mentoring has become a position that requires preparation and training. Now we have great continuing education courses that give instruction for effective mentoring. The courses provide opportunities for SLPs to honestly determine if they would be good supervisors and how to prepare.

And I agree with what Kristen said about clinical fellows you’ve had in the past. You do build a relationship with them and it’s wonderful to be able to then later call them for, you know, “What are we supposed to do about this?” and they call you too. I love that relationship.

What advice do you have for future SLPs and mentees?

Jackie: Do what you love and love what you do! Be honest with yourself regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Learn from those around you. Never be afraid to ask for assistance or seek advice. Don’t be intimidated by those with more experience than you. Always work to know the individual needs of your students which is not always written in their IEPs. Be a listener. Please avoid the teacher’s lounge whenever it is a negative environment.

And don’t be afraid to exit kids who need to be exited from services! I think sometimes therapists think we have to keep them on forever, but don’t be afraid to say, it’s time to let go of this kid and put them back full time in a regular education setting. That’s something that we should all constantly be wanting: to get our kids out of special education services. And so I encourage people to do that too.

Kristen: Jackie pretty much said it all. It’s scary going into a new career or a brand new job, especially when you don’t know anybody that you’re working with. And like Jackie said, do not hesitate to ask questions, not only to your mentor, but also I think that’s what helped me the most was asking questions to everybody in the school. I always went to the IEP coordinators and I went to the lead. I went to her a lot, you know, to compare notes and ask, “Did you see this when you were testing?”

That’s my number one suggestion is definitely to ask questions and there’s always going to be somebody there to help you. You don’t have to go around thinking you know it all. Like Jackie said, it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure. Let me go find out.” I think everyone will respect you more for that. Admitting that you really don’t know, but you’re going to go find out.

How has the support of the SHC team helped you?

Kristen: I have noticed that SHC wants everyone to succeed. They are continuously checking in with everyone and making sure all your needs are being taken care of, from paycheck issues to managing minutes with students. I have especially enjoyed our team bi-weekly meetings. They help everyone feel like a team. It’s great to always feel you have others there to support you and help manage any issues that may arise. Over the past couple of years, SHC has begun to feel like family. Issues always arise, professionally and personally, and I have found SHC to be there!

Jackie: My SHC team is THE BEST. They’re always available to answer questions, advocate for me, and encourage me. I know they always work to hire great people who care about children, and I think that’s why SHC is right for me. I’ve worked for school districts and other healthcare companies, and SHC is the best experience I’ve ever had because their people really do care about us.

And I agree with what Kristen said, they do care about you and your family, not just what you’re doing at work. They know that all that is important and affects everything that we do. And if you’re not happy in a place or things aren’t going right, they’re always there to advocate for you and encourage you.

SLP Careers at SHC

If you’re interested in learning more about getting started in schools, speech-language therapy careers at Supplemental Health Care, or our BUILD mentorship program, contact our Schools Center of Excellence team today. SHC also has great SLP-CCCs and SLP-CFY job opportunities available in schools and healthcare settings across the country.

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