The Department of Psychology
Dr. Jean LacourDuring my studies here at CSLA, I have explored and taken advantage of many career- enhancing opportunities. These activities include serving as a teacher's assistant, a research assistant, and a Psi Chi Officer. In these positions, I was able to develop my tutoring skills, gain valuable research experience, and practice organizational skills. My richest educational experience, however, came from my appointments as a teaching associate. The opportunity to teach and manage my own classes gave me a greater understanding of the collegiate teaching profession.
I am fortunate enough to be a product of our department's "Teaching Psychology" program. It is my opinion that not enough students know about this program or have a clear understanding of its function and purpose. Unfortunately, the graduate program in Teaching Psychology is not officially recognized as a degree option (unlike options in Applied Behavior Analysis or Marriage, Family and Child Counseling). Consequently, literature describing the course and its requirements is not widely available. I am writing this article to inform and inspire those students who have the potential and ambition for a career in teaching psychology.
The Teaching Psychology series (PSY 588) is usually taken by graduate students pursuing a Master of Arts in General Psychology. The students must have advanced to candidacy and have demonstrated academic proficiency. Regardless of one's academic history, each student's fitness for the program is determined by the instructor. Rarely is a student turned down for participation in the first quarter of the 3-quarter program.
The Series. The first quarter of PSY 588 is a typical graduate seminar covering the topic of "Teaching Psychology." Topics of discussion include each student's interests and goals, the student's area of expertise, and experiences with varied teaching personalities. The main activity in the first quarter is the preparation of lectures. Typically, students are able to choose areas of interest such as Developmental, Learning, Abnormal, or Cognitive Psychology and develop introductory lectures. The later weeks of the first quarter consist of students delivering lectures to the professor and the other seminar members (who pose as naive students). Speaking skills, classroom management techniques, and poise are taught and developed at this stage. Most importantly, the student's understanding of their subject is scrutinized and improved. There are few more alarming experiences than a peer or instructor stating, "You do not even understand it yourself!" It was at this stage that I began to realize that my knowledge of psychology may have been adequate for a student, but not for an instructor.
This quarter is a rite of passage for novice instructors. The presiding professor evaluates the students' abilities and determines their eligibility for advancement to the next stage. In order to advance, a student must demonstrate proficiency in their topic of interest, the ability to devise lectures on unfamiliar topics, and rudimentary speaking skills. Some students have repeated the first section of 588 in order to display the required competency. This step is sometimes necessary to ensure the quality of the second quarter participants.
The second stage of the program consists of "team-teaching" or module teaching. This portion of the program allows the student-teacher to get in front of an actual PSY 150 classroom and practice their teaching skills. A group of student-teachers assembles to teach a complimentary group of introductory topics. They take turns presenting the lectures prepared the previous quarter. Under the supervision of the presiding professor, they also write and administer mid-term examinations on their topics. As a team, the student-teachers participate in managing all aspects of the class. The PSY 150 students complete evaluations on each teacher that are carefully examined by the supervising professor. These evaluations become the source of the professor's critical comments and areas for additional instruction. Those student-teachers who are able to improve as a result of this critique will advance to the final stage of the program.
The final quarter of the program consists of teaching an entire section of PSY 150. Student- teachers devise an entire quarter's lesson plan that includes lecture topics, exams and other course requirements. Students continue to evaluate the teacher and are encouraged to communicate directly with the supervising professor. By the end of this quarter, the student- teacher is an experienced PSY 150 Instructor. Upon completion of this series, twelve units of PSY 588 can be applied toward the student's graduate program.
Who should pursue this program? The majority of students in our General Psychology option are preparing for doctoral studies. This preparation typically consists of graduate level methodology and statistics classes and other courses that improve their candidacy for a Ph.D. program. Most non-clinical Ph.D. programs are looking for applicants who have academic teaching as a career goal. Is there a better way to demonstrate this career aspiration than participating in the 588 series? Students accepted for doctoral study can enter their program with actual college teaching experience behind them. This would free up resources for the main emphasis of doctoral study and scholarly research.
Students pursuing the Master's as a terminal degree should also consider this program. Permanent positions as Junior College Instructors are available to individuals with a Master's degree. Junior colleges are looking for instructors that would dedicate their careers to the institution. This would include participation in scholastic committees, advising students, and furthering the efforts of the department. This would be an ideal position for those content with teaching at this level.
Finally... A Master's degree with collegiate teaching experience is an asset for any student of psychology. Part-time teaching, whether during doctoral studies or as a career sideline, can provide a handy source of income. It is in this aspect that I have found this program most rewarding. As a part-time instructor for our department, I have been able to support myself and stay on campus. This allowed me greater flexibility for my research time and provided me with a deeper knowledge of my own field. With the hopes of entering a Ph.D. program in the fall, I will leave CSLA with invaluable tools and experiences.