Once upon a time I had a 5th grade girl on my caseload who hated speech class. Big time hated it. She dragged her feet as she walked to the speech room and she sprinted out of the speech room the second I told her speech was over. She never smiled and she would often roll her eyes at me. Her actions always left me feeling heartbroken. *SIGH*
I tried everything.
I have always heard people say things like, “Ya just can’t please ’em all.” Trust me, I so badly wanted to believe that, but my heart won’t listen to that way of thinking. It just seems like a cop out to me, especially when I try to attach that idea to speech therapy. So I decided to pull out all the stops in an effort to win over this 5th grade girl who desperately needed my speech-language services. I taught myself awesome magic tricks, I downloaded super cool apps for my iPad, and this one time we even did a speech therapy activity that involved eating ice cream (seriously, ice cream!). Nothing worked. *SIGH*
So what now?
I decided to seek the advice from a colleague of mine. I explained the situation and ended the dialogue expressing that I was willing to try anything. Then, my colleague asked me something that was so simple, yet so genius. “Well Erik, have you actually asked her why she doesn’t like coming to speech class?”
Oh. My. Gosh! No, I never asked her!
Asking the student that question seemed like common sense, but I have no idea why I never asked before. So naturally, the next day I point blankly asked her, “Why do you hate coming to speech class?”
The 5th grader answered in a firm but polite manner, “I don’t hate coming to speech class, I just hate missing computer time. I wish you took me at a different time.”
I had no idea!
First off, I was relived because I finally found out that it wasn’t me she hated, but it was the time slot that I put her in. Then, my feeling of relief was quickly replaced by embarrassment. How could I not have realized this in the first place? Was I that oblivious to not notice she was always at the computer every single time I had gone to pick her up for speech class? Shame on me.
Let’s fix this.
I whole-heartedly apologized to the student and told her that I would immediately rearrange my schedule to take her at a different time to ensure that she would not miss the computer time that she earned in class. She looked at me and smiled (this was literally the first time she smiled at me). Then she said, “thank you” (this was literally the first time she thanked me, too!).
And that was it.
I changed her time slot and the difference in her motivation was like night and day. She happily came to speech class with a massive smile on her face. In fact, she became one heck of a role model for the other boy that usually accompanied her. Her communication skills improved tenfold and all was perfect in the speech universe. Hallelujah!
A lesson learned.
This 5th grader taught me one of the best lessons ever – to be more aware of my students’ time and to respect their school schedule whenever possible. Now I always ask my new students if the given time slot that I have allotted for them works with their schedule. I believe that this small gesture truly goes a long way and I recommend all practicing school-based speech-language pathologists exercise this small gesture often.