by Kathy Milner
As an undergraduate in 1969, I was listening to a classmate excitedly discussing her new job offer as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in a California school system, and I had three immediate thoughts:
I loved working with children, but I could never shake the feeling that my true interests and career aptitude were better suited for the challenging work in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) instead of in teaching. Nevertheless, the die was cast: I did go on to graduate with my education degree, and I began teaching in the Lawton Public School System in August 1969. For several years, I enjoyed virtually every aspect of teaching—from my daily interactions with the students, to working with their parents, to the camaraderie I shared with my colleagues. However, I still felt that I could contribute more, so I began taking graduate courses at the University of Oklahoma in the early 1980s and obtained a master's degree as a reading specialist. My interest in reading became the new foundation that kept me firmly committed to my job as an elementary teacher and helped integrate my long-term interest in language and communication with my teaching career.
In September 2002, I had to take a short-term retirement from teaching due to some medical issues. However, once again, I felt the pull to work in the communication arena, and I began working as a Title I reading tutor for a few hours each week from August 2003 until February 2013. In addition, my daughter—Jenna Minaschek—had started working as an SLP at about the same time as my medical leave began. Because of her employment as an SLP, I started thinking again about CSD and how that particular career path had always appealed to me. It didn't take me long to realize that there were tremendous shortages of CSD professionals in rural, southwest Oklahoma—and that spark of interest soon began to ignite into a greater urge to explore a new career path.
Fortunately, I learned that plans were in development for an online training program for speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) at Oklahoma City Community College. This seemed like an answered prayer. Kathy J. Wheat, PhD, CCC-SLP, and Mona R. Ryan, MS, CCC-SLP, started the program. It was to take five semesters to complete and had minimal "in-person" requirements for class. It would offer me the much-needed flexibility to work as a Title I tutor and still be able to take online classes. Also, having already known Kathy and Mona, I was assured that the quality of the education would be outstanding and that I would be well prepared to enter this new career.
After completing the SLPA program, I started working as an SLPA in February 2013—once again in the Lawton Public School System. My work there continues to this day. All of my previous teaching experience fits very nicely with my position as an SLPA. I am blessed to work with SLP supervisors who appreciate my experience and who are incredible resources for me in my work. I learn something new each day.
My love for teaching reading has organically evolved into critical insights into language development in children and has become crucial in helping me work with students. Indeed, this year, the speech department of Lawton Public Schools has embarked on a literacy initiative under the leadership of Dr. Wheat, which has been the lynchpin to bring all of my experience into play. Not only do I get to use my background as a reading teacher, but I also get to use all of my new skills as an SLPA. I love assisting my younger students (Grades K–3) make great strides in achieving literacy, and all the while, I am encouraged to grow professionally.
I am so grateful—to the Lawton Public School System and, especially, to the Special Education Department—for all of the support in my new occupation. I am filled with appreciation for Dr. Wheat and Professor Ryan for the SLPA training program that they started at Oklahoma City Community College. I look forward to lifelong learning opportunities that I receive in my new vocation and to the next chapter in my life as I strive to be the best SLPA I can be. It took a long road to get here, but the journey has certainly been worth the effort.