Three Keys for Success in Your School-Based Occupational Therapy Job

Think Through These Issues When Looking for Pediatric OT Positions in Schools

Are you looking for a school-based occupational therapy (OT) job?

Female school-based occupational therapist sits in classroom smiling as young boy works with colorful blocks in the background.

It’s the right time! OT jobs should increase 24% through 2026. And schools are the fourth-largest setting for direct OT client interventions (60.8%), according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

What’s more, being an occupational therapist in schools is worth it! You’re helping students master daily tasks essential to their education in a community of peers. Practitioners in school therapy jobs can really help kids flourish!

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’ve been helping clinicians in pediatric occupational therapy jobs flourish, too, especially those new to the field.

How can we start helping you? By highlighting three key issues to think about as you look for your next—or your first!—school-based OT job:

1. Appreciating What Makes School Therapy Jobs Different

Whether you’re coming from a pediatric OT job in a hospital or rehab facility, or you’re just starting your clinical career, you need a healthy appreciation for what makes OT jobs in schools unique: a focus on educational goals.

It may sound like we’re stating the obvious. But we’ve seen too many therapists stumble through tough transitions to school settings simply because they didn’t understand this fact and its implications.

AOTA offers these tips for making a smooth move into a school therapy job:

  • Make positive connections
    Relationships with teachers, therapy assistants, administrators, and parents are crucial to your success. Enlist them as team members so students get the best support. PTS clinical directors will advise you on how to make a great first impression and connections of lasting value.
  • Get organized early on 
    Learning your way around the building, crafting a workable schedule, reading up on your caseload—you’ll have a lot to do when you start. PTS can help you organize your time effectively once you accept your new job.
  • Evaluate your available resources
    What assessment forms, activities, and equipment does the school district already have, and what will you still need? Make a plan for filling any gaps you see or anticipate. At PTS, our therapists enjoy easy access to the resources they need.

2. Deciding Whether You’ll Work as an Independent Contractor (IC)

Working toward another degree? Need more time with family? Want to pursue other goals and activities important to you?

If landing a full-time school-based OT job is your ideal outcome, PTS can certainly help you reach it. But if you’re looking for more flexibility, you can achieve that goal, too, by practicing with us as a part-time independent contractor (IC).

How does an IC differ from an employee?

  • ICs earn money by billing time directly
    As an IC, you decide when, where, and how many hours you’ll work. You’re free to say “yes” or “no” to new opportunities. And you get paid for all the work you do outside of therapy sessions, such as reporting and taking notes.
  • ICs don’t have employers withholding taxes from paychecks
    District employees’ paychecks shrink before they’re ever deposited. Income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes are all taken out. As an IC you’ll still have to pay these taxes (and should consult with a tax professional when doing so), but your initial take-home pay will be larger.
  • ICs can deduct work-related expenses
    Out-of-pocket costs in school therapy jobs can add up. You may need specialized equipment like pencil weights, weighted lap pads, or wobble chairs. You’ll also likely pay for transportation, licenses, professional dues, and insurance, among other costs. But ICs can reduce their end-of-year tax burden by documenting and deducting work-related expenses (again, check with a tax professional).

Naturally, you must think carefully about how these general points apply to your situation. But when you’re an IC, you’re your own business. You’ll be able to make so many more decisions about your money and time in ways that best suit your personal and professional needs.

3. Seeing Your Work as Part of a Larger System

Any clinician who’s worked in school-based OT jobs can tell you that the potential for feeling frustration and isolation is real!

Female school-based occupational therapist stands behind a girl and boy in a classroom and demonstrates proper pencil grip.

  • You might spend hours in “the therapy room” (assuming you’re lucky enough to have one, instead of a closet) apart from the rest of the school community.
  • You might find yourself explaining, over and over, why a child’s sloppy handwriting doesn’t automatically mean her or his IEP should include formal OT.
  • You may run up against maddening misconceptions and stereotypes about what you do and the students you serve.

Times will come when you wonder whether your job as a pediatric OT in schools is making a difference. In those moments, working for a company that supports and values you as a partner in transforming school-based related services makes the difference.

At PTS, we’ve been in your shoes. Our clinical directors aren’t headhunters or professional recruiters, but practitioners who’ve worked as school-based therapists and ICs. We have 115+ years of combined experience!

All that experience led us to forge a new approach to delivering special education and related services. We call it The Therapeutic Ecosystem.

Its three components shape our identity:

  • Team
    At PTS, we offer therapists on- and off-site clinical support, growth opportunities, and professional mentoring. Our team operates within a powerful network of advanced techniques and best practices.
  • Tools
    You can’t do your job the right way without the right equipment! We’re committed to providing in-services and shared therapist resources, including a Lending Library for therapists and teachers alike.
  • Technology
    PTS has an interactive team website with additional tools and resources for therapists. We also offer online caseload support and have several social media outlets therapists can use to share strategies and tactics that work.

Let us help you find just the right school-based occupational therapy job and start shaping your rewarding career. Call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online today to join our team and begin exploring the possibilities!

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