Whether you’re a new grad or have been an occupational therapist for a while, you might be considering working as an OT in a school. If you enjoy working with children and long for a schedule where you have holidays and weekends off, working as a school-based occupational therapist can be a great option. However, keep in mind that working as a school occupational therapist is different from other settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes. Before you make your move, there are several things you should consider.
You might not work with the age group you prefer.
Lots of occupational therapists want to work in a school setting. Not only are the hours reasonable during the week, but you also often have summers off. In addition, working in a school is a nice change of pace. Be wary though – landing a job as a school-based therapist can be competitive, which means you might not get a job working with your preferred age group. If you enjoy working with preschoolers, ask yourself if you would be willing to take a job working with teens to get your foot in the door.
Working with parents is not always easy.
Some of your students’ parents will be great to work with. They may be helpful and responsive. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. There will be instances where parents are difficult for a variety of reasons. Maybe a parent does not like the way you provide therapy or won’t encourage some of the techniques you are using at home. Unfortunately, there is not a guidebook to show you how to deal with difficult parents. It can be discouraging to encounter these types of situations. Keep in mind that, with a little planning, a positive attitude, and lots of practice, you can likely make it work.
Some children may have severe disabilities you haven’t worked with before.
When you consider working in a school setting as an occupational therapist, you may have a certain population of students you want to work with. But there may be times you work with kids who have severe medical conditions that make them difficult to reach and connect with. It is hard to see anyone coping with profound disabilities, but watching children struggle can be even harder. Try to remember that the work you do will help improve a child’s quality of life.
Things may not always go as expected.
Working as a school-based occupational therapist includes holding therapy sessions, attending meetings and completing lots of paperwork, which could extend past the typical school day. Students could be added to your caseload or taken away throughout the school year, and you have to learn how to quickly adjust. There is a lot to juggle in this type of setting, and having your day organized can help. The problem is things do not always go as expected.
Situations can occur in a school setting that mess up your schedule or the things you planned to cover during your therapy session. Everything from a moody kid to a fire drill to a tardy student can throw a wrench in your day, which leads to scheduling issues. As a school OT, it’s helpful to be someone who is flexible and can go with the flow without stressing out too much. Asking advice from friends or peers who’ve worked in school settings, or other therapists in your school can always be helpful.