Predicting job satisfaction among speech-language pathologists working in public schools

Predicting job satisfaction among speech-language pathologists working in public schools

Blood, Gordon w

ABSTRACT: Purpose: The aims of the present study were (a) to compare the job satisfaction ratings of speech– language pathologists (SLPs) working in schools with other workers on a standardized index and (b) to examine whether geographic setting (i.e., rural, suburban, and urban), specific demographic variables (i.e., gender, ethnicity, age, and education), and practice-related variables (i.e., years in current position and caseload size) explain/ predict job satisfaction among SLPs working in public schools.

Method: A mail survey methodology was employed. Two thousand practicing SLPs, members of the American Speech– Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), residing in the United States were randomly selected from the national membership list. Usable responses were obtained from 1,207 SLPs, representing a 60.4% response rate. Participants completed the Job Satisfaction Survey (Spector, 1996), demographic and practice-related questions, and information regarding their geographic work setting.

Results: These results suggest that the majority of SLPs are generally satisfied (42.2%) or highly satisfied (34.1%) with their jobs. Results of the regression analyses revealed that the age of participants (i.e., older were more satisfied), years at current job (i.e., SLPs with greater number of years were more satisfied), and caseload size (i.e., SLPs with smaller caseloads were more satisfied) were predictive of job satisfaction in SLPs working in the schools.

Clinical Implications: The findings provide additional assurance for SLPs concerning overall group satisfaction. The information could also assist educational training programs with data concerning SLPs` satisfaction. Smaller caseload size is predictive of job satisfaction. There were no differences among rural, suburban, and urban SLPs in their overall job satisfaction. This information could be useful for personnel directors in recruiting and retaining SLPs.

KEY WORDS: job satisfaction, survey, speech-language pathologists, social support, schools

Attracting, recruiting, and retaining well– qualified personnel in public schools is a national priority. With public school personnel retirements increasing annually and the effects of the “baby boom echo generation” driving up enrollments in student population, more than 2.4 million teachers will be needed in the next decade (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998, 2001). Coupled with the sobering reports that 20% of new teachers leave the profession within 3 years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001) and that nearly 50% of all new teachers leave their jobs within the first 5 years in urban areas (Darling-Hammond, 1998, 2000), a better understanding of job and career satisfaction of public school personnel is essential to maintain and enhance the workforce.

Job satisfaction is one of the most researched topics in the areas of organizational behavior and education. It is defined as an attitudinal variable measuring the degree to which employees like their jobs and the various aspects of their jobs (Spector, 1996; Stamps, 1997). This is an important area of research because job satisfaction is correlated to enhanced job performance; positive work values; high levels of employee motivation; enhanced physical and mental health; and lower rates of absenteeism, turnover, and burnout (Begley & Czajka, 1993; Blood, 1969, 1973; Bluedorn, 1982; Bluen, Barling, & Burns, 1990; Chiu, 2000; Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Petty, McGee, & Lavender, 1984; Tharenou, 1993).

Similar to professionals in other occupations, job satisfaction in educators has been related to a number of factors. Researchers have linked job satisfaction to teacher attrition (Bobbitt, Leich, Whitener, & Lynch, 1994; Boe & Guilford, 1992; Ingersoll & Alsalam, 1996; Lee, Dedrick, & Smith, 1991; Russ, Chiang, Rylance, & Bongers, 2001); demographic variables including age, education, and gender (Castillo, Conklin, & Cano, 1999; Eichinger, 2000; Ganser & Wham, 1998; Peterson & Custer, 1994); practice-related variables such as salaries, credentialing, opportunities for promotion, supervision, recognition, student behavior, working conditions, and sense of autonomy (Archbald & Porter, 1994; Dinham & Scott, 1998; Evans, 1997a, b, 1998; Pennington, 1991; Prelip, 2001; Reyes & Shin, 1995; Taylor & Tashakkori, 1995); and geographic location in rural, suburban, and urban areas (Bornfield, Hall, Hall, & Hoover, 1997; Burstein & Sears, 1998; Derlin & Schneider, 1994; Pearson, 1998). Job satisfaction in school personnel is also related to overall job productivity, motivation, and student learning outcomes (Ashton & Webb, 1986; Choy, Bobbitt, Henke, Medrich, Horn, & Lieberman, 1993).

Perie and Baker (1997), in a study conducted on job satisfaction among more than 36,000 elementary and secondary public school teachers, reported that female teachers reported higher levels of job satisfaction than male

teachers and that teachers’ job satisfaction showed weak correlations with salary and benefits. In addition, they suggested that their results were important for policy makers and administrators who could make changes to enhance teacher satisfaction through creating or maintaining safe work environments, increasing feelings of autonomy, fostering greater parental involvement, and improving administrative support.


During the past decade, numerous changes have occurred in the discipline of communication sciences and disorders that have resulted in increased demands on speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to develop new knowledge bases and specialized technical skills. Technological advancements in areas such as augmentative and alternative communication, voice, and dysphagia, coupled with additional administrative responsibilities, legal mandates requiring more paperwork, and interdisciplinary meetings, have increased the workplace demands of SLPs. Earlier identification of children with communication disabilities and increased recognition of the needs of children with multiple and co-occurring problems have resulted in larger and oversized caseloads, greater time demands, and additional responsibilities for SLPs. For all of these reasons, SLPs may be especially vulnerable to job burnout and dissatisfaction (Wisniewski & Gargiulo, 1997). Research suggests that professionals in educational settings are more susceptible to job stress and burnout because of work overloads, lack of autonomy in the work setting, ambiguity about professional roles, and performance constraints (Dinham & Scott, 1998; Evans, 1997a, b, 1998; Perie & Baker, 1997; Prelip, 2001; Tang & Yeung, 1999). Job satisfaction for SLPs in educational settings is a critical issue.

In 1997, Wisniewski and Gargiulo reviewed and critiqued the literature on occupational stress, attrition, job satisfaction, and burnout in special educators, including SLPs. They concluded that for special educators, job stress, the inverse of job satisfaction, was related to role ambiguity and conflict, inconsistent support from other school personnel, demands for excessive accountability and paperwork, multiple instructional assignments and grouping with other professionals, and large class sizes and/or caseloads. They reported that SLPs were subject to “high levels of occupational stress, tension, and negative attitudes due to their large caseloads, minimal facilities and resources, and professional isolation” (p. 338). Wisniewski and Gargiulo concluded that high attrition rates were directly related to job dissatisfaction. Lack of recognition, few opportunities for promotion, excessive paperwork, loss of autonomy, lack of supplies, low pay, and stressful interpersonal interactions all contributed to teachers’ decisions to leave the schools.

Surprisingly, few studies have reported on job satisfaction in SLPs (Miller & Potter, 1982; Pezzei & Oratio, 1991; Wisniewski & Shewan, 1987). These studies suggest that SLPs are generally satisfied with their jobs. The study by Pezzei and Oratio (1991), conducted more than a decade ago, reported on the job satisfaction of 281 SLPs working in the public schools. A factor analysis of the data revealed that supervision, workload, coworkers’ support, SLPs’ backgrounds, and specific job settings were the most predictive of job satisfaction. However, job satisfaction surveys from more than a decade ago may not capture the current working environment, demands, stresses, and pressures of today’s SLPs and their relationship to job satisfaction. Given the increasing rate and quantity of necessary information required for the provision of high– quality services, need for continuing education activities, expanding skill level expectations, discussions about “specialization,” and the consequences of IDEA implementation, it seems likely that job satisfaction in many SLPs may be jeopardized.


Job stress and satisfaction are also related to the geographic location where SLPs provide services. Lower incomes, longer hours, larger caseloads, scheduling complexities, and professional isolation contribute to low levels of job satisfaction in rural settings according to many authors (Condon, Simmons, & Simmons, 1986; Farmer, 1994; Foster & Harvey, 1996; Helge, 1992; Neely, Diebold, & Dickinson, 1994). Retention and recruitment of SLPs is more difficult in rural areas because of reported reduced job satisfaction. Recently, Coleman, Thompson– Smith, Pruitt, and Richards (1999), in discussing service delivery in rural areas, stated that rural school districts are historically underfunded, provide lower salaries than urban counterparts, and face tremendous personnel shortages. They reported a 30%-60% annual turnover of SLPs in rural areas. Stewart-Gonzalez (2000) stated that cultural, geographic, social, and economic factors impede service delivery in rural areas for SLPs. She also indicated that social and professional isolation in rural areas were among the most serious problems and impacted recruitment and retention efforts.

Educators in urban school settings and in special education programs also face unique challenges that are different from those experienced by rural educators. According to Morse (2001), “urban city school districts enroll 26% of all students in the United States and the vast majority of these students are poor and members of minority groups” (p. 7). Urban schools are faced with high dropout rates of 40%– 60% in some cities, as compared with the national average of 12% (Blumberg & Ferguson, 1999). In addition, students with disabilities in urban areas are at greater risk for not completing high school. These students have dropout rates of more than 36%, as compared with 24% for students with disabilities residing in rural areas.

Education personnel working in urban schools deal daily with unique family diversity issues. For example, 30%-50% of all students in urban schools live with caregivers other than their biological parents, which requires new relationship patterns and innovative interaction styles for teachers, SLPs, and other education personnel (Schwartz, 1999). All of these factors influence job satisfaction and decisions by employees to stay or leave a specific school or job. Urban schools historically have difficulty in recruiting and retaining all qualified education personnel (Bruno, 2000; Morse, 2001; Rousseau & Davenport, 1993).

A better understanding of job satisfaction could assist educational preservice and inservice program planners/ directors with up-to date information about SLPs’ job satisfaction and provide administrators with new information that might be used to recruit and/or retain SLPs in the schools. The aims of the present study were (a) to compare the job satisfaction ratings of SLPs working in schools with the ratings of other workers on a standardized index and (b) to examine whether geographic setting (i.e., rural, suburban, and urban), specific demographic variables (i.e., gender, ethnicity, age, and education), and practice-related variables (i.e., years in current position and caseload size) explain/predict job satisfaction among SLPs working in public schools.


A random, proportional, stratified, probability sampling technique was used (Fink, 1995). In this procedure, the population is divided into subgroups, called strata. Subgroup sample sizes equal the proportions of the subgroup in the strata. States in which participants resided served as the strata. With proportional sampling, subgroup sample sizes are equal to the proportion of the subgroup in the population. Therefore, participants were randomly selected from each state in the country, with the number of participants from each state being based on the population of the state. Given this selection technique, the state of New York had more SLPs who received surveys than the state of Iowa. The mail survey methodology was employed because it allowed the greatest range of potential participants at multiple locations in the United States. In addition, it is the preferred method for studying discreet and sensitive topics in a confidential and anonymous manner (Fink, 1995).


Two thousand practicing SLPs who were employed in public schools and who resided in the United States were randomly selected from the American Speech-Language– Hearing Association (ASHA) national membership list. Computer-generated address label lists were obtained for a fee from ASHA. Surveys were mailed to the potential participants’ school addresses. The survey consisted of informed consent and information forms, demographic items (i.e., gender, ethnicity, age, education), practice-related items (i.e., current caseload size, salaries, number of years working at present position), geographic locale of the work setting item (i.e., rural, suburban, and urban), and a standardized job satisfaction scale. Follow-up mailings were sent at 4 and 8 weeks after the initial mailing. This resulted in 1,320 responses from SLPs (i.e., a return rate of 66%). One hundred and thirteen of the responses (8.6%) were deemed unusable for a number of reasons, including returned unopened surveys because of changed addresses, participants working part-time, participants no longer employed in schools, missing specific demographic or scale data, failure to complete the scale properly, or participants returning the survey indicating that they chose not to respond. This yielded a usable response from 1,207 full-time SLPs, representing a 60.4% response rate for the sample.

Table I provides demographic data for the sample. The majority of the participants were female (96%), European Americans (94%), with a mean age of 46 years. Ninetyeight percent of the SLPs possessed a master’s degree or participated in postmaster’s educational experiences. The mean caseload size for SLPs was 56.3 children. Participants reported being in their current positions an average of 14 years. Finally, the geographic location where SLPs worked was also obtained. Definitions for rural and urban were those provided from Ricketts, Johnson-Webb, and Randolph (1999). They summarized the United States Bureau of the Census and the United States Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) classifications of metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas based on population. For this study, rural included places or locations with populations of less than 5,000 residents. Suburban was defined as places or locations with populations of greater than 5,000 but less than 100,000 residents. Urban included places or locations with populations of more than 100,000 residents. Approximately 23% (278) of the respondents reported working in rural areas, 32% (386) of the SLPs reported working in suburban areas, and 45% (543) reported working in urban areas of 100,000+ individuals.

Dependent Variables

Subjects were requested to complete the Job Satisfaction Survey (JSS; Spector, 1996). The JSS provides a global measure of job satisfaction that is applicable to a wide variety of occupations. The JSS was selected because it has been used extensively in studies across multiple disciplines and it provides reliability, validity, and normative data (Spector, 1996). The norms have been established on more than 8,000 individuals from 52 separate samples. These samples included numerous professionals, such as university staff, educators, mental health care providers, rehabilitation counselors, municipal managers, clerical workers, department store employees, civil service employees, nurses, and physicians. Separate norms are not provided for individual groups. In addition to established norms and widespread use, the JSS was selected because it is available for academic and research purposes, it is comparatively short (36 items), and it provides a total job satisfaction measure and nine subscale measures including pay, promotion, supervision, fringe benefits, contingent rewards, operating conditions, coworkers, nature of work, and communication. Sample items and short descriptions of individual subscales are provided in the Appendix.

The items are sentences that require participants to rate how strongly they agree or disagree with each item on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 representing “Disagree very much” and 6 representing “Agree very much.” Nineteen of the 36 items are reversed for scoring. For example, an item under the Pay subscale, “I feel I am being paid a fair amount for the work I do,” would be rated using the same 6-point scale as an item under the Contingent Rewards subscale, “I do not feel that the work I do is appreciated.” However, a reverse scoring (a rating of 6 would become a 1) is computed for the Contingent Rewards item in this example. Each of the nine subscales has four items each. The JSS yields a total job satisfaction score from 36-216 (a compilation of all the subscores), with a normative mean of 136.5. Individuals with higher JSS total job satisfaction scores are more satisfied with their jobs than individuals with lower JSS total job satisfaction scores. Each of the nine subscales yields a separate score ranging from 6 to 24.

Data Analyses and Reliability

Frequency distributions for all variables were computed and checked for outliers. Mean scores and standard deviations were computed for the total job satisfaction score and the nine subscales of the JSS. SLPs’ scores were used to categorize participants into three groups: those who reported “low job satisfaction,” “average job satisfaction,” or “high job satisfaction” when compared to normative means. Hierarchical regression analyses were computed to determine how well JSS total scores were predicted by geographic locale, demographic, and practice-related variables. This computation reveals the unique contribution of the predictor variables and is recommended for studies with multiple variables (Cohen & Cohen, 1983). For all tests of significance, alpha was set to the .05 level of confidence.


Descriptive Analysis

The mean total JSS score for public school-based SLPs was 126.8 (SD = 14.2). Although this mean score is lower than the actual normative mean score for job satisfaction for all occupations (136.5, SD = 12.1), it is within the typical range for job satisfaction as defined as one standard deviation from the normative data mean. To determine how participants compared with the normative sample, they were assigned to one of three groups based on total JSS scores (Spector, 1996). The low job satisfaction group had scores one standard deviation below the mean total JSS score (148.6) and included 34.1% (N = 412) of the total participants. The average job satisfaction group had scores within one standard deviation of the mean total JSS score of >125 and

When using the subscale scores for normative comparison purposes, one standard deviation from the JSS subscale score was used to place participants’ scores in low, generally, and high satisfied categories. Figure 1 reveals that the SLPs’ mean JSS subscale scores were similar to the normative data for five of the nine subscale scores. These five subscale score means were within one standard deviation of the subscale score normative data means (Spector, 1996) and included (a) nature of the work, (b) fringe benefits, (c) contingent rewards, (d) communication within the organization, and (e) operating conditions. There were four mean subscale scores that were greater than one standard deviation below the normative data for the subscales, placing the SLPs’ scores in the low satisfaction category. These included (a) satisfaction with pay (SLP M = 9.0; SD = 2.1; normative M = 12.0; SD = 2.6), (b) promotion opportunities (SLP M = 9.5; SD = 1.8; normative M = 12.0; SD = 1.9), (c) satisfaction with coworkers (SLP M = 15.6; SD = 2.1; normative M = 18.3; SD = 1.1), and (d) supervision (SLP M = 16.4; SD = 1.8; Normative M = 19.2; SD = 1.5).

Table 2 presents intercorrelations for the variables. There is a substantial relationship between the mean JSS total score and three of the variables. This is evidenced by moderate correlations in the .50s. The mean JSS total score was correlated positively with years at current position (r = +.59) and age (r = +.52) for school-based SLPs. A negative correlation was found between caseload size and JSS Total Score (r = -.57). As caseload increased, job satisfaction decreased. The relationship between JSS and the remaining variables was negligible, as evidenced by slight correlations all below .20 (Guilford, 1956).

Predictors of Job Satisfaction

In order to determine whether demographic variables, practice-related factors, and geographic location could significantly predict the total JSS scores, hierarchical regression analyses for SLPs’ job satisfaction were computed. The predictor variables were entered into the regression analysis in the following order: practice-related factors (i.e., years at current position, current salary, and caseload size), demographic variables (i.e., gender, age, ethnicity, and education level), and geographic location (i.e., rural, suburban, urban). Overall, the multiple regression model accounted for 36% of the variance. After number of years in current position was accounted for (14% of the total variance), caseload size accounted for an additional 12%, and age of the SLPs accounted for the remaining 10% of the total variance (see Table 3). The positive beta weight of the number of years in current position suggested that the longer SLPs remained in their jobs, the more likely they were to report higher levels of job satisfaction. The negative beta weight of the caseload size indicated that the higher the job satisfaction, the lower the caseload size. The positive beta weight of the age factor suggested that the older participants were more likely to report higher job satisfaction than the younger participants. Racial/ethnic backgrounds, education, gender, current salary, and geographic location did not contribute to the prediction of job satisfaction. Therefore, the age of participants (i.e., older were more satisfied), years at a job (i.e., SLPs with greater number of years were more satisfied), and caseload (i.e., SLPs with smaller caseloads were more satisfied) were predictive of job satisfaction.


Results indicate that nearly half (42.4%) of school-based SLPs are generally satisfied with their jobs, and an additional 34.1% report being highly satisfied with their jobs. The results are consistent with earlier studies surveying school-based SLPs (Pezzei & Oratio, 1991). SLPs appear to value their jobs and the contributions they are making in their workplaces. This should provide additional assurance for SLPs concerning group satisfaction and also provide recruiters, administrators, and educational training programs with new data concerning the current state of SLPs’ job satisfaction.

Although the majority of SLPs indicated that they were satisfied with their jobs, there were some areas of lower levels of job satisfaction. SLPs were less satisfied than the normative samples with their pay and pay raises, opportunities for promotion and advancement, satisfaction with coworkers, and supervision by their primary supervisor. Although speculative, it is possible that SLPs in schools compare themselves with other educators and/or administrators and perceive pay inequities. This has been suggested by some researchers when educators report being underpaid for the work demands and expectations (Carr, McLoughlin, Hodgson, & LacLachlan, 1996; Chiu, 2000). SLPs also perceived fewer opportunities for advancement than the more than 8,000 participants in the normative samples. Unfortunately, Bakker and Schaufeli (2000) indicated that this was one of the first signs of burnout in school personnel. Lower scores on both the interactions with immediate supervisors and satisfaction with coworkers may suggest that school-based SLPs need to be better prepared for working in environments where their supervisors are perceived as less supportive. These results may also suggest that administrators should discover how these perceptions develop and design strategies to change these perceptions in the workplace.

The results of the regression analyses are consistent with the numerous studies with related school personnel, health care, and business workers, which indicate that older workers are more satisfied than younger workers with their jobs (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2000; Begley & Czajka, 1993; Brush, Moch, & Pooyan, 1987; Hodson, 1996; Lowther, Gill, & Coppard, 1985; Schabracq, Winnubst, & Cooper, 1998; Spector, 1996). The number of years at the current position was also a significant predictor. This may suggest that SLPs who are retained in their positions report higher satisfaction levels than those who move from position to position. Job satisfaction increases with age and work experience. Older workers are more comfortable and tolerant of authority and may learn to lower expectations for their jobs (Spector, 1996). It has also been hypothesized that older workers may have jobs that use their skills better, work under better job conditions, benefit from advancements and promotions, and appreciate fringe benefits more than younger, less experienced workers (Brush et al., 1987; Lowther et al., 1985).

Not surprising was the fact that caseload size helped to predict job satisfaction. Larger caseload sizes were associated with lower job satisfaction. Other studies have suggested that excessive workload demands in educational personnel decrease job satisfaction (Billingsley & Cross, 1992; Dwyer & Ganster, 1991). This information could be useful to SLPs, as well as administrators, in determining how to maintain or enhance job satisfaction.

Geographic locale was not a significant predictor of job satisfaction. It appears that SLPs working in different locales experience similar types of job satisfaction. Researchers suggest that professional isolation, documented inclusivity of rural communities, and inadequate resources contribute to low job satisfaction and retention problems of teachers and SLPs (Condon et al., 1986; Foster & Harvey, 1996; Helge, 1992; Neely et al., 1994). However, the location of work performed by SLPs in this study did not support differences among rural, suburban, and urban SLPs. Similarly, job satisfaction in SLPs was not predicted by current salary, educational level, gender, or ethnicity.

These data are subject to the same limitations of all survey research, including unintentional errors in recall, perceptions of the individual at the time of the study, lack of control over those who respond, and unsupervised administration. These limitations were addressed through random sampling, optimizing response rates through followup, and broad geographic coverage. In addition, the generalizability of the results in this study may be limited by potential sample bias. It is possible that with more than 76% of the participants reporting overall job satisfaction, a select group of “satisfied” respondents was sampled. This line of inquiry is continuing with the examination of burnout and stress in SLPs, relationships between intention to leave the profession and stress, as well as specific coping strategies used to maintain and enhance job satisfaction.


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Received March 24, 2002

Accepted July 30, 2002

DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2002/023)

Gordon W. Blood

The Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Jenna Swavely Ridenour

Lancaster-Lebanon Public Schools, Lancaster, PA

Emily A. Thomas

Bi-County Educational Collaborative, Wrentham, MA

Constance Dean Qualls Carol Scheffner Hammer

The Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Contact author: Gordon W. Blood, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, 110 Moore Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. E-mail:

Copyright American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Oct 2002

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