Five Things an OT Shares With Her General Education Teachers
By April Franco, OTR, MOT
on April the OT blog
I have started my second year as a school OT. Just as I was getting used to not feeling like a new grad, I started in a new setting and a year later, I still feel like I’m lost in some areas. My school district works with a push-in philosophy for therapy services, which means I sometimes have to make my way into a general education classroom and it can sometimes be a little awkward. This is not an issue for me when I see students in a self-contained classroom, as I can waltz right in, do what I have to do, and even help out if I’m needed. These classrooms are set up within an atmosphere that allows for each student’s particular needs. However, my general education teachers have very strict schedules in which certain curriculum must be addressed. When I come knocking, they may be a little unsure of my purpose. Having said that, I have complied a list of things I wish general education teachers knew about my role as an occupational therapist in an effort to support the important roles we both play in our schools.
You and I are not so different. We were both drawn to a helping profession. We both want the best for our students. The difference is that I am in a situation in which I am also there to help you, if need be. I’m happy to observe other students and offer strategies about our shared student in effort to enhance their educational experience. I’m also there if you need an extra pair of hands…which is especially helpful during a fire drill!
My goal is to have ninja-like stealth skills and to appear as invisible as humanly possible. I do not want to interrupt the flow of your classroom. In addition, I’d rather not draw attention to the fact that your student may have a “helper” coming in to work with him or her. I take tremendous pride when other students tell me that they hadn’t noticed me.
I may go in and out of your room as discretely as possible, but I’m always happy to take time to explain to you what I’m doing for your student. The nature of your schedule and my schedule may make it so that I only give you a few quick sentences as I leave the room. But if you have specific questions, would like more elaboration, or if you observe something that you find noteworthy, good or bad, I will happily make time to consult with you.
I don’t have all the answers. I know your student may stump you. Sometimes, he or she may stump me as well. The nature of my training allows me to take a step back and analyze the context and details of everything affecting your student. My goal is to come up with a possible solution. Ideally, you and I will work together to make things work well for our student. And unfortunately, sometimes that involves a lot of trial and error.
Occupational therapists are often synonymous with “handwriting teacher.” It’s true, much of my caseload is focused on helping my students improve their handwriting skills but there is so much more going on in this area. Sometimes the things you may see me doing with our student (“What’s with that infinity symbol you’re always drawing?”) are targeting different skills that support handwriting. In addition, please know that there is so much more to my job than addressing handwriting. I often work closely with teachers to address seating, sensory processing, visual schedules, cutting skills, bilateral coordination, visual motor skills, and much more. If you are ever concerned about our student or another of your students, I can see if there is something I can do to help. And if I am not able, I am happy to identify the person who can.
I have tremendous respect for teachers. It takes a very special person to wake up every morning and do that amazing work. I feel privileged to be in a profession that supports them and allows us to support our students together. And I hope that my 5 wishes will help to create and enhance the bond between teachers and occupational therapists as we come together toward this goal.
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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