The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast Full Transcript
Mattie Murrey-Tegels 00:06
Welcome to the Missing Link for SLPs. We are closing in on the end of our A Day in the Life of the School Based SLP, and I could not think of anybody better than inviting Ebony Green back on. She was one of our very first guests, on episode 25 – goodness, I think back a couple of years ago. And Ebony Green is the SLP Contract Queen! Let me tell you a little bit about her and what you're going to hear today.
Ebony is a speech language pathologist and a former K-12 teacher. She started her private practice in 2019 and was able to secure contracts with several schools and double her practice revenue within the first two years of being in business. Since Ebony became an entrepreneur, she has always helped other private practitioners along the way. As a former educator, Ebony is passionate about teaching and sharing resources with others. In 2021, Ebony was named an ASHA distinguished early career professional based on her work and the platform she built to help other SLPs learn how to become successful business owners. Today, Ebony has contracts with dozens of schools in Arizona. Her company contracts with various schools, including private schools, public schools, and charter schools. And Ebony herself leads a team of 30 therapists and serves as the CEO of her private practice, CASA Speech and Development services. So, Ebony is indeed a mover and a shaker, and a sharer, and an educator, and all things SLP contracts, and I'm so excited to have her on today.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:41
Welcome back, everyone, to A Day in the Life of a School Based SLP, and I am so delighted for you to meet our guest, Ebony Green. Ebony Green has a really amazing story, and I can't wait for you all to hear it. So, let's just jump right in. Welcome, Ebony!
Ebony Green 02:03
Thank you so much. This is actually my second time being on the podcast, and I'm just honored that I got asked to record another episode and I get to meet you in this episode. Thank you so much.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:16
Well, we're so glad you're here. And as you know, we are talking specifically about the experiences of the school based SLP, and exploring how those experiences have some similarities, and how we have different experiences, all under that big umbrella of schools. So, let's start a little bit by learning about you. Could you tell us just a bit about yourself and the journey that led you to becoming a school based SLP?
Ebony Green 02:44
Yeah, absolutely. So, I began my journey, actually, back in 2007. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor's in Communication Studies. I was not sure what I wanted to do after graduating. I had a degree in communications, so a somewhat generic degree. But I knew that I wanted to work with children, and I decided to go into teaching, actually. I taught elementary school. I was a second and third grade bilingual elementary school teacher, a general education teacher. I absolutely loved it. I was actually a part of a program called Teach for America, and that is a career path for individuals who do not have a background in teaching or who didn't have a major in education, but who want to teach and go through an accelerated program in order to obtain their teacher certification. So, I started out in the elementary setting. I did two years, which was the commitment for Teach for America, and then I decided I wanted to continue teaching. So, I then got a job at a charter school, and it was a sixth through 12th grade charter, and I taught high school Spanish.
So, I always loved being in the education setting. I worked in both the elementary setting, the high school setting, and I just loved it. I found that they were both unique in that the elementary school setting, you tend to be more like a mother figure, almost, to your students. And then in the high school setting, you're still kind of the mother figure, but you're also trying to encourage them to be independent and to get them ready to be adults.
So, I definitely didn't want to leave working in that environment, but I ended up moving. My husband got a job out of state. So, we moved to Arizona. I'm just going to be honest because I'm a very honest person, the teacher pay in Arizona was not what I expected. It was much lower than what I was getting in Texas. And so, I said I can't go back into the classroom making what teachers make here, which is really sad. So, I looked at other career paths, and I decided that I was going to take a couple of courses that – I was already interested in speech. So, I was already taking, like, prerequisite courses in Texas, but my plan was to teach while finishing those courses. And once I moved here and saw the pay, I was like, okay, what do I need to do to start my new career in speech in Arizona? And the good news is that to become an SLPA in Arizona, it was actually not as difficult as it was to be an SLPA in Texas. In Texas, you had to have, I think, a Bachelor's in Speech. In Arizona, you didn't have to have the degree, you just had to have a certain number of credits. So, it was almost like getting a second bachelor's, but you didn't have to have the actual degree, just the credits. So, that's how I started. And I – my first job was in the schools as an SLPA.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 06:10
That is an amazing journey, and what an interesting experience to kind of have such a shift from one school setting to another. I think one of the things that I've learned doing these different interviews with folks all over the country, is that even though, again, we have that big umbrella term, “I work in the schools”, that can look a lot of different ways, and it can be valued or not in a lot of different ways. I think there's so much variability with what people encounter when they are working in the schools.
So, one of the things that I know is really interesting about how you work in the schools is that you are a private independent contractor that works in the school setting. Can you talk a little bit about that? Specifically, some curiosities I have, did you start as a speech language pathologist in a school district and made the shift, or have you always been a private independent contractor that works in a school setting?
Ebony Green 07:21
So, I started out my career in speech as an SLPA, and I worked for a company that contracted with a charter school. And so, I was not an employee of the charter school, I worked independently, so to speak. And I would get paid by the company that had the contract with a charter school to provide the speech therapy services. So, that's how I initially started out.
I went through graduate school, and the whole time I worked in the school setting. I was in a program where I would go to Flagstaff, Arizona, which is where the university I attended is located. I would go to Flagstaff on summer break, and I would take like two times the amount of courses you would normally take in a semester. It was an accelerated summer program. And so, one of the benefits of working in the school setting while going to school is that the Arizona Department of Education actually gave us small grants if we worked in the schools while we were going to – while we were finishing our graduate studies. So, I always worked in the schools for one – that was one of the reasons. But I started out as an independent contractor through another company.
And then when I finished my clinical fellowship, I took a job as a direct hire with a smaller charter school, and that was the first time I worked as a direct hire – and I have lots of stuff to share about that because it was a different experience. And it was actually the experience that led me to want to implement change because of just some of the things that were not what I expected when I decided to go work at the school as a direct hire. And so, I really wanted to implement change, and I knew that the only way I could do that was if I were to go independent. And so, that's how I ended up going back into the schools and working as a independent contractor under my own company.
And today, I provide therapy to a large district in a rural part of Arizona, and a smaller, private school. We service about 700 students in the larger district, and about, I would say, 50 with the private school, and I have about 15 therapists who are subcontractors who go out and provide the direct therapy services
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 10:07
Ebony, I have so many questions all colliding in my brain at once, trying to try to get out first!
Ebony Green 10:13
I know, it’s a lot!
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 10:14
I think this is so fascinating and amazing, and I feel really fortunate that we're able to talk with you today. So, I would like to spend a little more time maybe in the discomfort of what drove you to not be a direct hire, but rather be your own independent contractor. I know that there's probably a lot about that, but there had to have been some experiences or some situations that kind of messaged back to you there's got to be another way, there's got to be a different way. Can you speak to some of those experiences, or those situations that inspired making a different choice?
Ebony Green 10:58
Yeah. So, that first year that I worked as a direct hire for the district, it was very tough. I had a toddler and a kindergartener, and I already had a little bit of mom guilt from grad school when I was focused on graduating and passing the practices, and I dedicated so much of my free time to my studies. So, I wanted to have a job where I didn't have to work more than 40 hours a week so that I could have a chance to be a mom. Like I said, my daughter had just started kindergarten, and that was kind of the important time to make sure that I was there for her, and my son was still pretty young.
So, I was under the impression that it was going to be a pretty flexible job. Like I thought I would get there at 7:30, leave at 3:00 o'clock, have two week breaks every quarter – because in Arizona, most of the schools are on a kind of a modified year round schedule, so you get long breaks in between each quarter. And then I would have the summers off. So, that's what I envisioned. And I realized that that schedule of 7:30 to 3:00 was not the case. I was bringing work home. I was coming home, making dinner, and then having to get on my computer to finish paperwork. I was having to make sure that my sessions were planned for the next day. I was having to make sure that I was meeting deadlines. And if you don't do the paperwork when – before it's due, then you can get into a lot of trouble. So, there was just this constant work that never – I never got to leave at work. It was that there was always stuff that had to be done when I left school.
And, for me, the turning point was when I stayed up until 1:00 o'clock in the morning on a Saturday night to do paperwork. And I was just like – I was in disbelief that this was the reality that I was living. Because I dedicated so much time to a career that – to get a career that I really loved. I loved working in the schools. I liked the possibility of having a flexible schedule so that I could also be a mom, and it was so different. The reality that I was living was so different than what I had envisioned. So, that decision to ask for help was something that I knew I had to make. I had to make the decision to either ask for help, or figure something out.
But the next day, when I went to school, I was actually very surprised that the principal asked to speak with me in her office. And when I got to her office, the principal was there, my supervisor was there, and a district SLP because she was in charge of, like, all of the SLPs in the district. They were all there. And they said they wanted to have a talk with me because I needed to be put on a performance improvement plan because my paperwork was not being done quick enough. And I just could not believe it because the last time I had seen students was like – it had to be like a week and a half ago, which is not what you're supposed to do, right? We're supposed to be making sure kids get their minutes. And I'm going to be honest, there was an SLPA helping out, but just for reference, I was supposed to be a part time, three days a week, employee, and there was 100 kids on the caseload. And I just I’d never been put on a performance improvement plan in my life for anything. So, that was a shock to have to go through something like that, and it was embarrassing. But also, the expectations that were being placed upon me – just totally unrealistic. And I told my – the principal that. I said these are – the expectations that you all have are very unrealistic. And she said, she looked at me, in the eye, and said, “So, do you mean to tell me you've never worked at a job where you're expected to work outside of work? That's our expectation that you get the work done”. And I was just like, “Okay. Well, this is my official two weeks’ notice. I'm resigning. And I will finish as much as the paperwork that I can, but after that I am no longer able to stay here”. And then they tried to get me to stay, and they said, “Well, we’re going to try to help you. We're going to try to help you with this performance improvement plan. It doesn't mean that you're getting fired. It just means we're going to help you”. And I said, “No. I think the expectations that you have don't really align with my expectations. And even if I were to complete this performance improvement plan, there's still an expectation that I'm supposed to work outside of the hours that I'm paid for, and I'm not okay with that”. And she was like, “Okay. Well, take some time to think about it. Let us know by tomorrow”. And I got home, and wrote my resignation letter and sent it to them.
And the story gets – it doesn't end there. They actually told me that I would have to pay $5,000 to get out of my contract. Apparently, there was something in the contract I signed saying if I left in the middle of the year, I would pay $5,000. And so, I responded, “Well, my contract was supposed to be a part time, three day a week position, and I'm working 60 hours a week because the caseload is not a part time caseload. A hundred students is not part time”. And luckily, they kind of understood where I was coming from, or they realized that they had breached their end of the contract. And so, they told me I didn't have to pay the $5,000. And I was very happy to hear that because I felt like I didn't do anything wrong. I was – I had one expectation based on what I was told in the interview, and it totally was something else. And so, I ended up finishing my two weeks.
And this is a really long story, but just to wrap it up, on my last day, the school psychologist and I spoke and she said, “You should really consider going into working for yourself. You can do the exact same job that you're doing, but you can do it on your own terms as an independent contractor”. And she told me the rate that she was getting as an independent contractor, and she said I could get something similar. And it was like four times the amount that I was getting paid, maybe five times the amount I was getting paid. And that was when I knew I made the right decision because if I was going to be working that hard, I would at least like to get paid for my time. And, I was making like $20 an hour when I calculated how much time I was spending doing work outside of the time I was getting paid.
And so, that was how I ended up going from working directly for a district, to starting my private practice. I left. I started my private practice and then decided to pursue school contracts as an independent contractor – because I love the schools. I always felt connected to the schools, but I just couldn't do it under those circumstances.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 19:14
So, first of all, thank you for telling your story. I do believe that your lived experience is not the exception. I think 100 kids in three days is pretty intense. But I also think that there is the experience of expectation that exceeds capacity for so many individuals who work in the school settings, and I can't think of a human on the planet that wants to get up day after day, invested in doing a really good job, and being placed in a situation that is not tenable, that sets you up to feel like you're not doing a good job. And so, what I appreciated so much is that you spoke to an experience that I don't think is an outlier. I think that people do encounter work situations where expectations far exceed capacity for any human. And what I am so excited about is that I'm hearing you say it doesn't mean you have to leave the place you love, the population that you love to work with, the setting that you love to work in. It means you envision doing this work in a different way.
So, let's talk a little bit about how you now do this work in a different way still within the school setting. Tell us a bit about your day in the life, specifically Ebony's day in the life. So, walk us through your workday, your full day.
Ebony Green 21:01
Yeah, absolutely. So, I guess I have to kind of backtrack a little bit because what my day in the life looks like now is very different than when I got my first school contract. So, I'll start there because it was – there were several things that led up to where I am now.
But when I got my first school contract, I would go to the school at the time that I needed to see students. I would complete all of their service minutes. And I would do all of my paperwork from home, if I wanted to do paperwork from home. I attended most of the IEPs over the phone or via Zoom – this was pre-COVID. And if I needed to test, I would go test, and, again, come home and write the reports. So, that flexibility that I was looking for as a mom with two young kids, I was able to have that, finally. I was able to have a balance between seeing kids in the schools and running a private practice. I was still growing my private practice. We still – that's still a very active part of my business and my life. But having the flexibility to do the work, and not have to be in after school meetings, and expecting – having the expectation that you do more than what you're paid to do. It just made my life so much easier, obviously. But also, I was able to dedicate more time to problem solving and helping the students the best way that I could. You see therapy a little bit differently when you have that type of flexibility. When you're constantly trying to meet deadlines, and you're just in survival mode, your focus is really on let me just get this paperwork done so I don't get in trouble. You don't have the time to really go back to some of the stuff you learned in school, or reach out to a colleague and find new, innovative creative ways to do therapy. That's how I felt.
Currently, what the day in my life looks like is managing all of our school contracts. As I mentioned, we have contracts with about 12 districts – I'm sorry, 12 schools in two different districts, and I am one of the main point people for our contracts.
So, right now, I actually – I have a new Vice President of Operations on staff, and I want to share really quick – I know we don't have a lot of time left, but this new Vice President of Operations, I just hired about a month ago. She is in charge now of all of the contracts, and getting us new contracts, and staffing the ones that we have. But she and I worked together at the very first school that I worked at as an SLPA. She was the Special Education Director at that school, and she was the reason that I went to graduate school, because I loved my job. That was the best experience I had working in the schools as a speech therapist. And she said, “Ebony, you have the skills. You have the talent”. She said, “You're one of the best therapists that I've ever worked with. You need to go to graduate school and get your Masters”. And at that time, I was just really trying to figure out if I was good at being a speech therapist, and how – I was trying to figure out how to shift from teacher to speech. But she and I worked together 10 years ago, and now she's my Vice President of Operations. So, I just also wanted to share that the relationships you make in your career as a school therapist can be some of the most beneficial, but also career changing, life changing, relationships that you might have.
Because now, I don't have to do all of the thousand things I was doing with managing our school contracts. I can actually now focus on some of the other areas of growth that we really want to see in our private practice. But we – Maya and I, we both manage all of the contracts together, and our goal is to just reach as many students as we can. The rural districts where we provide services, they really struggle with retention of staff, and they have a few therapists that they have in their area, but it's very hard to staff if someone leaves. So, our goal is to kind of stay ahead of that. And so, we're constantly recruiting and hiring and just making sure that our therapists are happy so that they stay with the district.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 26:26
I think this is a wonderful conversation, and I love the full circle aspect of bringing this person who was critical in your own development on board in this really new and exciting capacity. Relationships are so important.
So, let's talk a little bit more about your job. What is your favorite part? What do you like best?
Ebony Green 26:56
My favorite part of the job, if I'm 100 percent honest, is helping SLPs have jobs in schools that they love. I feel like if I had the opportunities that my SLPs have, I would have never left. I would have never left working directly for a district – and I guess I didn't leave, because I'm still in the schools. But if districts provided the type of environment where you have flexibility, where you get paid well, and where you're not constantly scrutinized, I would have stayed as a direct hire of the district. And I would have – that would have been my career. The therapists that I hire to come work for me as the contractors, they've all had some type of similar experience to what I had. So, being able to provide them a new outlet, and a new avenue to pursuing being a school based therapist but not having to deal with all of the administrative red tape is what I truly enjoy.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 28:08
Wow. So, what is the most challenging aspect of your job at this time?
Ebony Green 28:13
The most challenging aspect is I get a lot of therapists asking me, “Do we have any more school contracts? How can I get into the schools?” They want to work in the schools. And I know that people are becoming more educated, and so they know that being a contractor has a lot of perks. So, they want to do it on a contract basis, but we have to get those contracts. So, the challenging part is actually getting the contracts. When you go through a formal bid process, it takes several months. It's a lot of work. You have to have a proposal that has – it checks all the boxes. You have to dot every I and cross every T. So, that part is the most challenging – is getting those contracts and keeping those relationships.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 29:08
So, what is your big “why”? What gets you out of bed every day?
Ebony Green 29:15
My big “why” is – it's really to change some of the things that I did not like about the field, especially when it came to working in the school setting. There's such a stigma with working in the schools. It's the low pay that everybody automatically assumes. It’s the being overworked and stressed. It's the high caseloads that people will often talk about. And while I can't change all of that, I can't change caseloads, unfortunately, I can negotiate though. I can negotiate that if this therapist has 100 kids on their caseload, then they must have an SLPA, they must have an intern to come and assist, if they can. And the districts are very open to how we try to negotiate with them, as long as we stay within the budget and we have a lot of discussions about budget, and realistically how much they should expect to spend based on their caseload numbers.
So, just being able to have those conversations with districts, to me, is part of my “why”, because we don't have those conversations when we're working for a district directly, a lot of the time. And we want to create jobs where SLPs like going to work, and they get excited to come to work and see their students. And it's not like a dreadful feeling of, “Oh, I have to do all this paperwork”, and they don't get excited about it. I want to – I've always felt that there has to be a better way.
And I think that people who work for me are very happy. I don't have a lot of turnover. And so, that's really my “why”, is to create jobs where people are happy. Not everyone is going to go into entrepreneurship and independently contract. But if you could provide someone the opportunity to have some independence, and get paid more than they would if they were in a district job that they didn't like, then I think that goes a long way.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 31:37
So, I know we're really short on time, but I do want to ask where can people find you? How can they learn more about Ebony Green and all the fabulous work that you do?
Ebony Green 31:48
So, you can find me on social media. I have two social media pages.
I actually teach a course on how to get your own school contract. So, if you're ever interested in learning more about that, you can find that on the platform, where I teach courses for SLPs who are interested in business. It's called The SLP Business Suite. It's @theSLPbusiness_suite.
And I also have a personal Instagram page where I share a lot of behind the scenes of being a business owner, and that's @SLPcontractsqueen.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 32:24
And for our listeners, we’ll make sure we include all that information in the show notes.
One last question before we let you go. If there's one piece of advice you would like to give SLPs who are considering working in the schools, what would you most want them to know?
Ebony Green 32:43
I would want them to know that they definitely should try to negotiate. Negotiate your salary. Because if we want to change the idea that working in the schools is going to automatically equal a low paycheck and being underpaid, we've got to – we have to step in and start negotiating those contracts. So, if you get an offer and it's not what you are comfortable with, then negotiate. I negotiated my salary for my school job that I ended up leaving. And I couldn't imagine doing the work that I was doing, and making less than what I was making, because it was already, like I mentioned, so low. But I negotiated and I got like a 40 percent higher salary, I believe, 30 percent, something like that. So, negotiate your salary, and negotiate your time. Ask for help. Don't be afraid to set boundaries because, at the end of the day, you are very valuable and it's hard to replace us. It's so hard to find good therapists. So, if the district really cares and values you, then they'll listen to you and hopefully make those changes.
Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 34:06
Oh, Ebony, you've given us all so much to think about. Thank you so much for your time today.
Ebony Green 34:11
It was such a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.
Mattie Murrey-Tegels 34:21
Oh, my goodness, I hope you enjoyed that episode as much as I did. It just gives me goosebumps. The story that Ebony shared, the risks she took, the confidence she had, and how she's moving forward in the direction of her goals and her dreams of what she wants to do as an SLP, and what she's doing for other SLPs and how she's shifting and changing the field.
I love meeting and interviewing movers and shakers in our field who have this vision of what we can be as SLPs and then make that vision happen. I hope you're enjoying the podcast as much as I am. A special thanks to Katie Widestom-Langraff for co-hosting. And please like, share, follow, subscribe to this podcast. We are a little podcast that’s working hard on getting our voice out there as the Missing Link for SLPs. This is the podcast where you learn things at the level of being a fresh brand new SLP. So, whether you're new or transitioning, there's something here for you. Go check us out on fresh slp.com. And I don't know about the rest of you guys, but man, this almost makes me want to be a school based SLP! Glad you're around for the conversation. Reach out to me. Let me know what your favorite part is. I know what my favorite part is. Be in touch! Take care, stay fresh!