Road sign with “career” and decision arrow.

Career Change: From Occupational Therapy to Learning and Behavior Disorders

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be teaching high school seniors in the role of a special education teacher, I would have laughed and given my signature “yeah, right” statement. But as it turns out, life had other plans for me.

Before the move to education, what career field were you in?

I graduated from Spalding University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master’s of Occupational Therapy. I scored a job right after graduating at a short-term rehabilitation center in Corydon, Indiana.

I loved the fast-paced atmosphere and the progressive ability to make independent medical decisions for my patients. After working there for seven years, I made the change to move closer to home due to having a family. I found a job at a local long-term care and short-term rehab facility close to home with great flexibility. Life was good!

Where did your desire to move into education stem from? Did you always have an interest in special education?

The tables began to turn in 2018 when reimbursement changed the therapy game. Thousands of therapists across the country were laid off and companies were preparing for the worst. Patient caseloads diminished, leaving the remaining therapists with very few hours or the one lone therapist left with all the hours. Our independence in making medical decisions was being stripped away based on not what the patient needed but based on how much money they could make.

I began to dabble in First Steps Pediatric Therapy to brush up on my pediatric skills if I needed a backup plan. Having more free time, I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class, something I had never been able to do in the past with my daughter. There I saw the most amazing things happening in the classroom; I left with a smile on my face every single time.

In this classroom, they were doing occupational therapy type things! I immediately picked up on which students required help or modifications. I loved being there, so I began to ask around: What is this? How can I do this? Can I do this? I interviewed other special education teachers and shadowed them; they were doing everything so similarly to what I did as an occupational therapist.

Why did you choose Georgetown College to help you make this career change? What makes them stand out?

I then began my research of degrees. What did I have to do to make this transition? That is when I met and spent a lot of time speaking with Isabelle Felkamp. She is essentially the reason I picked Georgetown College. Isabelle answered every question I had about the programs, and I had a lot! She was always patient and kind with her answers, even when I would need to talk it out. She remained a constant. Changing careers is scary; going back to college was even scarier.

Why did you choose to pursue a Learning and Behavior Disorders certification with initial teaching certification program?

The Learning and Behavior Disorders (LBD) certification with initial certification program here at Georgetown has become an easy transition for me. I was not expecting that, to be honest. Thinking about going back to college at my age with a busy family had my stomach in constant knots.

I had never done online learning through college in my previous degree program, and I am a hands-on learner, so I was filled with many questions. Would I be able to handle this? Do I have time for this with my crazy busy family life?

Canvas has proven to be a user-friendly platform for learning. The professors I have had have all been available when needed and have provided a great learning experience. Communication with my advisor and admissions has also proven to be an easy and effective task for scheduling classes and paying tuition fees.

How do you feel the Learning and Behavior Disorders degree program is preparing you? What has stood out the most to you so far?

This LBD program has prepared me and improved my teaching experience by obtaining field hours. Anyone can read a book and gain knowledge about a subject, but standing in front of students and applying that knowledge is a whole different ballgame!

I have completed 200 hours of field experience so far. This, in my opinion, has prepared me the most in the pursuit of my LBD degree due to being a hands-on learner. I need to see it, not just read about it. I like how the program is set up to take classes, then use that knowledge in your field experiences. Bringing knowledge from books and discussions to real-life hands-on experiences is the ultimate learning tool.

What career change do you plan on pursuing once you’ve completed the Learning and Behavior Disorders Master’s program?

Teaching is a natural transition for me coming from occupational therapy. Teaching a patient to feed or dress themselves again to teaching medication management as an occupational therapist is not all that different from stepping into a classroom. I am still taking a task, finding a baseline, deciding on a plan of action, and then executing that plan, making modifications as needed. Both have the same goal in the end: for those I’m working with to be as independent as possible.