by Jennifer Henzler, BS
Speech-Language Pathology Assistant
The countdown is on! I am looking forward to the day when I can hold my degree, which represents countless hours of coursework, studying, working, struggling, and growing—the paper that says, "It's official: You are a speech-language pathologist!"
Currently, I am a graduate student and a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) who has been working in the field for 4 years. For me, the summers-only graduate track at Northern Arizona University has been an excellent combination of hands-on work and in-person classroom experiences. Coming from a family that was unable to help out financially with higher education, I have been very thankful to be able to work and pay for school at the same time without having to take out massive amounts of student loans. I can say that I am truly proud of all that I have accomplished.
For the past 4 years, I have been working in K–8 charter schools of Tucson, Arizona, with many bilingual families and families from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The experiences have been rich, diverse, joyful, heartbreaking, and eye-opening. There is no comparison to being in the field versus what you learn about in the classroom.
Reality check: No, Sasha did not turn in her homework because the electricity was shut off—bills haven't been paid. Yes, Orlando is having behavioral outbursts today. His family does not have enough money to feed him all the meals he needs. Kara came to school today with dirt all over her face, hair a mess, and an odd odor because she hasn't showered—in days. Her mother was recently deported. Her father is a construction worker and has no idea how to get his daughter ready for school.
Witnessing the complexities of life for my students has really expanded my perspectives. Dealing with their poverty is only one hurdle; next is coping with learning disabilities, language impairments, and limiting self-beliefs. These experiences have been humbling and humanizing. Being there to figure out how to help them overcome their speech and language impairments, listening to their struggles, being an advocate, and being a voice for the Spanish-speaking population have all been rewarding experiences.
The moments I savor are those flashes when the light bulb goes off, when a student says, "I want to show this to my parents because I'm proud of what I've done," or when a student comes in and says, "You know, I've been thinking about what you said; look what I've done with it." I love it when I help spark curiosity and my students ask questions, engage, and enjoy learning. I love it when we laugh and connect. In my work, I try to access my students' internal motivation, because I want them to own what they do and be proud of it. I am just a tiny person in their lives, twice a week for 30 minutes, but they definitely have an impact on my life and have helped teach me many things, question my practices, and grow.
Being an SLPA has really been a wonderful experience. I have had the opportunity to work with five different supervisors, all with specialized knowledge and individuality. Seeing all their styles has been helpful to me in creating my own identity as a blossoming professional.
I am grateful for the foundations, experiences, and knowledge I have acquired, and I look forward to being able to put MS CCC-SLP after my name once I complete my clinical fellowship. I value the many perspectives I have seen and appreciate all the supervisors with whom I have worked.