I love being a school-based OT. And while I’m no stranger to writing about the challenges of this role, I still have a deep passion for working in this setting. As hard as certain days are, I really don’t see myself working in any other area of practice. So, if you need a few reminders about what makes our roles great, I’m eager to share what I’ve noticed with you.
Spending time with the kids
This is an easy one, right? Most of us got into pediatrics because we love kids. Helping students realize their full potential is so rewarding, and it is the thing that keeps me going when I’m fed up with everything else. Kids can be so sweet, cute, and frankly, hilarious. If I’m ever feeling bogged down with paperwork, I know I can pretty much guarantee I’ll forget about it for 30 minutes passing the time with one of my students.
Getting to consult and collaborate
I love the school-based setting because it offers so many more opportunities to work with a team. In so many other settings, therapy is just something you “do” to a person once a week. But in the school setting, there is a shared understanding that we should be looking at strategies that the student can implement every day in order to more effectively access their education. This means working with teachers and other staff on how to best support your students in the classroom, and when it works well, this type of problem-solving is so fun to me. And while there are definitely barriers to providing more contextual and collaborative services, the tides are definitely shifting, and more people understand that this is best practice.
Problem-solving interesting situations
You could say this is true for any OT setting, but I’ve never experienced so many opportunities to problem-solve as I have in the school setting. If you love the activity analysis part of OT, this is the role for you. Practicing in the schools allows me to exercise my creativity and flexibility every day.
Having variety in each workday
No day is ever the same when you work in the school system! And while this can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions sometimes, at its best, it’s fun and exciting. Unlike a lot of office jobs, I pretty much never have a day where I sit at my computer writing up the same piece of paperwork all day long. Instead, I get to split my time between seeing students, evaluating, observing, documenting, checking email, traveling, talking with teachers, training staff, ordering equipment, meeting with families, treatment planning, etc. My brain tends to crave novel experiences, so I love that my job rarely feels boring.
Working with great coworkers
I love working with teachers and other school staff. Unlike other workplaces, pretty much everyone working in education is there because they care about children and want to help them succeed. That’s a pretty impressive shared goal that you don’t really see in for-profit workplaces. Yes, every now and then you’ll meet someone that gets under your skin – and teacher burnout is just as real as OT burnout – but all in all, the coworkers I’ve had in the schools are head and shoulders above the ones I’ve had in previous positions.
Getting paid well
Okay, this one is tricky because it’s certainly not true everywhere. However, school-based OTs do have the opportunity to be compensated very well. In California, it’s not uncommon to see school-based OT roles that are posted for over $100,000 a year. School-based OT pay is also typically very transparent, so if you feel that you’re not being paid what you’re worth, it’s easy to look up salaries to compare. Plus, if you’re interested in travel school-based OT, you can take home even more pay!
Having opportunities to reduce student loan debt
Because public schools are nonprofit, working in one may qualify you for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Be sure to read up on the details of this program to see if it makes sense for your personal situation. I have also heard of school-based OTs qualifying for teacher loan forgiveness programs.
Enjoying a great schedule
It’s hard to beat a job where you can realistically be off work by 4pm every day! Plus, having weekends, holiday breaks, and summers off doesn’t hurt either. This is pretty much the best OT setting you can work in if you have kids of your own, but even if you don’t, the consistency and extensive time off is really nice for planning vacations. On the flip side, there are a lot of pressures to work off the clock/longer than your contract dictates, but these are avoidable if you commit to your work-life balance.
Advocating for students
Many opportunities to advocate will present themselves in school-based OT, from the need to advocate for appropriate services and equipment for your student to the need to advocate for your own work-life balance. Personally, advocating is one of my favorite parts of being an OT, so I love how often I get to engage in this at work. This is definitely a role that benefits from someone who is willing to speak up for their beliefs and ethics, and it can sometimes help to be a squeaky wheel.
Getting to see visible progress
I’ve worked in several other OT settings, and one of the hardest parts of this profession is that progress can be slow. But in the school setting, it moves much more quickly. Of course, you have the natural advantage of working with a client who is still growing and developing, which usually results in more visible progress. But schools are nice because you are not the only person who is working with your client. They have teachers and other providers who are invested in their success and progress as well. And as a general rule, kids tend to have more family support than adult clients which is huge for carryover.
While school-based OT is not for everyone, it’s a setting that I am incredibly passionate about. If you’re practicing in the schools as well, I hope you remember what you love about it, even through its challenges. And if you’re struggling to remember what it is you enjoy about school-based OT because you’re being stretched too thin, I’d love to have you in The Dynamic School OT. I’m happy to teach you the strategies I’ve learned to conquer the tricky parts of school-based practice to make sure I can enjoy this job for years to come.