I Survived My First Year as a School OT
By April Franco, OTR, MOT
on April the OT blog
I was over 30 when I figured out what to be when I grew up. I fell in love with the work of occupational therapists after having worked in an early intervention venue in Arizona. While I had been unsure of what to do with myself for most of my life, once I chose OT, I only wanted to do one thing: pediatrics (with the asterisk, NOT a school OT).
Following a move last summer, I bit the bullet and took a school OT job after having worked in clinic-based and home-based early intervention settings. I was reluctant and my supervisors seemed to worry all year that I was unhappy. On multiple occasions, I was checked in on; and as the year grew to a close, there was frequent asking of whether or not I would return.
Why the fear?
You might be wondering why I was so against working in a school setting. Prior to this year, I always thought that school OTs only did handwriting. I felt that in a clinic or at home, there is a play element that would be missing in the schools. It seemed that sensory integration was so much easier to target with swings, climbing structures, and trampolines. Parent education seemed much more feasible in these settings, though follow through is never guaranteed any setting.
So how did it go?
As with my previous jobs in occupational therapy, I began this job without feeling fully trained. I read through IEP after IEP and I was right…so much handwriting to address! I learned so much more about grasping patterns and learned about the different papers, pencil grips, weighted implements, and posturing techniques than I had ever know before. Sure, I had students with other needs, but primarily I was helping with handwriting.
Somewhere around winter break, something occurred to me. I really missed my students. I had unknowingly grown accustomed to the weekly interactions. I realized that I had inside jokes with them and looked forward to seeing them progress in their goals. Could it be that I actually liked my new setting?
I reflected upon what a great rapport I had built with the teachers and classroom aides. I am fortunate that I work for a district that does not micromanage my schedule. If my minutes get met and reports are written on time, I am able to fill my days in any way that I need to. Often, this means I am helping out in the classroom or at recess or at lunch. The teachers and aides seem to appreciate my presence and I love to be a part of their daily routines. Once I realized these facts, I looked at my job in a new light.
I am an occupational therapist.
It’s who I am and what I live and breathe. I am a pediatric occupational therapist and I am at my most comfortable and efficient with this population. What I was doing within the school setting was now a bit more challenging with minutes, VERY specific goals, daily schedules to respect, and yes, LOTS of handwriting instruction. But at heart, I’m doing what I have always done: I am helping a child participate in an occupation. Having a student form a legible “S” is just as exciting to me as having a reluctant child interact with shaving cream or take a bite of non-preferred food or navigate an obstacle course had once been. I am happy to be a tool that allows each of my students to be more successful in the school environment. I have always felt that it is a privilege to do what I do and that has not changed.
At the end of the school year when I had my annual review, my supervisor sheepishly asked if I would return next year, to which I replied, “Of course I will.” I love that I am supporting the educational growth of my students. I love that I work within an interdisciplinary team. I love that I get to work closely with teachers, some of whom are very aware of the role I can play for them. And I love my students.
A parent once told me that it’s not always the therapy that works, but rather the relationship that works. Perhaps that’s true. I may not be strictly play-based any more, but the time, attention, and care I give to each of my students is what is most important. And really, that’s true regardless of the setting.
April Franco, OTR, MOT has been a pediatric occupational therapist since 2011 and had years of early childhood education experience prior to attending OT school. She has worked within a clinic setting, as well as home-based early intervention services, and has served children from birth to 16 years of age with a wide range of developmental disabilities and diagnoses. In fall 2015, she began working within the educational setting. She considers working as an occupational therapist to be a tremendous privilege. April tweets @prilbo and is on Pinterest as missaprilotr. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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