Summer 2011
June 27, 2011

POV: Speech teachers, let your voices be heard

Author: Stephanie Verrico
Source: NYSUT United

The movie "The King's Speech" — Oscar winner for Best Picture — has intrigued people everywhere with its transparent view of stuttering, an obscure and often covert disorder.

King George VI's struggle with his speech disorder gives audiences an intimate perspective of an isolating and debilitating condition that challenges millions of Americans.

Yet what is most impressive about the story is not necessarily the severity of the king's speech disorder or the arduous process he endured to correct it. Rather, it is how the "doctor" helped the king achieve his personal goals and meet his civic responsibilities.

(The "doctor," Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush in the film, taught elocution and acting.) Logue's multifaceted role of therapist, coach, teacher and friend helped to ultimately transform the king before his kingdom.

For decades, speech-language therapists have assumed these same roles and established similar rapports while helping others make improvements in their communication. Not surprisingly, therapy techniques have advanced over the years and the theories behind them have evolved. Therapists today possess strong qualifications and in-depth knowledge on a diverse and broad range of speech and language disorders.

In schools, teachers of students with speech and language disabilities (otherwise referred to as speech therapists) do much more than work with delays and disorders obviously related to stuttering, articulation and voice. Much of their time involves working with students to develop requisite language skills for success in reading, writing, listening and verbal expression — core skills that influence academic performance.

With their specialized knowledge of language and literacy development, these professionals are often well positioned to work in collaboration with other educators in school-wide reading initiatives targeting screening, prevention and intervention.

Additionally, their extensive background in communication disorders uniquely qualifies them to work with students who have social communication deficits, such as autism spectrum disorders. Other areas of expertise include head injury, cochlear implantation rehabilitation, swallowing, stroke and cognitive impairments. A range of responsibilities in the educational setting consists of screening, evaluation, intervention and consultation in the interest of students from preschool to high school.

Many school-based speech-language therapists possess credentials exceeding their teacher certification that are valued in the private sector but often are not fully recognized in public schools. Professional licensure allows professionals in New York state to use the title "Speech-Language Pathologist" following the satisfaction of rigorous academic and clinical requirements. The licensure also allows districts to bill Medicaid for reimbursements for Medicaid-eligible students.

Many school-based professionals also have achieved national certification awarded by the American Speech-language and Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA certification is internationally recognized and signifies the highest credential that can be achieved in the profession. It denotes "highly qualified" with regard to both clinical training and professional knowledge. Both credentials are voluntary and are not required for providing speech and language services in school settings. They are often maintained at significant out-of-pocket expense, without the financial support of districts.

Nationwide, "highly qualified" teachers with national certification awarded by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) are publicly acknowledged for their achievement and may be rewarded with a monetary stipend. Currently, most schools don't readily acknowledge nationally certified speech-language pathologists in a similar fashion though they, too, have gone above and beyond what is required to advance their knowledge for the benefit of their students.

Advocacy efforts, reinforced in a 2010 NYSUT resolution that calls on the statewide union to encourage local school districts, through collective bargaining, to recognize these certified professionals, have focused on increasing awareness with regard to scope of practice. However, teachers of students with speech and language disabilities need to pay equal attention to educating colleagues and administrators about their credentials and the benefits they provide to students, other educators and school districts. Effective advocacy campaigns can and should result in the recognition and compensation that is rightfully deserved. Like the King, we should let our voice be heard.

Stephanie Verrico is a licensed speech language pathologist at Williamsville Central Schools. She's a member of the Williamsville Teachers Association, led by Michelle Pancoe.