Frequently Asked Questions About Teaching High School Psychology
Answers provided by Amy Fineburg, Spain Park High School, Hoover, AL
What is the demand for high school psychology teachers?
High school psychology is offered in more than 5,000 schools nationwide. Overall, that's about half of all schools that offer some sort of psychology class, whether it be a one semester course or a year-long AP Psychology course.
The demand for a course in a school can be driven by several factors, not the least of which is student interest and teacher interest in offering the subject.
One way to find out about the possible demand for teachers in specific areas, as well as basic information on pay scales and other benefits, is to look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Department of Labor. It's available at most libraries, and online for free.
What kind of degree do I need to become a high school psychology teacher?
The type of degree required will depend on the state in which you are seeking employment. You should inquire with your state's board of education or the local college of education to see what you would need. Likely, you will need a certification in social studies, which includes psychology. Perhaps you could obtain this through a master's program. You would also be certified to teach history, economics, government, etc. You could also become a school psychologist, who does not necessarily teach psychology to students (although I know of some school psychologists who do teach a course), but they mainly provide mental health services and testing to a school district.
What would be a typical starting salary?
Starting salary depends on the state in which you are seeking employment, and in some cases, the local school district. Some districts, due to local tax revenue, can pay more than others. Pay is typically higher in suburban school districts. Check with your state Department of Education or the local districts' websites.
How competitive are the positions that are available?
Teaching positions in some subjects are competitive (math, traditional sciences), and social studies positions can be. Whether you teach psychology will be the issue. If the school already has psychology, it may be that there is a teacher already who teaches the course, limiting your ability to do so (unless demand for the course increases). If the school doesn't have psychology, offering that course can be part of your job negotiation. You would likely have to teach another course and then offer psychology the next year.
Where would be a good place to find job openings?
Go to the local school districts' websites in the spring. That is when they start posting jobs. They will not likely post for psychology specifically (unless they have a popular program that is losing its teacher). They will likely post for social studies, and then you can inquire about whether psychology would be an option.
For more information, contact any member of the APA TOPSS Committee.
This article appeared in the Winter 2008 Eye on Psi Chi magazine (Vol 12, Issue 2)