Strategies to Hold on to Your Job in an Economic Downturn
The current economic downturn is forcing school districts to significantly reduce spending. School boards and administrators must make difficult decisions about how to allocate shrinking funds. Some educational programs and services are mandated while others are discretionary. Most programs and services have a vocal constituency that will lobby to continue its current level of funding. While state and federal law mandates services for students identified with speech, language, and hearing disorders, the amount, frequency, and type of service varies greatly from district to district. Caseload size is one measure of a district's financial ability and educational will to support its speech-language pathologists and audiologists. According to ASHA's 2010 Schools Survey, the national SLP caseload range is 30 to 80 with a median of 50. When downsizing occurs, all positions are at risk.
Steps You Can Take to Hold on to Your Job
Be educationally relevant and keep valid data.
The first and most important step you can take to ensure job security is to provide effective educational services to students with speech, language, and hearing differences and disorders. This means you must collect and maintain both qualitative and quantitative data that proves students are achieving educationally and socially because of your efforts. Types of data might include detailed progress notes; change in individualized education program (IEP) goals; parent, teacher, student, and administrator reports; improvement on formative and summative testing; and dismissal rates.
Make a sincere effort to belong to the school community.
Weave your services into the fabric of school life. Administrators often have a voice in staffing outcomes. Principals will fight to keep speech-language pathologists and audiologists who are viewed as integral to the school's smooth functioning and to their students' well-being. This means you must be a visible presence in the classroom, on the playground, at school events, and at staff meetings. Volunteer to serve on committees, especially ones with fiscal jurisdiction. Make presentations about speech and language topics for parent, teacher, and community groups. If teachers are expected to supervise at recess and lunch, consider sharing some of the load. Your value at a site is dependent on the quality of the relationships that you develop.
Reach out to parents and encourage them to support each other.
Collaborate closely with parents and provide opportunities for them to meet as a group. Parents will always be your strongest advocates on issues that affect their children. If parents believe that your services are essential to their child's academic and social success, they will intercede on your behalf, often going to the person who tops the district's organizational chart. Parents who band together around an issue are a formidable force in a district. Parents expect you to really understand their children and most want you to educate them so they can continue your work at home
Advocate for your profession.
Network with other district speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Try to form a community in your district around both instructional and operational issues. If you work as a team to improve your collective practice, the professional reputation of your group will rise across the entire district and so will your influence.
Be savvy about your employer's policies and procedures.
If the district has a website, carefully read the information on its Human Resources webpage. If the district has a union or an association, go to its website and download and read the current contract.
Protect yourself by finding the answers to the following employment questions.
- What kind of contract did you sign? Are you on a track to permanent employment or did you accept a leave replacement contract? If you signed a leave replacement contract, what is the termination date?
- What are your benefits? If you signed a leave replacement contract, when do the benefits end?
- What is your seniority date?
- How do you become permanent?
- How often are you evaluated? Who is your evaluator? What are the evaluation criteria?
- How do you advance on the salary schedule?
- How are speech and language assignments made and what is the post and bid process?
- If layoffs are necessary, what is the process and what are the notification timelines?
- Are there tuition reimbursement opportunities for advanced education?
Utilize ASHA's resources.
ASHA maintains a wealth of resources on its website to assist speech-language pathologists and audiologists who want to demonstrate the value of their services to a variety of stakeholders.