One of the biggest perks of working in education is that you get the summers off, but this also leads a lot of school-based OTs to wonder how they can continue to make money over the summer. Luckily, this flexibility leads to a lot of options! If you decide that you don’t want to take your full summer break, here are some ways you can continue to get paid.
Find a year-round school-based OT position
This is something that won’t be available everywhere, but it’s worth looking into! While most school-based OTs work 9-10 months out of the year, some are hired for 12-month contracts. This may be because the school itself is year-round, or because there’s enough volume of work over the summer months to justify year-round OTs. For example, you may be working as part of the preschool assessment team that makes sure that children aging out of early intervention and into the school system have IEPs developed before their 3rd birthday.
Work the Extended School Year
Extended School Year, or ESY, is something that schools are required to provide in certain situations. Not all special education students are eligible for ESY. Instead, students who are likely to regress in skills if they take too long of a break from school are offered this as part of their IEP. OT involvement in ESY will vary – it’s possible a student may require ESY services from a special education teacher but not an OT. You may not see your full caseload or even your own caseload, depending on how your district structures its programs. This can be a good option because it’s usually an easy transition if you’re already working for the district, but be aware that ESY may not pay as well as the regular school year. ESY positions are often fewer daily hours and may only be 2-6 weeks of the summer. Some districts also don’t pay your regular rate for ESY and instead pay a much lower substitute rate hourly. In these cases, it’s worth looking into neighboring districts to see if working their ESY may be a better option.
Pick up hours in a different setting
One of the nice things about being an OT is that we can work in a variety of settings. And as much as you may love schools and working with kids, it can be nice to take a break from them! Another benefit is keeping your skills sharp with a different population, as we all know it’s easy to forget the nuances of working with adults with neuro conditions if you’ve been exclusively in schools for 5+ years. Or, if you’re all about kids, consider picking up hours at an outpatient pediatric clinic. The therapy will look fairly similar to what you’re doing in the schools, and these clinics tend to have higher needs in the summers, so it can be a great fit.
Consider starting a small business
Starting a business can sound intimidating, but it really doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Remember that businesses can look a lot of different ways, and you can always start one part-time. For me, I did freelance writing on the side for several years as a pediatric OT, only taking on projects when I had the extra time. This eventually morphed and grew into the much more time-intensive business of The Dynamic School OT, but previously I was only working 1-5 hours a week on these side projects. So, consider what skills you have that can benefit the world – and remember that an OT business is not limited to full-time, in-person, clinical services.
Try out travel OT
I’m a big proponent of travel OT, especially in the schools. But, if you’re not ready to commit to a whole school year in a different area, consider trying it out for the summer! You may be able to find an ESY contract in a fun location, or you could flex your skills in a SNF or hospital. Just be aware that most travel contracts are 13 weeks long, so you may need to be flexible to find something that doesn’t conflict with your school’s end/start dates.
Tutor kids on OT-related skills
If you don’t want to provide clinical OT services over the summer, you can still leverage your OT skills to help kids learn and grow. For example, you could offer tutoring services in the area of handwriting for all children, disability or not. Or consider offering some sort of club or summer camp that supports children’s emotional regulation and sensory processing. Just be sure that when marketing your tutoring services, you don’t describe them as clinical OT services. If you’re not sure how to do this, it’s worth checking your state board regulations or asking other OT entrepreneurs how they navigate the legalities of these situations.
Many of us have provided childcare at some point in our life, whether through nannying, babysitting, or working at a facility. And honestly, it can be so nice to step into this role again after becoming an OT. It’s nice to be able to hang out with children without worrying about treatment planning or meeting goals. And, because schools are largely closed in the summer, the need for childcare for families that are still working is much higher. If you have kids of your own that you’ll be taking care of over the summer, it can be an easy transition to add 1 to 2 others into the mix – and may even be a blast!
Find a temp job in a completely different setting
Sometimes we just need a break from OT or working with children, but still want to earn money over the summer. In these cases, the sky’s the limit with what you can do! Is there any job that has always sounded fun but you’ve held back on dong for whatever reason? Give it a try over the summer! Or, consider jobs that tend to be flexible and have more staffing needs over the summer – think restaurants, amusement parks, and other seasonal attractions.
Get paid year-round, or budget this way
Of course, you always have the option to actually take your summer off, and I recommend that everyone does this at least once in their career as a school-based OT! There are a few ways that you can do this to make sure you still have enough money to pay your bills in July. One way is to check if your district has the option to spread your paychecks out over 12 months instead of just the ones where you’re working. This will mean you get paid less each check, but it will ensure you have guaranteed income over the summer. If your district doesn’t offer this option, you can still do it manually by taking your annual income and dividing it by 12 to plan your monthly budget as opposed to using your paycheck amount. However, this way requires a lot of self-control to actually save that money and not dip into it prematurely – which is hard for humans from a behavioral finance standpoint. But, this can be a great option if you value spending your summer on other things besides work – traveling, reading, taking CEU courses, or just sitting on your couch doing absolutely nothing.
Regardless of what option is right for you, I hope you find some ways to have fun making money over the summer as a school-based OT! And if you are one of those therapists that likes to squeeze in a CEU course over the summer, I’d love to have you join me in The Dynamic School OT Course. It has everything you need to start the next school year with gusto!