Guest post: An interview with a school psychologist.
Erik from JustJobs.com has kindly provided an interview conducted with a school psychologist for PsychoHawks. If you’ve ever considered becoming a school psychologist (more commonly called an educational psychologist in the UK), this may give answers to questions you have. Even if you’re not particularly interested in this path of psychology, it’s an interesting read! I thank Erik, and JustJobs, once again for their contribution.
Interview with a School Psychologist
Considered working as a School psychologist? This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect in the position, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more. This is a true career story told anonymously, to get you closer to the truth about this line of work.
What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field? Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
A normal day for me starts at 8 in the morning. The minute I step into any of my three offices, the barrage of calls, notes, meetings and requests for a go-see are endless. But I don’t mind. You see, I love kids. I see them every day for work and I never get tired of them. If you look inside the large bag I always carry with me to work you will see that it’s filled with lots of testing materials and toys. Yes, I’m allowed to play around on the job and yes I get into a lot of cat fights. All in a day’s work, folks, all in a day’s work. What do I do? I’m a school psychologist. Have been one for three years now.
What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what response worked best?
I suppose being a woman helps in my kind of job. Being able to show emotions and not having a child feel weird about it can be a plus although not all the time. My ethnicity has never been a source of problem, a hesitation maybe, but nothing that stopped me from doing my job properly.
Do you speak any language other than English? If so, how has it helped you in your job?
Aside from English, I speak two other languages – Tagalog and Spanish.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
In a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say this job is a 10 in terms of the satisfaction it gives me. Being able to help kids with their problems, in fact just making sense of what they’re going through and helping them reach their full potential is more than just rewarding. It fulfils me in ways no amount of money will ever do.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
One of the toughest lessons I ever had to learn as a school psychologist happened when I was just starting out. Back then, I was so idealistic and naïve. There was this little boy named Eric. His teacher wanted to have him placed in a special education class and I was asked to make a classroom observation. I had an entirely different recommendation for the boy but the teacher and his parents were adamant. The principal thought it wasn’t cost effective to give in to their demands so we made a compromise. You see, being given the authority to decide what is the best for a child does not necessarily mean having the power to implement it. Several other concerns will affect this decision-making process and the result does not always come up to your expectations. That I learned the hard way.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
Just being able to qualify as a school psychologist takes a lot of effort and time. And still all that training and education will not be enough to teach you everything you need to know about handling kids effectively. For one, no one ever warned me that being a school psychologist meant being able to multi task. On the job, I learned how to eat my lunch while devising an Individual Education Plan for Stacy. As a school psychologist I also learned how to play detective, putting together clues and hints, just so I could understand what it is that bothers Erin so much that she can’t make any friends at all.
Ending up as a school psychologist was not part of my plan. I was going to be a doctor, find a cure for cancer and be a renowned noble prize winner. But life took a different turn when my sister’s best friend decided to kill herself at the age of 13.
What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
There are no strange things in this kind of job. What would have struck others as bizarre will not strike you as such. You get that way when you spend as much time as I do with kids. You open your mind to every possibility and you leave it at that. It’s the only way to cope.
On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
On a good day, when things are really going well, I see my shyest student sing her heart out, to the delight and pride of her single mother. This makes me feel good and warm all over. This reminds me of why I love my job and why I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
When nothing seems to go right, I see two of my girls fighting loudly in the hall, saying terrible things to each other, that only adults should even know about. This tears me up but I keep a straight face. Again, I’m reminded that I’ve yet to hear from these kids’ moms. That despite the many messages I left on their machine, the multiple visits, they’ve remained indifferent to my pleas. This is what I hate the most. Feeling and actually being helpless to do anything.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
They say that to stay sane, a school psychologist must find other things to focus on after a long and stressful day at work. I agree. It’s true, being one is mighty stressful. But my family keeps me grounded. In case you’re wondering, my pay range falls within the $34,800 to $48,800 range. Is this enough compensation? You bet. You have to understand, the rewards of being a school psychologist does not depend much on what I earn although it’s nice being able to come home to a safe neighborhood.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
The most rewarding moments of this job does not have anything to do with money. It has everything to do though with the genuine laughter that I hear from Kevin whose dad just passed away a couple of months ago. It has everything to do with seeing little Johnny finally learn his ABC’s after weeks and weeks of testing and one on one counseling.
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Every day is a challenge for me. But deciding if Kevin needs my help more than Caroline is the least of my favorites. If I had a choice, I would bring every child’s profile home with me and work on them until my eyes drop. But I learned long ago that this cannot be healthy, both for me and the child I’m concerned about so I don’t do that anymore.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
With very rare exception, a master’s degree in psychology or counseling is the minimum requirement to be working at this job. All school psychologists must be certified and licensed by the state they choose to work in. On top of this, you have to be patient, stable and mature. If listening is not your strongest suit, then this job is definitely not for you. Can’t stand kids? Stay away from this job and go work in a bank. Above all, you must be curious and inquisitive, with an enduring passion for learning more about human behavior and helping kids reach their full potential. To be really honest, this is not the kind of post I would recommend to everyone. It requires competence, long hours of training and an honest desire to help.
Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do? How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
The most common misconception about school psychology is that it is the same as educational psychology, that these two are interchangeable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like any teacher whose office hours are based on the children’s school hours, I too have my days off. But the work of a school psychologist does not always end when the school day ends.
Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
All in all, being a school psychologist is no walk in the park. But it moves my heart in ways no amount of money or prestige ever could. This is something that I can definitely continue to do for the rest of my life.