One of the advantages of social work is that it can be applied in many different areas. A popular area of emphasis for social work students is school social work.
As the name indicates, school social workers are employed in public and private schools. Many school districts employ multiple school social workers, some of whom might be assigned to a specific building or grade level. Others might move from one school to the next to help address students’ academic and social needs.
Working with kids has its benefits and detriments. On the positive side, as a school social worker, you have the opportunity to help guide and direct the positive development of youth. On the downside, school social workers often work with kids with very tough lives, which can be saddening and emotionally draining.
These are just two examples of the pros and cons of being a school social worker. Let’s explore a few more.
Pros of Being a School Social Worker
You Can Affect Positive Change
Ask any school social worker, and they’ll likely tell you that one of the best parts of the job is having the chance to affect other peoples’ lives for the better.
Whether you help a student succeed academically, support a family to find the resources they need to be healthier, or something in between, your actions can legitimately alter the course of a child’s life!
You Can Work With Many Different Types of Kids
Most problems and issues that kids face are pretty standard, but each child’s experience is different. You might work with one child with a learning disability, another child whose parents recently divorced, and yet another child who’s having trouble adjusting after moving to a new school. In each case, you’re presented with a different challenge and a different problem to solve.
Likewise, as a school social worker, you’ll work with children from different social and religious backgrounds, kids of different races and ethnicities, and kids with varying degrees of social, emotional, behavioral, or intellectual difficulties. You’ll see it all over the course of a single day!
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a school social worker is $54,880. However, the pay scale extends well above that to more than $69,000 per year.
Earning a higher salary depends on your educational level and years of experience. The more you get of both, the further you’ll move on the school’s pay scale. Considering many school social workers are on a nine-month contract, the compensation is quite good.
School systems often have excellent benefits packages for their certified staff. As a school social worker, you might enjoy benefits like:
- Health insurance, including medical, dental, and vision
- State pension with matching contributions
- Paid sick days
Some school districts also help pay for advancing your education. For example, if you have a master’s degree, the district might offer a stipend to offset the cost of post-graduate studies.
A Great Work Schedule
As noted earlier, school social workers often have a nine-month contract. This means having summers off!
Additionally, school social workers don’t have to work on weekends or holidays. You can expect a winter break and a spring break, too.
Sometimes, social workers in schools have longer contracts, like 10 months. Even so, you still get two months of time off over the year. That’s not bad at all!
School systems are good environments for building collegial connections with others. In your own school building, you might work with administrators, teachers, and classified staff to help advance goals for a student or group of students.
But your ability to form connections with other professionals doesn’t end there. You might work with social workers in different schools within your district or outside of your district, too. Of course, you’ll also have chances to work with kids, parents and guardians, and professionals from other lines of work.
Opportunities for Continued Learning
As noted earlier, some school districts help pay for part or all of the cost of continued learning for social workers. If you want to get an advanced degree, a certification, or simply attend a conference and earn continuing education credits, many school districts will chip in to pay for it.
In fact, many school districts pay for supplementary costs as well. For example, if you attend a national conference for social work, your district is likely to pay for transportation, accommodations, and even provide you with a daily food stipend. All of this is in addition to paying for registration fees and needed materials for the conference.
Additionally, if you’re pursuing a certification or degree, you might be granted extra time off to complete your studies. It’s not uncommon to travel to a college campus to take a class, and many school districts grant social workers the extra time they need to accommodate their studies.
It’s a Challenge – in a Good Way!
If you like a challenge, social work is an excellent career. With no two kids the same and no two days on the job the same, this line of work will keep you on your toes.
It’s an exciting job, too. Not everyone gets the chance to shape a child’s future. Yet social workers do that in many different ways each and every day. It’s not an easy job, but the challenges are worth it when you can help a kid improve their life.
High Job Satisfaction
As a result of all of the benefits outlined above, many social workers have high satisfaction with their job. At the top of the list is the ability to help others. But the good pay, excellent benefits, and great schedule are prime examples of why this is such a popular line of work.
Cons of Being a School Social Worker
Potentially Large Caseload
It’s not uncommon for one school to have one social worker. This means that you might have a caseload of dozens, if not hundreds of kids.
Now, every child in a school doesn’t need social work services. However, many children are in a situation in which social work services can greatly benefit their development. With so many kids in need and part of your caseload, this can be exhausting work.
Easily the worst part of this job is that it has the potential to be emotionally draining.
Seeing kids suffer is extremely difficult. They might struggle with mental health, behavioral issues, or have problems at home. They might not have many friends, be bullied, or not perform well academically.
Whatever the case, you will see kids each day that might be hanging on by a thread. Heartbreaking as that is, it’s your job to help improve their life. This comes with a lot of pressure that can make you feel stressed, worried, and even angry.
Lots of Red Tape
There are a lot of rules, policies, and regulations governing educational systems and social work. Bring those two things together, and you have a recipe for a lot of red tape.
Though you’ll spend a lot of time with kids, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders troubleshooting issues and affecting real change, you’ll also spend a lot of time sitting at your desk doing paperwork. This is not a fun part of the job, but it’s necessary to ensure proper care for kids.
Some Kids are Hard to Reach
While many children and their families are open and receptive to help, others are not. You’ll have kids in your office that don’t want to be there, who won’t talk to you, and who have an attitude. These interactions can make you wonder why you chose this line of work.
However, oppositional or defiant kids are often acting out and using defense mechanisms because they are so hurt. Your job is to provide unconditional support, nurture their growth, and help resolve the pain they feel. It’s a challenge, but a worthy one!