Are you interested in getting a job as a school-based OT? It’s a wonderful setting, and if you’ve already decided that you should become one, you may be wondering what your next, concrete action steps are. Luckily, it’s a pretty simple process, but there are a few ways to make it even easier!
Research schools in your area
Before you start looking for jobs specifically, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the schools in your area. If you grew up in the area, have kids of your own, or it’s very rural, this might be an easy step! But in other situations, you may be looking at multiple public districts, private schools, charter schools, non-public schools, etc. Publicly funded schools are required to provide occupational therapy services, but many other types of schools may choose to retain an OT as well. Taking time to understand education options in your community will serve you well, whether it’s through Google searches or talking with friends and acquaintances already working in education.
Decide how far you’re willing to commute (or move!)
Once you have an idea of what schools are out there, you can start to decide some of your non-negotiables. Would you be willing to commute 30 minutes to a job? An hour? Keep in mind that many school-based OT positions require travel during the workday as well, so decide how much time you’re willing to spend in your car. On that note, keep in mind that opportunities to work as a school-based OT without having a personal vehicle are few and far between – typically limited to only the biggest cities, part-time roles, or teletherapy positions.
One other thing to consider is if you’re willing to move for the right school-based OT job. If so, explore what areas you’d be interested in and repeat that research process in step 1.
Consider timing of your school-based OT job search
As you might guess, schools are incentivized to have a consistent therapist for the whole school year, which means that certain times of the year probably won’t have many open positions available. Typically, school districts start posting positions for the upcoming school year in late March/early April, but some may not have theirs up until later in the summer. If you have the flexibility, it can be worth waiting until this time to transition into this setting. But if you don’t, it’s still worth looking for positions mid-year. Parental leaves and other staffing needs do come up, so there’s still a chance you could get in somewhere if you’re flexible.
Go directly to the district/school website to apply
If you already have identified a specific school or district where you’d like to work, the quickest path is likely to check for open positions on the careers page of their website. This is usually pretty easy to find in a menu located at either the bottom or top of the school’s website. At times, you’ll be redirected to a third-party service where the job listings are actually hosted, but often, you can apply directly on the school’s website. If you don’t see a current OT position open, it may be worth submitting a general application or resume if the website gives you the option.
Search for school-based OT jobs on regional, school-specific job boards
If you have more than 1 to 2 schools/districts in mind, it may be easier to look at a general jobs board for openings rather than searching each individual website. And depending on where you’re looking for jobs, you might be lucky enough to have access to a jobs website that focuses on school positions. EdJoin is perhaps the most well-known one, but it focuses heavily on the west coast, specifically California. At the time of writing this, it has 29,697 school positions listed in California, compared to only 4 for Virginia. SchoolSpring is another website that aggregates school jobs. Keep in mind that both these platforms host jobs for all manner of school positions – teachers, custodial staff, administrators, etc. However, they’re usually pretty easy to search for OT-specific jobs.
Use social media to find school-based OT jobs
Social media can be a great way to connect with the OT world, including finding employment. I know I’ve found several jobs/contracts by networking on Facebook, and there are specific groups like Pediatric OT Jobs where you may be able to do the same. Or check out my group, The Dynamic School OT Community, where jobs and other school-based OT resources are shared regularly.
Search Google and major job boards
If you’re coming up dry with the above search methods, it’s worth Googling “school-based OT jobs in [your location].” Indeed is a general jobs website that will probably pop up with some options. Just be aware that these job postings are aggregated from different sources, and sometimes are a little outdated/inaccurate. Pay close attention to when the job was posted and try to apply on the original website rather than through any third-party portal.
Network with your community
If you’ve ever heard that networking is everything when it comes to employment, it’s not inaccurate. Consider looking at alumni resources through your program to see if they have a jobs board, or just get in touch with classmates who are already working in the schools. And broaden your search to more than just other OTs – you never know who’s cousin’s dogsitter’s friend works at the school district and may know about positions before they are posted. While it can feel a little awkward at first, letting the people you interact with know that you’re looking for a school-based job can really pay off.
Consider going through an agency
While many school-based OTs are hired directly through the district, it can also be an option to go through an agency. In fact, some districts choose to exclusively use contract therapists instead of hiring their own in-house staff. There are pros and cons to this, but typically, contract agency work tends to have higher pay but fewer benefits. Something else to consider is that some agencies only pay their OTs for treatment time – which doesn’t do justice to all of the other important parts of school-based OT, like IEP meetings, documentation, consultation, etc. That being said, getting hired through an agency can be the right fit for a lot of people, especially if you’re interested in school-based OT travel therapy.
Something else to keep in mind when getting hired on through an agency is whether you’ll be an employee of the agency (W2) or an independent contractor (1099). Neither is necessarily better than the other, but they both have specific tax and work implications you should be aware of.
Touch up your resume
At this point, you’ve hopefully rounded up several school-based OT jobs to apply to! But before you do, give your resume a once-over. You don’t have to rewrite the whole thing, but definitely try to highlight your relevant experience as much as possible. You could even consider making a copy of your resume that is more pediatric-focused for positions like these. And if you don’t have specific OT experience working with children already, highlight what experience you do have. Were you a nanny in college? Did you volunteer at a summer camp? Have you taken school-based OT CEUs? These are all things you’ll want front and center if you haven’t already worked in the schools as an OT.
Rock your school-based OT interview
After you apply, the next step is interviewing! I’ve got my fingers crossed that you’ll be offered multiple interviews, and when you do, check out this blog for specific tips and questions you’ll be asked. Plus, I’ve also included questions you should ask your interviewers, which is essential for finding a good fit for both you and your potential employer.
After your interview, be sure to send a thank-you note/email to your interviewers, and then put out all the good vibes into the universe!
You’ve got this in the bag, and I hope this article helped you know the exact steps to take to get a school-based OT job. And once you do, be sure to check out all of the other great resources for school-based OTs right here on my website! Then, when you’re ready to take your practice to the next level, I’d love to have you join me in The Dynamic School OT Course, a comprehensive CEU all about this area of practice. I’ll see you there!