Retirement Feature: Shelley Stevens



Shelley Stevens has been involved in many projects over her 30 years at the high school, including the Content Reading Initiative.

Jordan Watts, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Speech and language pathologist Shelley Stevens has taught at the high school for 30 years now. After decades of working with and improving the lives of countless students, she retired from the high school at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.

How long have you worked at the high school, and what has been your role while here?

I am completing my 30th year at Brookline High School. I am a speech and language pathologist, so I have worked with students of all ages, from nine all the way up to 22. I am part of the special education department and I work with teachers in special and general education. Over the years, I have done everything, things like run small groups around communication. The work that I do is around teaching young people who have difficulty communicating because of various disabilities. I work on communication and also on language for learning, so language that interferes with their ability to learn history or English. I have done co-teaching with general education teachers, some in the history department and some in the English department, to tweak their instruction so students would be able to understand and express themselves verbally and in writing better. I also do assessments on students to determine if they have a communication disability, and once we know that that they do, we figure out in what ways we can help them, whether it is me helping them or them going to the learning center or a special program. I have worked with students with all types of disabilities: physical, intellectual, students who are on the autism spectrum, students who are language learning disabled and I also worked as a tutorial teacher many years ago. I really work in all sorts of places from consulting with teachers to helping teachers problem solve around students and their ability to express themselves.

What made you want to enter this field and what have you gained during your time as a speech and language pathologist?

I started as a hospital-based speech pathologist. I worked with kids who were just waking up from comas and had serious head injuries. I came to education by accident. There was a speech and language pathologist here many years ago who needed some help, and I fell in love with the place. I really, really loved the work, and the people and the collegiality. I found I liked working with teachers more than I liked working with doctors and nurses. That speech pathologist left and I took that job and I never looked back. I’ve made my career in education, and my expectations changed over time. I went from working with one or two students, to four students, to teachers in the classroom and that changed everything. What I really love doing is talking with other teachers about teaching practices because that’s an important way to reach new students.

What are some instances where you really connected with the students you worked with?

There are so many. I’ve had some students who have learned enough skills to want to approach people and talk with them, and it was really hard for them. We inched closer and closer, while increasing their confidence, and gradually they were able to interact with more people.

How does it feel when you see one of your students become confident enough to interact with new people after working with you?

You can only imagine. It’s a real thrill to see. For students, they had to learn new skills and then it was about taking that risk. It’s not me alone; they had help. I work as part of a team, and that is what I have also loved about Brookline High School. It might be their social worker who helps, it might be a teacher, we might set something up so that the teacher presents something in a certain way in class so that student can come forward and ask that question or give their opinion. It’s not just about interacting in a friendly way with people; it’s about using language for a particular purpose. If you don’t ask questions and make comments, how are you engaging with people to think and to learn?

In which subjects do you tend to work with teachers more often?

It’s more the humanities teachers, but when I did some work around CRI, Content Reading Initiative, it was multi-disciplinary. What I’ve always loved about my job is the breadth and the depth of interacting with people. Collaboration is a big thing for me. I can lend some of my expertise, but in the end, I get out just as much from the people I’m working with. Some people consider speech and language pathology a strange field within a high school, but it really is essential to the kids and the people working with them.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your time at the high school?

You work with kids and you have to understand that there is a larger context. We want to teach them to be good citizens in the world. We want to help them live meaningful lives, but we also want to help them think so critically that they want to do something about affecting change in the world. It’s not just about teaching them to communicate better. It’s not just about doing well in the academics. It’s about teaching kids to engage in the world outside of these walls; that’s what’s been really important to me as I’ve reflected. It’s been a good process to reflect.