New Job, New Beginnings. What I've Learned From My First Job.

I graduated four years ago this summer and was extremely fortunate to get a speech and language therapy job straight away. The job was in a specialist education setting, supporting students with complex speech, language and communication needs.  It felt like a huge challenge- a newly qualified therapist going into such a complex setting, but one I felt like I could manage. I was in a lovely team of experienced therapists, who all had varying past experiences, knowledge and expertise I knew I could learn from. I stayed there for the past three and a half years and loved every minute. I learned a great deal of new skills and knowledge which has made me the therapist I am today. I developed a lot both personally and professionally and I wanted to share with you some of the things that I learned in my first job.

1. It's OK not to have all the answers straight away!
Sometimes when you start a new role, you feel like you have to show off all of your new-found knowledge/skills and try to show them that you were the right candidate.  I know I did, I was really keen to put forward my ideas and show what I could do... But I realised that it's OK not to know something and it's OK to ask for help because that's how you learn and progress as a therapist. Your supervisors, mentors, colleagues.. they're all expecting you to ask for help... they're not expecting you to know everything straight away; they've been there before, they know what it's like. So even if it is just asking for directions to the photocopier or for therapy advice about a child, ask!! Don't hold it in and worry; your colleagues are there to help!

With that point in mind, number 2 is really important too!

2. Believe in yourself!
There were times while I was in my first year where I was beginning to doubt my knowledge and skills, mainly when teachers or parents questioned my credentials... "Hmmm, are you sure about that? You've only been out of university for 3 months" or "I think I'll ask XX about his speech difficulties, I think they'll know." I knew that for me to develop as a therapist, I had to be realistic that there are things that I needed to learn more about, but I was by no means clueless!! I'm incredibly lucky that my team were so supportive and showed me that I had a lot of skills and new knowledge that they didn't have! They showed me that because I was the most recent graduate, I had the most current knowledge! It made me realise that I was good at what I did, and I could bring something to this very established team, I could justify my therapy plans to those who questioned me and I could help the students improve.

3. It's OK not to follow the plan!
When I was at university, we were taught to create thorough plans for each and every therapy session! These plans had to include rationales about why you were doing this particular intervention, the aims of therapy, the child's needs etc., as well as ways to make it harder and easier throughout the session (not a problem, creating this for each student, while also writing reports and planning lessons and attending meetings... not a problem at all.... yeah right!)  When I first started working, I tried my best to plan my therapy this way and I stuck rigidly to these plans, even if the child wasn't too keen on cooperating! After a short while, I realised that sometimes, the child couldn't complete the task I'd asked of them that day because they had other things on their mind; arguments with a peer or their parents, feeling unwell, forgetting their homework, not liking the options for lunch! I realised that it was OK for me to change the plan for the session and instead work on the things that were worrying them because we were still addressing their goals! We were still working on problem solving, emotions, social thinking, even sequencing and formulating sentences!  This also helped them calm and continue with their day in a more positive frame of mind than they would have done if I'd have tried to stick to my initial plan!!

4. Organisation is key!
It may have been because I worked in an education setting, or perhaps it was the specialist nature of the setting, I'm not sure.. but there was so much paperwork!! Reports, plans, evaluations, meetings... as well as planning & delivering lessons with teachers or other speech therapists, writing notes to parents about their child's therapy input and contacting other professionals on a regular basis!! The list goes on! I learnt early on that I had to prioritise and be organised in order to survive! I used a cute desk planner with my urgent/daily "To Do's" and had a diary (planner) which was permanently glued to my hand which had details of everything else! (as well as countless post-it notes!!!) It probably wouldn't have worked for everyone else, but it worked for me, and thankfully, I wasn't late for that many deadlines and never missed a meeting because everything was organised around it, in advance.

5. Plan similar targets.
I found that another way to help organisation and planning was where possible to plan similar targets or to use the same activities to address different things (the where possible bit is key here! Obviously, this will only work if it's appropriate for your caseload).  For example, for those students who had language needs, I would plan a similar target for a few of them, so I was able to use the same activities repeatedly, which reduced preparation and planning time.  But, if they had needs that were too varied, I'd try and use activities that could target many different goals at once, this again reduced planning and preparation time!

6. No Prep activities are your best friend!
Sometimes... occasionally... not-very-often-I-promise... there may be sessions which you haven't had quite enough time to plan for, so you need a no-prep activity that you can just grab off the shelf! There are loads of no prep activities available on Teachers Pay Teachers (here's a direct link to the free, no prep, speech therapy activities!). We created some of our own, based on my student's needs at the time, which, following the initial creation (obviously!) I never needed to prep them again, I just grabbed a photocopied sheet and delivered a fun therapy session! (Here's the link to ours, in case you wanted to see them too!)  Remember also, a therapy session can be done with a pencil and piece of paper... so you don't always need perfectly planned and created speech therapy materials, as long as you know what the child is working towards, you can deliver a good therapy session!

7. Invest time in families
These people are trusting you with the most (or at least one of the most) important thing in their lives! They're going to want to know who is working with their child, it will help them if they know who you are, so take the time to call them or meet them face to face if you get the opportunity to.  I took the time to get to know each of the parents as well as I could, I found that this helped me keep them engaged in their child's therapy programme and the positive rapport that I had built up with them was helpful when I had to deliver news they didn't want to hear!!

8. Make time for your own family!
You're going to be working hard throughout the day and very possibly, will be getting to work early and leaving late (I certainly did anyway!). In order to strike a positive work-life balance, it's important to set yourself limits- and stick to them!! When I knew I had a deadline, I agreed a time and tried my best to stick to it. If I finished at 4:30pm, I'd agree to leave no later than 5pm, or 5:30pm if I was really busy.  Alternatively, I'd leave on time and then do work at home for an hour and that was it. There are times when I felt over-whelmed with the workload and I needed to get work done, but also needed to look after myself, so I knew I needed to prioritise- if it was OK to be left until the next day, then that's what I did. I always felt better after having some "me" time, going to the gym, going for a walk or spending time with my other half.  Afterall, family is who really matters!

These are just a few of the things that I have learned during my first job. It wasn't always easy, but it was worth it! I learned and developed a lot, both professionally and personally and I feel that it set me up well for my new job!

I'd love to hear about the things you learned during your first job- share them with me below!

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