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So, You Want to Be a… School Psychologist?  

School psychologists use their expertise in mental health to give students the academic, social, and emotional support they need to succeed in school
What will I be doing all day?

School psychologists use their expertise in mental health to give students the academic, social, and emotional support they need to succeed in school; they also support educators’ ability to teach.

Responsibilities include:

conducting assessments of students’ academic and emotional abilities

providing therapeutic intervention to individual students

consulting with teachers, parents, and administrators about students’ behavioral issues

assisting educators in establishing safe and healthy classroom environments

guiding parents in dealing with their children’s issues

serving as a member of an interdisciplinary educational team dealing with the needs of students with disabilities

Do I have the personality for it?

A good school psychologist is patient, nonjudgmental, perceptive, analytical, and a critical thinker. Strong interpersonal skills and compassion for others is essential, as well as good written communication skills for report writing. A psychologist must have a strong sense of ethics and respect for clients’ confidentiality.

What kind of schooling do I need?

To work as a school psychologist, a master’s degree is required, which includes 60-66 graduate level credits and a 1,200-hour internship. Many programs also offer doctoral degrees in school psychology, which enables one to practice as a private practitioner, an administrator, or serve on a university faculty or research team.

What will my work environment be like?

The majority of school psychologists work in school settings, whether public or private. There are also options to work in community agencies, hospitals, clinics, universities, or in private practice.

What can I expect to make?

Many districts pay school psychologists on the same salary scale as teachers, which means salaries vary greatly according to state and district.

The average national salary: $65,000

Salary range, depending on years of experience and coursework beyond a master’s degree: $60,000–$140,000


Baltimore, MD
School Psychologist, KIPP Harmony Academy, Baltimore City Public Schools
M.A., CAS School Psychology, Towson University
Years in Field: 25


My Typical Day at Work

A school psychologist is trained specifically to work in a public school as part of an IEP Team. My responsibilities are to provide psychological services as prescribed under IDEA (the Individual with Disabilities Education Act), which is basically special education law. Those responsibilities can include individual or group counseling, teacher consultation, behavior intervention, and cognitive (IQ) or social/emotional/behavioral testing.

We also support the general education population. We may consult with teachers to support students academically and behaviorally in the classroom, provide individual or group skills-based counseling to non-IEP students, help parents connect with private therapists outside the school, and conduct professional development for school staff.

I work three days a week, dividing my schedule to dedicate one day for counseling/intervention, one day for testing, and one day for meetings. The IEP team has at least one meeting per year for each student in the special education system to review their progress and plan for the next year, and every student who is tested has at least two meetings before they can receive services. So, a lot of my time is spent in meetings!

For each assessment we do, we also need to write up a report. Considering that the average full-time school psychologist in Baltimore City conducts about 25 assessments per year, I might spend up to 250 hours annually writing reports. I try to do all of my writing at work, but I often end up writing reports at home on my own time in order to meet deadlines. Aside from assessment reports, we also write at least one progress report per year for each student we service, in which we discuss progress and update their annual goals. So the paperwork load is considerable!

Scheduling is crucial, since there can be a lot to juggle between my roles as consultant, clinician, diagnostician, and crisis interventionist. Things inevitably come up, and I will often have to reschedule a counseling session in order to attend a meeting or to intervene with a student in crisis. I’m fortunate to work with an amazing group of people who are respectful of my time and the constraints I work under.

How I Chose the Profession

School psychology was a practical way to utilize my interest in psychology and contribute financially to my family (though I wasn’t married yet when I applied to graduate school). I knew that I wanted my future husband to learn as long as possible, and I also wanted to be able to be home as much as possible for my future family. School psychology is unique within the psychology field in that you are marketable without a doctorate. Training for school psychology is a combined 63–66 credit master’s plus Certification of Advanced Study.

What I Love Most About the Field

I feel fortunate that I get to work alongside so many other caring, dedicated professionals. I particularly enjoy the colleagues I’ve been working with for the past 13 years at KIPP. I take pride in seeing my students succeed, and while I’d love to be helping the frum community, it’s still gratifying to know that my work is contributing positively to society in general. One aspect that I particularly enjoy is the analysis and problem-solving that goes into assessments as well as the challenge of working on a hard case (though I could do without all the report writing!).

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

Time management! Since special education is a legal process, we are bound by deadlines and other rules that can create stress and challenge our ability to give each student everything we feel they need.

It’s also difficult having to tell a parent and teacher that their child does not qualify for special education services. It can be frustrating to know that a child needs help but be unable to provide it, because they don’t meet the criteria to get that help under special education law. It’s hard to see a parent (and teacher) feel so helpless to help their child. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes anger, and it’s hard not to feel responsible for their pain, even though intellectually we know that we aren’t.

Another challenge I face, working specifically in an inner city, is the lack of resources available to many families. I see so many parents who want the best for the children and who are doing the best they can, but lack the resources to be able to give their child all that they want to.

Something I Wish People Knew About School Psychologists

School psychologists are not clinical psychologists. We are specifically trained to work in the school setting and to understand special education law.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

The field was starting to move in a more behavioral direction around the time I started my training. My program was very much in line with “data-based decision making” and a behavioral and consultative approach. Over the years, I’ve seen Baltimore City schools shift their focus to a more consultative model. While we still do a lot of counseling in the schools, the current theory is that by working with teachers to make data-based changes in their classrooms, we can have a greater impact on student behavior and learning.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Bear in mind your limitations. Many young men and women go into fields in psychology and social work because they want to help others. While that is admirable, the best way to help is to know your strengths, know your skill set, and know the limitations of your training.


Monsey, NY
School psychologist for the local public school district
M.S.Ed. School Psychology, Queens College
Years in Field: 22


My Typical Day at Work

I’m an employee of my local public school district working in two non-public schools (local girls’ yeshivos).

I love the variety in the job. There is the counseling/therapy; the consultations with teachers, administrators, and parents; and evaluations, which includes observing students and classes, testing, analyzing results, and writing up conclusions. I also attend lots of meetings at which, depending on the nature of the meeting, I might present or even chair.

To a certain degree, the school psychologist serves as case manager among all of the other special education service providers. (A district school psychologist works under the Special Education department, and often serves as the in-house case manager for all matters related to special education. This means being the initial contact person for parents who want to refer their child for evaluations and services. It also includes coordinating evaluations and walking the parents through the entire process from the referral until the actual services commence.)

A typical day may start with an informal consult in the hall on my way up to my office — a teacher checking in on one of her students, or wanting to discuss how to best address a specific need in her class. When I get up to my office, I return messages or emails — perhaps a parent calling with a general question about her daughter’s academic progress, a concern about a child’s behavior, or something related to a special education referral, or a coworker with an update about an evaluation or about a student we are both servicing. These phone calls can end up taking a while, but I love being able to connect with parents and help them improve their children’s lives (and their own).

Next, I start my regularly scheduled counseling sessions. I love to interact with the kids directly; sometimes I can see the progress immediately within that session, as a child applies a new skill, and sometimes the progress is only evident later — she’s doing better in school; she has more friends; she’s feeling better about herself.

Later in the day I may deal with paperwork, meet with students for evaluations, and speak with parents.

I also attend a weekly meeting with the school’s administrators and the district’s on-site special education teacher. Together, we discuss the students’ progress and brainstorm and develop action plans to help them further.

How I Chose the Profession

I’ve always been passionate about children and wanted a field where I could directly impact and improve their lives. I also have an analytical mind; in college, I was fascinated by my cognitive psychology course. School psychology offered the intrigue of figuring out why a particular student isn’t progressing as expected while also enabling me to work directly with children, which made it a natural choice for me. On a practical level, I knew that school psychology didn’t require a doctorate, which made sense for me at that juncture in my life. (Some of my colleagues do have doctorates, but having one is not a necessary prerequisite for working in a school system.)

How I Chose My Specialty

If you ask me what my specialty is, I’d have to say mind reading! Just kidding. But word on the street is that some kids think that psychologists can read their minds just by walking past them. Unfortunately, mind reading is not our thing (though it would sure come in handy!).

On a serious note, I do have a bilingual extension in Hebrew. This required three extra courses during graduate school and some additional state testing in English and Hebrew. In my current placement I don’t use this extension often, but I opted for it because it offers additional job security and flexibility. By law, certain bilingual students can only be evaluated by a certified bilingual evaluator.

What I Love Most About the Field

The ability to directly impact so many people’s lives — the kids, their families and their teachers.

What I Find Most Challenging About the Field

Sometimes it’s hard to fit everything into the day! A school psychologist fills so many roles, and there are times that people can’t possibly know how many other requests have simultaneously been made of you. Other challenges include the growing amount of paperwork that comes with the job, but I’m guessing that’s not unique to this field.

Occasionally, I’m stumped about a specific issue. That’s when I feel especially blessed to have talented supervisors and colleagues to brainstorm with.

I’ll Never Forget When

Because of the high level of confidentiality associated with my job, I can’t share any specific stories. But I’ve had funny situations regarding confidentiality. I once met with a lovely couple in my office regarding their daughter. The father asked if I was related to someone with the same last name. I laughed and said that he’s my husband. This father sent his warmest regards, but I explained that I couldn’t pass along the message due to confidentiality. At the end of our meeting, he again sent regards to my husband, at which point I said, “I’ll need signed consent for that!”

Something I Wish People Knew About School Psychologists

We’re good actresses! If we run into you in the store, we’ll act like we’ve never met you before; we’ll follow your lead and only acknowledge knowing you if you initiate. (Okay. Truth is, we’re human, too, so it’s possible that sometimes we’re not actually acting….)

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

Definitely an increase in paperwork! The increasing emphasis on accountability has affected the paperwork aspect of the job. Technology has also played a role; now that all team members can electronically log into a central file, everyone is required to input more information than was expected when documents were all paper-based.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Find a trusted colleague — preferably a few — who you can turn to with all your questions. We were all new once and are happy to share our experience. Also, make sure to learn your district’s policies, such as if there are options to increase your salary once employed by taking additional coursework. Be confident in what you know — you have the advantage of being fresh out of school, with the most up-to-date training. At the same time, know when to responsibly reach out for help when you aren’t sure about something.


Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
School Psychologist, Psychology Department of Beit Shemesh
M.A. and Ph.D. School Psychology, Fordham University
Years in Field: 19


My Typical Day at Work

I work in the Psychology Department of Beit Shemesh. In Israel, every city or district has its own psychology department, making it possible to find employment anywhere in the country.

Each year, I’m assigned to several schools. (We generally stay in the same schools for several years, in order to develop a relationship with the staff and students.) The schools vary from completely mainstream to regular education schools with some special education classes to special education schools or preschools.

My responsibilities are very varied, and no day looks exactly like the day before. On any given day I may: participate in a team meeting in a kindergarten; observe students in their classroom; meet with a principal and guidance counselor about setting up a specific intervention or prevention program in the school; meet with parents to provide guidance in dealing with their child who is having learning and social difficulties; perform a psychoeducational assessment on a child; write up the evaluation; provide therapy for a child who is suffering from anxiety; or intervene in an emergency situation, which may include performing a suicide assessment.

I also participate in staff meetings and staff professional development, and meetings to determine if a child is eligible for special education services. I also give supervision to other school psychologists.

School psychologists are experts not just in psychosocial/behavioral issues but also in certain learning-related issues. For example, if a child is having difficulty keeping up academically, isn’t following along with the class, or has difficulty acquiring new material, I’ll be brought on board. I’ll meet with the teacher, parents, and guidance counselor to determine a course of action — perhaps an evaluation, tutoring, or some other accommodations.

In addition to my work in the public sphere, I also do private therapy with children. I work with elementary-age and teenage children dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, impulsivity, low self-esteem, and/or social skills. I also work with parents on parenting skills, helping them navigate their children’s behavioral or emotional difficulties.

How I Chose the Profession

I enjoy working with people. I really wanted to work in a field in which I’d be able to help children succeed. I also enjoy working as a member of a team; working in a school gives great opportunity for teamwork.

How I Chose My Specialty

I wouldn’t call it a specialty per se, but I specifically enjoy working with parents and teachers of preschoolers. Implementing changes when children are young can make a significant impact on their future.

The Differences Between Working in the American and Israeli Systems

After I’d been practicing in New York for five years, we made aliyah. Though already licensed, I needed to start off in Israel as a mitmacheh (intern). As an intern, you work and get paid as a school psychologist, but under supervision. After six years, I became a mumchit (expert), which allowed me to work without supervision.

While I have a doctorate, a requirement for practicing independently in the US, in Israel you’re allowed to practice privately once you are a mumchit, which means doing a four-to-six-year post-degree internship and then passing an exam.

One difference that I’ve found between the two systems is that in New York, most school psychologists work in only one or two schools, so you spend many hours in those schools. Here, we have responsibilities in many different places and often only spend a few hours a week in a given school.

The other major difference is the focus on emergency-readiness training for mental health professionals. Unfortunately, there have been wars, missile attacks, terrorist attacks, etc., and we have to be ready to deal with them in the schools.

On a financial level, the salaries for working in schools are quite low, as it’s a government job. However, most school psychologists combine their public work with private practice, which can command significantly higher fees, and together they make for a comfortable income.

What I Love Most about the Field

I love the fact that my job provides such opportunity for variety in my day. I enjoy working with people, and I especially love helping children develop. Also, if I can help a teacher with one specific child, the ideas often carry over to other children in the class or their future students. I also enjoy learning new things, and in our job we are constantly learning.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

There are so many needs and so many people who need your help. You want to help everyone, but it’s hard to find time to do it all.

I’ll Never Forget When

Since I’ve been working for a while in Beit Shemesh, I’ll often run into people whose child I helped in kindergarten or elementary school. I love when they share their child’s successes with me. For example, I once worked with a four-year-old child diagnosed with selective mutism, who didn’t talk to his teacher or friends in school. I worked with the parents and teachers throughout the year to develop interventions. A couple of years later, the mother saw me and made sure to tell me how well her child was now doing in school. It’s feedback like this that keeps us going!

Something I Wish People Knew About School Psychologists

We don’t always work in schools. We can also work with children or parents on a one-on-one basis.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

Psychologists today are on the front lines of emergency situations. When there is a tragedy — such as an untimely death, suicide, or terror attack, which, unfortunately, here in Israel we deal with often, the city psychologists are all called in to help. We’ve had a lot of training in emergency preparedness.

Over the last decade many school psychologists have also gotten training to assess suicidal ideation, to treat children who are at risk for suicide, or who have suffered abuse.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Observe other psychologists. In particular, see how they deal with very stressful, emergency situations. If you’re not sure how to handle a particular case, it’s important to consult with your colleagues.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 946)

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