So you want to quit your school-based OT job? Well, you aren’t alone. Last week, I wrote about the signs that you may need to leave. And while deciding that you need a change is the first step, there are several choices you need to make from there. Above all else, keep in mind that you have options, even if it may not seem that way right now.
One recommendation I do have before you try any of these options is to schedule a time to meet with your admin/union/supervisor and discuss the concerns you have that are leading you to consider quitting your job. When we’re in the thick of things, we often think it’s obvious how much we’re drowning. But sometimes we silently suffer, and the people in charge of our roles don’t realize how bad it is in the trenches. So give them a chance to address your concerns once they’re fully up-to-speed on the situation. Yes, it’s possible that nothing may change. But give them a chance to surprise you before you take further action.
Maybe you don’t need to fully leave your job. Maybe just having an extra day off a week would help. One of the pros about the schools is that these types of positions are actually fairly common compared to other settings. And many still allow you to keep your benefits like health insurance and retirement funds. Consider going down to a .8 (4 day work week) or a .6 (3 day work week). You could fill your extra time with personal projects, caring for your family, or just REST. Plus, if you need more income, you can likely find a PRN job – which may even be more lucrative than what you would’ve made in the schools that day.
Look at Other School-Based OT Jobs in Your Area
This one really depends on if you live in an urban, suburban, or rural area, and how the school districts are structured. In some places, there’s only one public district for the entire city, and commuting to the next closest would take a significant amount of time. But in others, there are a multitude of districts in a relatively small geographical area. It’s worth seeing if the next district over has better support and work-life balance. And now that you know more, you can better suss this out at the interview. Don’t forget to consider non-public and private schools too. While these function a little differently than public schools, sometimes they can be a nice change of pace.
Try Travel School-Based OT
Maybe you’ve explored the other school jobs in commuting distance from you and you’re not impressed. Or maybe you are ready for a big change and adventure! Whatever the reason, consider looking into travel therapy. While a lot of travel therapy focuses on medical settings such as SNFs or hospitals, there are also a ton of school-based OT jobs. These jobs are usually in states/locations where it is hard to recruit and retain a permanent employee. And do be wary: sometimes those districts have trouble keeping an OT for the same toxic reasons that you want to leave your current job. But sometimes it’s just because they’re in a rural location far away from any OT school, or they need parental leave coverage.
And regardless of the culture, it’s SO much easier to deal with difficulties and challenges that lead to burnout when you know you don’t have to be at that job for longer than 1-9 months. And beyond that, travel therapy comes with so many wonderful other benefits – seeing new places, learning how other states approach school-based OT, and typically higher pay than permanent roles.
Look Into Other Settings
For all the burnt-out school-based OTs who have no other viable school jobs near them and are not in a good place to start travel therapy, I feel for you. This is one of the more difficult decisions to make, but sometimes leaving your toxic school job means that you have to leave the setting entirely. And this is really hard, because almost all school-based OTs I know love their students and want nothing more than to help kids. Going to work in a new setting is scary, and can feel like you’re giving up on your dreams. But remember: changing settings doesn’t mean you have to leave the schools forever.
There’s a saying in travel therapy that goes like “a job is only as permanent as you make it.” Maybe you try out home health for a year or two and realize how much you love it. Or maybe you realize it’s not your jam and a new school-based job opens in your area that seems like a much better fit. Maybe administration changes at your old school job and you’re willing to try again. Or maybe your family has to move and you find that the schools in your new city are wonderful.
So many different things can happen in the future that you’re not even aware of yet, so don’t feel like quitting the schools now means you can never work in them again. Plus, there are many settings where you will still be able to use a ton of your school-based knowledge and experience, like outpatient peds or early intervention.
Try a Non-Clinical Job
Sometimes we’re just burnt out with patient care in general, and it can be helpful to take a break from that entirely. If this is you, there are lots of non-clinical jobs where you can leverage your school-based OT skills and experience. Plus, doing a non-clinical job for a while doesn’t mean you have to leave occupational therapy forever. Doing a job that is wildly different from school-based OT could be the reset and recharge you need.
Take a Sabbatical
As school-based OTs, we know about the importance of breaks. And sometimes, that’s all we need. Maybe taking a few months off from your job will allow you to be rested, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the world again. Again, this is another area where schools are often more flexible compared to other settings, so it’s worth having a conversation with administration, HR, or your union to find out what your options are. It’s also worth considering if you might be eligible for FMLA – which takes mental health conditions into account as well as physical. While I realize this is not possible for everyone due to financial constraints, it’s worth thinking about if you can find a way to swing it.
Start Your Own Business
Now, this may sound overwhelming when you are already feeling tired and burnt out. But realize that starting your own business doesn’t have to be something you immediately throw yourself 100% into. I started my business on a very part-time basis, initially working only 1-3 hours a week alongside my full-time employment. Now, my business has grown and I have been able to devote more time to it, but getting here was a very gradual process.
Plus, one of the upsides to being frustrated from your work in the schools is you have a lot of information about where the gaps are in the system. You could start a business that helps kids in ways that just aren’t possible in a school-based role. Or, you could take a step back from clinical work and use your business to do something that’s non-client facing. The flexibility is yours. And if you do decide to start your own business, I would love to support you in that endeavor as well!
So, this may seem counterintuitive in an article that’s all about leaving your job. But, decide now if this is something you would be willing to think about. Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t realize what they’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and this may be what happens to your admin when faced with the prospect of losing you. It’s frustrating that it has to come to this when you’ve already brought up your concerns, but that is reality sometimes.
Now, obviously, don’t say that you’re quitting your job unless you’re actually ready to follow through with it. That’s not a bluff you want someone to call. But if you find yourself in a stronger position to negotiate when you’re quitting, consider what changes would have to be put in place to get you to stay. Keep in mind that it’s possible the school still won’t be able to provide the supportive environment you need and that you may need to quit anyway. But I have known some school-based OTs to be in this position, and the threat of losing a valuable employee was enough to light a fire under the district to get them to actually implement changes.
One other thing to keep in mind if you do decide to stay: talk is cheap. Your district may make a lot of promises in an attempt to keep you. Take the time now to set dates that you need to see action by in order to continue staying. Real change takes time, but if it’s six months later and everything is the exact same, it’s time to leave for good.
While deciding you need to quit your school-based OT job is not a fun realization, it is a necessary one if your mental and physical health is suffering. The good news is, you have options, even if it’s hard to see them when you’re in the throes of despair and scared of the unknown. If you have any questions, or just want to talk through what your next steps could be, I would love to have you join my Facebook group. It’s a wonderful community of school-based OTs who are ready to support you. And if you’re looking for a way to feel happy and effective in a school-based OT role, take a look at my course, The Dynamic School OT. It’s comprehensive continuing education all about school-based OT that goes beyond just intervention and assessment to discuss very real topics like this one. Click here to learn more!