I do love getting inquiries about our fine profession. As my BFF teacher blogger friend, Mrs. Mimi says, getting an education degree is the biggest purchase she has made. It’s good to know if working in education is a good match for you. AGREED. I accidentally looked at my student loan balance the other day, saw the 2034 payoff date, and shed a little tear. It’s best to know if school psychology is right for you before you throw down years of your life and heaps of cash. So, without further ado, here you go:
1) Is it true that school psychologists mostly do only assessment, writing reports, and doing paperwork?
Yes. Doh! I bet you did not see that coming. My blog is mostly about the non-assessment times—the counseling, the teachable moments, the funny interactions and the curious ways I navigate Bureaucracy Monsters. That is because no one would read a blog about me writing psychoeducational assessments. “Hey gang! I just thought of a new way to describe the phonological segmentation subtest!” Zzzzzz.
That being said, I have two points.
First, psychoeducational assessment is fun. I enjoy it. I like figuring out the puzzle of how a kid learns best, having the one-on-one interaction with kids, helping them see their strengths, and weaving in sneaky social-emotional assessment along the way. I think the way kids approach tasks, how they react to success and failure, what they do when tasks become hard, and what they say during testing is more important than the score. Sure, giving the same test a zillion times can be boring, but each kid approaches it in a different way, so it makes it okay. It is an opportunity to have therapeutic moments in the context of kids’ most important job—learning and doing well in school.
Second, report writing can be fun. Okay, fun is a strong word. It is certainly time consuming and can be redundant. I would rather be with kids than writing about kids, but I see the report as a way to communicate all the gems of information I found out about a student with the teachers, parents, support staff, and even the student. If my report changes someone’s view on the student, then they are more likely to change how they interact or teach the student. It’s one of those subtle ways to make a difference in a kid’s life. It doesn’t make for good Hollywood movies or blog posts, but it can be powerful stuff.
Third, (fine, so I have more than two points—quelle surprise) I have a unique situation that I have crafted for myself so I don’t do just testing and report writing. I am in a fairly progressive district in that they have funding structures set up for increased counseling time at school sites. An even more progressive district would have Response to Intervention and there would be even less testing, more intervention. Also, I am part time in the school district and part time in private practice (see question 4 below) so I get a mix.
2) What are the things you like the most about your job? The yoots! Obviously. That answer is way too easy. Some of the other things I enjoy: the variety, the action/drama, the collaboration with others, the school schedule (como se dice SPRING BREAK and summers off?), the challenge, seeing inspirational teaching, and talking with tons of different people every day. I’m an ENFJ, I thrive in social chaos.
3) What do you dislike? Knock knock. Who’s there? The Bureaucracy MONSTER.
It’s always there. It always knocks on my door and has me fill out a piece of paper I already filled out 4 times. Like the little Weight Watchers Monster, it is lurking everywhere. Only instead of donuts (yum) it lurks with paperwork that I have to do. It steals away my time with the kids. It keeps me from having a working plug in my office which creates a trip wire situation when I plug in my laptop or baby space heater since there's no heat. It prevents a nice quiet space to work in with a working phone and voicemail. Oh, my kingdom to have voicemail…Boo on the Bureaucracy Monster.
Another hazard of our profession is that it’s a job that is very hard to employ traditional time management skills, even if you are a super organized nerdy nerd like myself. ** When you have a never-ending to-do list and no real way to prioritize one kid over another, you end up being frantically paralyzed on some days. And unlike a corporate job, the result of not getting to your action item has an effect not on a bottom line, but on kids lives. Not to get all hero complex on you, that’s just a perspective I have when I don’t get to all my students in a day. Truth is, they survive, but I find myself wanting to do more, Every. Single. Day. If you like a sense of completion, you will not like this job. Sorry, but there are few nice and neat therapy boxes. You do your best, plant the seeds, and hope they grow.
4)What is the difference between a masters/specialist-level and a Ph.D-level school psychologist? What are the advantages of having a Ph.D.?
We have established that I loved school so much I played it on the weekends. I get giddy when I see Target’s back to school ads. A Ph.D. was a clear choice for a school nerd like me. Now, if you are deciding between a Masters level or Ph.D. level program, here’s some things to consider:
Lemmie break it down, and people, do correct me if there are situations in your states that are different. In California, you do not need a Ph.D. to be a school psychologist, but some school psychologists have Ph.Ds. You DO need a Ph.D. to be a clinical psychologist (or commonly referred to just as “psychologist”). I realize this doesn’t make sense, semantically, that a psychologist is different from a school psychologist. But it is. I will put them in a hierarchy from least training/time to most training/time. More is not always better, mind you there are FAB masters level school psychologists, and Ph.D. level psychologists that I wonder if their license came out of a lucky cracker jack box.
a) Masters Level/Specialist School Psychologist: As the name implies, it requires a Masters degree. Usually it takes about 2 years coursework and 1 year internship. You are ready to go work in a school district.
b) Licensed Educational Psychologist: This exists only in California, as far as I know. This is a school psychologist (M.A. or Ph.D.) who has 3 or more years experience and can pass a state test to do private practice. They can do psychoeducational assessments and therapy as long as the therapy is for a school related issue.
c) Ph.D. Level School Psychologist: Ph.D. programs in school psychology usually take 5-7 years on average. You typically get your M.A. and credential along the way to getting your Ph.D. When you finish, you are ready to go to work in a school district with fancier business cards and possible a slightly higher pay scale. You can thrown down, “Um, that’s DOCTOR Branstetter, Ms. Annoying Advocate who doesn’t really understand how these things work.” Other advantages: You can teach at the University level to train future school psychologists, some districts may be more likely to hire you because you have more training.
d) Licensed Psychologist: This requires a Ph.D. and TONS of post-doctoral supervised clinical hours of experience. You also have to take a state and national test and pay a hojillion dollars for the privilege of taking them. Oh, did I say that outloud? I’m still a little bitter. Anyhoo, a licensed psychologist can do private practice, which includes psychoeducational assessment and counseling. They are not limited to only kids and school-related issues.
What’s important for people considering school psychology is that the job is exactly the same if you are employed by a school district, regardless if you have a M.A. or Ph.D. I do the same work as my friends without Ph.Ds. If you are content to work in the school in this role, no need to get a Ph.D.
Advantages of the Ph.D. include more training (usually in the area of research and clinical/counseling training), fancier business cards, and the ability to go on and do private practice. This is what I did. I got my school psychology M.A. and credential, began working in the schools and simultaneously did my dissertation while working part-time (oh! The painful memories!) A dissertation is no easy feat, my friends, especially while working in your first few years as a school psychologist. But I survived, and then did additional post-doctoral work to be a psychologist (again, a licensed psychologist credential is a whole new set of training, tests, and supervised professional experience).
Oh, and I don't know how Ed.Ds or PsyDs fit into all this. If anyone does, do explain.
5) Why are you so awesome?
Okay, fine, no one has ever asked me that.
* Of course, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t offer a disclaimer. My advice is based (and biased toward) my own experiences. It’s probably pretty Californiocentric as well. Don’t go makin’ life changes on my word only. I don’t want to get hate Email down the road: You said you loved your job and I hate mine! **What? You don’t use a label maker to label all your spice jars and put them in alphabetical order too? Huh.