Before retiring in May 2014, my mom, Kathy, worked in a sector of education which is often overlooked, but imperative for those struggling with speech difficulties. As a speech language pathologist (SLP) she was employed in the Utah public school districts for a little over 35 years. While also raising her own two children, she dedicated her life’s work to assisting elementary students with speech impairments. She worked relentlessly to craft and add inflection to their tone, ultimately allowing them to find their voice, and thus, their confidence. Her work was demanding: the caseload consistently changed, kids would move in and out of her district. Nonetheless, my mom loved and was dedicated to her work.
No two SLP kids were the same. The dynamic challenges kept her job engaging, even when a case was particularly frustrating. Her SLP students loved her and she felt her team in special education was supportive and encouraging. Mom and I would often talk about some of the difficulties in her job: from policy that increased the demands of her position to challenging parents. She was always working through a problem and I was fortunate enough to see her work through it first hand. I can honestly say there are few people I know who share my mom’s ethic. Mom rarely took a sick day – even when she should have. Her students were the center of her practice. She never made excuses and always tried her best.
Sometimes I wonder how many children she helped. How many of those kids had an improved self-esteem because they could finally be understood? Finally be heard? How many would go onto become educators, therapists, doctors, spouses, parents? Our voice holds so much power in defining who we are. Our voice lends a hand in how we uniquely share our experiences, express love, debate our thoughts, connect with all. Giving someone ownership and pride in the way they convey themselves is a gift.Mom’s students worked hard; I like to think it’s because they saw how much my mom loved them and how invested she was in their lives.
One particular case Mom shared involved a third grade boy she worked with some years ago. The boy was smart, but struggled and felt embarrassed because of his speech delay. This little boy pronounced his K’s like T’s. “Kettle” was “tettle”, and “kite” was “tite”. It was not the most severe case my mom had ever experienced, but it hindered this boy’s ability to thrive in school. To counter this, my Mom taught him where to place his tongue in his mouth to form the “K” sound. He was a fast learner, and made a lot of progress. At the end of the game this little boy looked up to her with wide-eyes and said, “ I love you, Mrs. Tathy”. A few months later, he graduated from speech. My mom gave children, like this little boy, voices that felt true to them. She saw children who were previously failing classes become “A” students because they were more confident and willing to participate.
Mom’s career shaped me in multiple ways. I’ve seen her exhausted, stressed, overworked, yet each time she finds a solution and perseveres. She has modeled success, balance and struggle. Because of her, I know I am capable of doing whatever I put my mind to. In 1979 she obtained a Master’s level of education when many women were not yet making college a priority. Prior to her work in speech pathology, she also worked and volunteered on the board for the public defender for 10 years and as the treasurer for a local, non-profit preschool for 20 years. She is a rock star and she is my rock.
I am currently in my 2nd semester of the occupational therapy (OT) graduate program at the University of Utah; a pursuit inspired by mom. She has been my greatest motivation throughout the pursuit of my master’s. From my experience, I believe there is power in having a mother who has a career. As a woman, I have been empowered since the day I was born. I grew up knowing how capable I was, because I saw my mom do it firsthand. I am privileged and fortunate to have had such a role model. Since starting my master’s, I’ve been pondering my own future goals. What do I want to do as an OT? How can I be the best practitioner possible? How can I affect others lives through my work? But never once have I wondered how I will balance a future family along with my OT work. I owe that to mom. I am so excited to start this new adventure and I owe it all to her.
Hello dear reader, my name is Eliza Young. I am a first year occupational therapy (OT) student at the University of Utah. I have really enjoyed integrating my background in the humanities (BA in English) with my studies of kinesiology, anatomy, and neuroanatomy. I love participating in the OT program. My typical week is filled with classes, fieldwork, and fulfilling my responsibilities and class president. During intermittent study breaks I love walking around the Avenues with my dog, Scout. I am an avid podcast listener, and consider meeting Ira Glass as one of the best moments of my life. I have recently started a blog to document my experiences as a graduate student, theoccupassionist.blogspot.com.