A masters degree in educational psychology or psychology is required along with a credential in Advanced Pupil Personnel Services (Advanced PPS). While it is optional many school psychologists are also Licensed Educational Psychologists (LEP) and may have a PhD in educational psychology.
I graduated from Ohio State U. with a Fine Arts degree and worked as an art and dance teacher for the city Parks and Rec Dept in an after school recreation center in a segregated low income community in Columbus, Ohio. I was a lone white 22 year old young woman sent into a world very unfamiliar to me with the good fortune of having a wonderfully supportive experienced all minority staff who saw my look of “a deer in headlights” and who buoyed me daily with the challenges of being accepted by the kids and teens who were perplexed, along with myself, as to why I was sent there. I eventually understood the value of my presence. It was a hard and invaluable year of my being the student as much as the teacher. It informed my personal sensitivity to minority challenges and my career trajectory thereafter. A great gift that I did not recognize at the time. I moved to CA completed a teaching credential and landed a job in a K-8 school teaching for 7 years. This was also a challenging experience and invaluable to my ultimate career as a school psychologist. I fully understood the teacher’s perspective. I didnt love teaching, I loved helping kids and parents solve their relational challenges, so I pursued a masters degree at CA State U. in educational psychology and worked for one year as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, then returned to CSU to complete an Advanced PPS credential and landed a school psychologist position in the second largest school district in the US. Los Angeles Unified School District is a culture unto itself. Your first year is sink or swim learning their structure, protocol, systems and procedures in addition to doing your daily job. You find colleagues who have been where you are and will take your call to show you the ropes. There is a special place in heaven for them and you try to remember to do the same for new hires that follow you.
School psychologists may have a number of schools to serve, therefore, you travel school-to-school during the week. If you are fortunate to have a single school assignment there’s a chance you will have your own office and create closer working relationships. No two days are exactly alike because there are different types of parent, teacher, administrative or distrct meetings to attend with different people and challenges presented daily. There can be behavioral crises to respond to with children in classrooms or on playgrounds, and though its more rare sometimes school-wide crises can occur that require emergency response. However, there is a general daily schedule of student evaluations, comprehensive report writing, individual or group student counseling sessions and parent meetings required by law to present results of a student evaluation.
Helping children acquire new skills for understanding and managing their social emotional challenges. Helping parents understand their childs special needs and ways that they can support them. Being an advocate for students to receive the special education services to which they are legally entitled. Supporting teachers in discovering new ways to help their students succeed with learning and behavior in school.
The most valuable skill that I helped young people acquire that is the key to their success in adult life was building social skills. It is incredibly exciting to see a socially struggling child of any age begin to make a friend, find the appropriate words to be assertive on the playground, learn to take turns, congratulate the game winner or listen and express empathy. Thats when I felt the joy in knowing I chose the right career path.
Since this is a career with a steady flow of new information regarding child psychology, learning strategies and assessment tools its important to stay current with new findings and research. School district in-services, professional conventions and related organizations offer trainings and speakers that are stimulating and infuse this career with encouragment and the joy of honing skills to help others.
The “cherry on the cake” is that you usually have the holidays and summer breaks that the children and teachers have, though school psychologists usually have a week or two less summer break. Some school districts have year-round school schedules offering the opportunity to work more and earn more.
Some daily scheduling freedom and freedom of movement within your day and week
This is a career and not a 9 to 5 job. There can be long hours as well as writing of long reports often at home or on weekends to analyze and hone comprehensive evaluation reports bearing the weight of knowing it can make a difference in a child’s education and daily life. There can be challenging emotionally charged moments with students, parents, teachers under stress that require skills of keen perception and de-escalation. Sometimes child abuse reports must be filed and the aftermath dealt with. Some child advocacy meetings may result in strong challenges from parents sometimes accompanied by special legal counsel requiring the school psychologist to be socially skilled and clinically prepared to justify recommendation for services.
If you have a number of schools to serve and a large case load there can be frustration that you cannot do as thorough a job as you would like to do. And if you have a number of schools you will have to transport all your testing equipment and office supplies from school to school with no guarantee of a quiet office to use for testing and counseling. I have been placed in store rooms, musty book rooms, mop closet, lounge outside a restroom, unused classroom with stacks of dusty desks and chairs, cafeteria, outdoor picnic table under canopy, school nurse’s office on her day out. You name it I have worked with kids there in a school. Having your own office in your own school is great AND you are on call-all day-every day, so you may not get your list of “to do’s” or sometimes “must do’s” done. Being flexible and having your home office is a survival skill for this job.
If you enjoy school culture and working with children or teens and know you want to be a school psychologist find a university that has a strong school psychology credentialing program. You need a masters degree in educational psychology or basic psychology to enter a school psychology credential program. If you have the advantage of being a teacher many of the school psychology programs have late afternoon and evening classes to accommodate the working teacher. If you have completed your masters in basic psychology you can proceed directly to the school psychology credential program. Getting a job depends upon your flexibilty and geographical location. Sometimes your university or professors can give you leads or connect you with county or school district personnel offices for job interviews. I had the experience of working in two small school districts during my school psychology practicum. Small towns with small school districts have very few school psychologists, sometimes only 2 or 3 with minimal turnover, but if you land one you become part of a small town “everybody knows everybody” culture which has its pros and cons. Working for LAUSD with over 600 school psychologists usually offers more diversity, more job opportunity and career advancement along with tough assignments that test and grow skills on demand. In a metropolitan city there are often larger schools, longer commutes with greater challenges to building relationships and a team. Your people skills will make or break your ability to get the on-site school support you will need and to develop a team at those schools that may only see you one or two days a week. This job is hard work, long hours. And it usually provides job security, solid earnings, benefits and can be deeply rewarding with an opportunity to have a significant impact on the life of a child. You will retire with a full heart and lots of special memories as I did!