Advice from a 3rd Year OT

I’d like to start off by saying I am no expert but instead a teacher with a passion for connection in the classroom.

As this school year comes to a close, I reflect on the experiences I’ve had that continue to shape my practice. 

 

This year has been extremely challenging for all. As an Occasional teacher, I have found it incredibly difficult to connect with other Occasional teachers within school settings. I cherish the times I was able to connect with fellow OT’s, and the moments we shared talking through best practices, exchanging classroom management tips, and providing overall employee advice. 

Recently, I have had the opportunity to connect with some new Occasional teachers who are beginning their careers after recently graduating from the Faculty of Education. After sharing that I have been an OT for three years in two different school boards, it is without fail that I get asked the same question each time: What advice do you have to offer?

 

To those who may be wondering, here is my best summary of advice from a third year OT :

 

1. Connection over curriculum 

As you walk into any new classroom, always remember – you are walking into an extremely personal space. You are entering a community that has been established and continues to grow and change each day without you there. Being an OT is a great way to pick up practices that work for you and develop an understanding of practices that work for others. Being an OT is not a way to take control over this already existing system. To gain the respect of the students you must give respect to the students. This looks like greeting students at the door, asking them questions about their day, playing ‘get to know you’ games, taking brain breaks, offering help to students, and empathizing with students’ needs and challenges. Yes – classroom teachers will leave tasks and assignments for students, but the priority is always the students themselves. 

2. Kindness over ‘correctness’ 

As an elementary OT – you will almost daily hear “that’s not the way our teacher usually does ______”. This is not a personal attack, but coming from students who crave consistently and familiarity. My response to this is always “Things may be a little different today – and that is ok. I am going to do my best to learn all about your classroom and I am hoping you can help me”. Always choose kindness over being right. 

3. Ask questions – unapologetically 

Asking questions sounds easy enough until you feel like you’ve already asked your fair share. Anyone in a new job knows this feeling. The ‘oh no’ feeling you get when you have another question but you’ve already asked 3. I promise, it is okay not to know. No one expects you to go about your day seamlessly like a 10 year teacher. Ask questions to school staff and ask questions to the students. Here are some of the BEST questions to ask as an OT: 

For school staff

  • (Insert student name here) seems to be having a hard time today, what strategies can I use to support them?
  • What is the protocol for end of day/bus routines? 
  • Which students in the class would benefit from additional support today?

For students

  • What is your routine for (insert activity here)?
  • How can I support you today? How will I know when/if you need a break?

To all the new OT’s who are beginning their journey in September 2021 – you’ve got this.

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The Author

Melissa Turnbull

Enjoying the journey as an Elementary Occasional Teacher for the Lambton Kent District School Board and the Thames Valley District School Board. I am a recent graduate of a Master of Professional Education program with a focus on teaching students with exceptionalities. I am a lover of learning and have a passion for incorporating play in the classroom. Currently, I am navigating the road to becoming a permanent teacher with a sense of humour and a huge smile on my face.

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