Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Sarah Ginsberg

Committee Member

Willie Cupples

Committee Member

Valerie Polakow

Committee Member

Christopher Robbins


Using phenomenology and symbolic action theory as a theoretical framework, this qualitative study explored the experiences and practices of urban, school-based speechlanguage pathologists (SLPs). The study focused on the assessment, certification, and service of students in urban schools, a majority of whom are members of minority groups in light of the disproportionality of students of color in special education. This study aimed to capture the urban SLP’s point of view and illuminate the power that they may use or abuse in a school system. The understanding of the lived experiences and practices of 11 White, female SLPs practicing in urban schools in Michigan was sought through semi-structured, in-depth interviews as well as follow-up interviews for data clarification between December 2016 and April 2016. Ethnographic data gathering methods, in the form of observations, were also conducted which allowed for the understanding of the participants’ constructions of reality. Using phenomenological data analysis techniques, the interviews were transcribed, coded, and explained. From the participants’ narratives, five common themes collectively emerged: lack of preparation, medical-model mindedness, trapped, culture of care, and burnout. The findings from this study revealed that the SLP participants were not adequately prepared to work in urban schools. As a result, the models and approaches employed by the participants to assess, certify, and treat students of color were ineffective and at times, detrimental to the urban students. Once placed in special education, the urban students were trapped in the system and rarely escaped. While the SLPs extended care to the students that they served, the care was embedded in deficit perspectives and disregarded the urban students’ parents and communities. Due to the demands and complexities of urban school practice, the SLPs were burning out and contemplated leaving the urban setting or the field of education all together. As a result of the information gathered, implications for speech-language pathology preparation programs, organizations, and research were discussed.