How to Become a School Speech-Language Pathologist


Most speech-language pathologists (or speech therapists) work in schools, but they are rarely classified as a certified teacher unless they complete the appropriate process to obtain teaching credentials. Instead, speech-language pathologists are professionals who have been trained to work with children and adults who suffer from speech disorders. They are usually employed full- or part-time at one or more schools, and may work with students on an individual basis, or in groups. The goal is always the same for all speech teachers, to help students effectively communicate and speak more clearly. In most states, a master’s degree is the minimum educational requirement needed to become licensed as a speech pathologist.

What does a speech-language pathologist do?

Among other things, speech-language pathologists play an essential role in any school’s special education team. As part of the team, their first job is to test students for speech sound delays and disorders, language delays and disorders, and fluency disorders (such as stuttering).

If it is discovered that a student has a disorder, a speech-language pathologist develops an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which details how the student is currently functioning in their classroom; the goals of a tailored speech therapy plan; and how many minutes per week the student will be seen.

The primary function of school speech-language pathologists is to work with students on an individual basis to help improve their communication skills through interventions and exercises. School speech-language pathologists are also expected to regularly communicate students’ progress to their parents and classroom teachers.

Additional duties of a school speech language pathologist include:

  • Administer speech-language screenings for students, especially those who may exhibit a disability
  • Carry out formal and informal (ongoing and curriculum-based) assessments of students
  • Make recommendations for students who are in need of speech-language services
  • Assist parents, teachers, administrators and allied agencies interested in achieving speech-language goals for individual students and classrooms
  • Serve as a consultant concerning school-related and districtwide speech-language programs and educational programs

How can I become a school speech-language pathologist?

Across the United States, speech-language pathologists must hold at least a master’s degree in speech pathology. Master’s programs in speech pathology prepare aspiring speech pathologists to work with children and adults with speech disorders, and further prepare them for state licensing exams. Speech-language programs also combine classroom instruction with clinical practice, in order to ensure that graduates have firsthand experience diagnosing and treating patients with a wide range of speech disorders. Courses often touch upon speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, as well as alternative communication methods.Speech

Typically, students undertake approximately 400 hours of clinical practice during the course of a master’s program. In addition to completing a master’s degree, speech-language pathologists must be certified. Most U.S. speech-language pathologists are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which offers a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC).

To become a school speech pathologist, many complete the following steps:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology or Communicative Disorders. In addition to completing general education courses, the typical speech pathology program curriculum usually includes classes in physiology of speech, phonetics, linguistics, language disorders, audiology, sign language, and cognitive science. Many schools will not hire a job candidate with only a bachelor’s degree, and to increase job options, graduates often pursue an advanced degree.
  • Obtain a master’s degree. To qualify for the majority of speech-language pathologist positions at a school, a graduate degree is required. Individuals usually pursue a degree in speech pathology or a related discipline. Students learn how to treat school-aged children displaying a variety of symptoms and facing obstacles that affects their speech, such a being born mute, having a cleft palate, or suffering developmental delay.
  • Complete supervised clinical training. In order to become licensed as a speech-language pathologist, individuals must fulfill a specified number of hours for clinical training. This hands-on experience takes place under the supervision of a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist.
  • Obtain a license and become certified to practice in state of residence. Graduates of a graduate degree program are eligible to apply for certification, which involves a clinical fellowship training period, passing a certification exam, and satisfying any other state-mandated requirements.
  • Satisfy specific state and school requirements. For instance, a job opening for a certified Speech Language Pathologist at an elementary school in Georgia may ask candidates to hold a T4-T7 Georgia Teaching Certificate (SLP); possess at least a bachelor’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology with professional work experience in Speech/Language or Communication Disorders (with a Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology preferred). Some speech-language pathologists must also possess a valid driver’s license for visiting multiple schools.

In addition to working in a public school system, speech-language pathologists may teach at private learning institutions, which provide varied employment opportunities. For example, a speech-language pathologist working at a year-round private special education day school is responsible for treating students with a developmental and psychiatric diagnosis, many of whom are on the autism spectrum. In addition to conducting formal evaluations of students and consulting classroom staff, speech-language pathologists in this type of work environment also teach group lessons that focus on social skills, as well as hold therapy sessions that build speech and language skills.

What is the career outlook for a school speech-language pathologist?

The need to hire speech-language pathologists in schools has escalated in recent years, as increased awareness of speech and language disorders affecting younger children (like stuttering) leads to a demand for speech-language pathologists who specialize in treating children. Improved medical advances have also enhanced the survival rate of premature infants that have a higher chance of experiencing speech delays in school.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 135,400 speech-language pathologists were employed in 2014, with about 2 out of 5 speech-language pathologists working in schools. The BLS reported that 44 percent of all speech-language pathologists held a job related to providing educational services (on the state, local, and private level).

The job outlook for the occupation is projected to experience a 21 percent growth rate from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average of all other occupations in the United States – 28,900 positions for speech-language pathologists are expected to emerge during this time frame.

The BLS reports that elementary and secondary schools represent industries that demonstrate the highest levels of employment for speech-language pathologists; 57,740 employees worked at the schools in 2014. Job opportunities for the field are also found in abundance at offices of other health practitioners, general medical centers, and surgical hospitals.

Additionally, certain states demonstrate a greater need to hire speech-language pathologists than others. For instance, every year, the U.S. Department of Education releases a nationwide listing of the states and school districts experiencing teacher shortages and lacking education-related services for specific subjects and grade levels.

For example, the following states were noted to have experienced a statewide shortage of speech specialists and language pathologists for the 2015/2016 academic year: Ohio (Speech/Language Pathology), Mississippi (Speech Language Specialists for grades K-12), Montana (Speech Language Pathologists), North Dakota (specifically Speech Language Pathology), Utah (specifically Speech Language Pathology), and Washington.

Pathologists specializing in speech and language increase their chances of being hired by a school when they obtain the nationally recognized Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). This credential is granted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The certification demonstrates a commitment to being an expert in the field. Certificate-holders have earned a graduate degree, fulfilled clinical practicum requirements, and passed the CCC-SLP Praxis exam.

Possessing specializations, such as a background working with special needs children or being bi-lingual, are also attractive attributes that schools often seek in a job candidate. Pathologists that specialize in working with children with autism especially qualify for a greater range of job opportunities, and are hired to improve social skills and the ability to effectively communicate.

Although speech-language pathologists are not teachers, the majority work in schools, and as a result, they typically enjoy many of the same benefits as school teachers, including a flexible summer schedule, some form of extended health benefits, and employer retirement contributions. Because jobs for school speech-language pathologists are relatively plentiful, applicants are typically able to find work without relocation.

What is the average salary of a speech-language pathologist?

In 2014, the estimated median salary earned by speech-language pathologists, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $71,550 per year. Notably, speech pathologists earn a higher mean annual salary than most teachers at elementary-, middle-, or high schools.

While speech-language pathologists working in the school system earn an annual mean wage of $66,910, the highest-paying industries for the occupation have been identified as agencies concentrating on providing home health care services ($95,170). Certain states have also been known to pay their speech-language pathologists the highest salaries, such as the following top-five in 2014 (with annual mean wages): Nevada ($86,980), New York ($86,370), District of Columbia ($85,440), California ($85,270), and New Jersey ($84,870).

In conclusion, speech-language pathologists are hired by schools to assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent limitations in the ability to communicate and disorders that can affect a school-aged child’s speech. Speech-language pathologists earn at least a master’s degree and gain relevant experience in the field to qualify for a position at a school. Some students choose to specialize in a distinct area (from audiology and hearing loss to brain injuries). Most speech-language pathologists are hired to provide education-related services, and with the increasing need to provide speech therapy solutions to children, pursuing speech-language pathology as a major is a choice that leads to many job options – both inside and outside of academic circles.

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