Special Educator Relies on Speech-Language Background Name: Julie Kemerling West, MS, CCC-SLP Title: Special educator, Lane Elementary School, Alexandria, Virginia Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia Julie West looks at the 10 or so students she has each year and sees only one thing: potential. In a self-contained special-education class of students with moderate to severe ... In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   August 01, 2011
Special Educator Relies on Speech-Language Background
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online writer and editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online writer and editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   August 01, 2011
Special Educator Relies on Speech-Language Background
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 40. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16102011.40
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 40. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16102011.40
Name: Julie Kemerling West, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Special educator, Lane Elementary School, Alexandria, Virginia
Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia
Julie West looks at the 10 or so students she has each year and sees only one thing: potential. In a self-contained special-education class of students with moderate to severe disabilities, West uses her background as a speech-language pathologist to make sure all of her students have one thing down pat—they all know how to communicate, one way or another.
“When I first became a classroom teacher [after working as an SLP], I’m pretty sure that my fallback position was always language treatment if there were ever gaps in the schedule,” she recalled. “Communication is so important if the students are going to be successful, so that became my main objective.”
West is beginning her seventh year as a special education teacher for Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools and can’t wait to see what the new school year will bring. With her background as a school-based speech-language pathologist, West now feels lucky to have her students all day so she can concentrate more on the communication skills she knows are important. This kind of freedom is refreshing, she said, after spending five years as a school-based SLP and seeing the students for only a half-hour at a time.
“It was so frustrating,” West said. “I felt like I was only in for a short time making suggestions and not really seeing how treatment was working. I wasn’t enjoying it, I was always doing paperwork, and I never felt like I had enough time to spend with the kids.”
In fact, she was so frustrated that she had considered quitting altogether. Her husband is in the military; finding new work with each of his new assignments was difficult enough, and more so because she didn’t like what she was doing. When a special education teacher left the staff of the school in which she was working, she asked the principal on a whim if she could have the classroom. To her surprise, the principal said yes; to her delight, she needed only two classes to become certified to teach students with severe disabilities. The district gave her three years to complete her coursework, but she still started immediately.
Her first day as a lead teacher in her own classroom was a bit overwhelming. “I was nervous!” she laughed. “But luckily I knew all the kids from working with them as an SLP, so that was a big help. Still, I had to pick up on behavior management quickly because it’s different when you are with them all day long.”
Today West’s classroom runs smoothly and she has found ways to make sure the students are not only accessing all the academic areas, but also receiving all the language intervention she can provide. She works closely with the school’s SLP, and has seen some significant gains in her students. Recently she taught one student to use his AAC device and eight of her 10 students are learning to read. All of these successes bolster her belief—for students to succeed and reach their full potential, they first and foremost must be able to communicate.
“And who better to teach them how, but a speech-language pathologist?” she concluded. “I’m using all my background skills and making sure they get as much as they need. This is truly my niche and I love it.”
Contact Julie West, MS, CCC-SLP, at Julie.West@fcps.edu.
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August 2011
Volume 16, Issue 10