Helping teachers stay in the classroom
Occupational therapist Allyson Muir is one of five rehabilitation managers working in the Rehabilitation Program at the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). The BCTF is the only teachers’ association in North America that provides a rehabilitation program to support teachers with short- and long-term disabilities to return to work as soon as possible.
In monitoring the rehabilitation plans of teachers in her assigned school districts, Allyson oversees the work of the other rehabilitation professionals, including occupational therapists. They provide services to teachers who have a variety of disabilities and illnesses — everything from accidents either on the job or outside the job, cancer, diabetes and surgery. An increasingly common occupational in-jury in teachers is voice dysfunction. Sometimes after years of overuse, their vocal cords may be strained or damaged, causing weakness or loss of their voice.
Among the most common conditions that they deal with are those related to anxiety and depression. Occupational therapists’ knowledge of the effects of a psychosocial illness on performance is very helpful in these situations. “For a person coping with depression, we could recommend a graduated return to work; for example, starting part-time, then increasing to 75 percent of their work week, and so on, until they are back 100 percent,” explains Allyson.
One of the goals of the Rehabilitation Program is to prevent people from having to take time off work in the first place, but this is not always easy. Some teachers fail to report their occupational injuries and diseases either due to fear of repercussions or failure to recognize the seriousness of the injury or disease until it is too late. “Some teachers can be perfectionists and have trouble admitting that they need help. Unfortunately we often don’t see these people until things are really falling apart,” she notes.
Prevention can save the school district money by avoiding the expense of substitute teachers and the BCTF can save money by not having to pay salary indemnity benefits. Keeping teachers at work or arranging for the help they need to return to their jobs can take a load off a school administrator’s mind and help valued employees maintain and enjoy their jobs. — Vanessa Ong
For more information, contact Allyson Muir at email@example.com.
This article first appeared in the September/ October 2002 issue of Occupational Therapy Now magazine published by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.
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