SASP-Student Corner

Tricks of the trade: Becoming the teacher you aspire to be

Suggested steps and activities for securing a teaching position

By Jennifer M. Cooper and Kaleigh Bantum

Many students pursuing a doctorate in school psychology share the goal of entering academia following graduation. Others wish to work in clinical or school settings, but aspire to teach as adjunct faculty. The national shortage of qualified trainers of school psychology gives credence to achieving this professional goal, but not without the necessary training and preparation (Clopton, & Haselhuhn, 2009). Whether the goal is to become a faculty member at a large research institution, work as adjunct faculty, or simply pursue a teaching assistant position as a graduate student, an individual must be willing to put in the work of learning how to become an effective teacher. The goal of this article is to assist school psychology students with an interest in teaching by describing some suggested steps and activities for securing a teaching position. A set of guiding principles for beginning teachers is also presented. While this is not an exhaustive list, our goal is to provide a solid foundation that students can build upon according to their individual professional goals and aspirations. A word to the wise: teaching is indeed one of the most important and influential activities that an individual may be called to do, but only if it is done well.

Just as students prepare for many of the important milestones in their graduate education — taking the GRE, applying to graduate school, applying to practicum/internship sites, and completing comprehensive exams — it’s important to do the necessary homework beforehand when it comes to teaching. Taking a good educational psychology course will introduce students to the most widely used theories of learning and cognitive development, modalities and assessment of learning, academic motivation, and social and emotional development. This will serve as a critical foundational anchor for course planning and instructionalapproaches. Investing in good resources about teaching is a simple, straightforward approach, but one that should not beminimized or looked over. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when evidencebased teaching strategies exist, especially when they’re such great reads! A few of our favorite teaching resources include the following: Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman’s "How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching"; Bean’s "Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom"; and Bain’s "What the Best College Teachers Do."

Another step to preparing for the role of a future teacher is to research existing services, programming and specialized training opportunities that may be offered at an individual’s college or university. An example of such a program is the Preparing Future Faculty program that was part of a national initiative by the Association of American Colleges and Universities that encouraged higher education institutions across the country to re-think and reorganize the preparation of doctoral students who aspire to become faculty. Alternatively, students may be able to pursue a specialization or minor in college teaching as a part of their training program. Additionally, courses focused on teaching at the college levelor related topics in higher education may be offered through education or student affairs departments. If a student’s college or university does not offer these types of opportunities, many institutions do have resources available that focus on faculty and teaching assistant development through periodic trainings on teaching methods, course design, and course/student evaluation. Finally, be sure to look for training sessions geared towardstudents interested in academia at our national conferences such as APA and NASP.

As students contemplate the type of teacher they would like to become, they should identify current faculty members,peers, mentors and others who exhibit those traits as experienced teachers. Setting up a time to talk with them about their teaching experiences, tricks of the trade, and advice to students hoping to become future trainers of school psychology is a great way to learn more about the prospect of teaching. Talking to a trusted mentor or experienced professor is also a great way to research what is involved in the academic job search andpromotion and tenure process. Scheduling a time to observe them in class and debrief afterward about their teaching methods is another great way to gain insight into the mind of an effective teacher. Shadowing in the form of assisting in the creation of an assignment or guest lecturing with feedback from the instructor are also great ways of getting hands-on experience. If graduate students plan to guest lecture, it is best to talk to the professor early about the expectations of the lecture that can include defining goals, outlining the content of the lecture, and creating opportunities for feedback from the student participants after the lecture.

Once an individual knows that teaching is the direction in which they’d like to continue, it’s time to look for teaching opportunities. As graduate students, applying for a teaching assistant position is highly recommended, as it is likely to provide invaluable experience for students interested in entering the professoriate. Individuals can contact local colleges/universities to ask if they hire doctoral students to teach introductory or intermediate-level psychology and/or education courses. Depending on where a student is in their training program, typical courses that school psychology students are prepared to teach include: introduction to psychology, educational psychology, introduction to research methods, human development, and courses focusing on students with disabilities.

However, before we get ahead of ourselves, there are a few preliminary steps for students to undertake to successfully market themselves for a teaching position. First, preparing a philosophy of teaching statement is a great exercise in articulating the kind of teacher a student strives to become and the types of activities they plan to incorporate in their instructional approaches. In general, a philosophy of teaching statement includes: an individual’s conception of teaching and learning; a description of how they teach; and justification for why they teach that way. Examples of these statements can be found through a simple online search. These narratives are frequently requested when seeking academic positions (on its own or as part of a teaching portfolio) and as a component of an individual’s dossier for promotion and tenure. Keep in mind that the first draft of this statement will inevitably undergo many rounds of revisions, but overall it will provide a foundation to build upon throughout a student’s teaching journey.

Also, students should organize their curriculum vitae in a way that highlights teaching experiences when applying for a teaching position. It is important to be as descriptive as possible. For instance, individuals should describe the course, its goals, the number and type of students, their level of responsibility for the course, and the teaching and assessment methods used. The responsibilities of teaching assistants may vary substantially from one university to another, so when describing any previous experiences, include relevant details and items that would standout from other job candidates. Furthermore, individuals should not limit themselves to classroom-based responsibilities only. Teachers frequently have other roles such as advising students and managing instructional resources. Including these other responsibilities will help a potential teacher to market him or herself as a multifaceted professional.

To conclude, we’ve created six guiding principles that were particularly helpful to us as beginning teachers that we’d like to share. Once a teaching position has been secured be it as a teaching assistant, adjunct faculty member, or guest lecturer, we believe it is important to stick to a few guiding principles as a way of facilitating personal growth as a teacher. However, we encourage all teachers to develop their own guiding principles as part of their teaching philosophy.

  1. First and foremost, an effective teacher is always a student first; acknowledging that learning and teaching are long-life pursuits holds individuals accountable for their own ongoing professional development.

  2. Preparation is essential. This one is straightforward; if teachers are not prepared, students will know and the instruction won’t be nearly as effective as possible.

  3. Know the audience. What works in a small graduate seminar may not be nearly as successful in large undergraduate survey course. Getting background information about the number of students in the class, if they’re freshman or seniors, and if it’s a required upper-level course or a general education requirement will help in tailoring the teaching methods and strategies to meet the students’ learning needs.

  4. It’s important for teachers to go outside of their comfort zone to try different teaching methods and be responsive to learners’ needs. Traditional lectures are not the only way to teach and teachers are increasingly looking for innovative approaches to instruction through the use of technology, collaborative learning, and experiential activities, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Case studies and role-playing are two activities that are particularly germane to our field because they allow for the application of acquired knowledge.

  5. Engage in frequent assessment; this applies to us, as teachers, as well as for students. Research has shown that frequent assessment through the use of weekly quizzes or assignments allows teachers to identify gaps in students’ knowledge and adapt the instructional approaches to better meet their learning needs (National Research Council, 2001; Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman 2010). Allowing students to evaluate how the course is progressing and the effectiveness of the instructional approaches provides useful information to the teacher in terms of their pedagogical practices and approach to the course.

  6. Finally, flexibility and adaptation is the name of the game in teaching. In this way it is very similar to school psychology practice. A teacher may have a game plan, but upon learning something new discover the need to alter the original plan. Possessing the ability to “go with the flow” and adapt as needed is indeed one of the traits consistent among highly effective teachers (Bain, 2004). While this undoubtedly comes with experience, as beginning teachers, students can help themselves by being prepared with a Plan B in case that video clip in the PowerPoint decides not to cooperate. But remember, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”


Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Clopton, K.L., & Haselhuhn, C.W. (2009). School psychology trainer shortage in the USA: Current status and projections for the future. School Psychology International, 30, 24-42.

National Research Council. (2001). “Front matter.” Knowing what students know: The science and design of educational assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.