Today: Feb 29, 2024

Education major weary about the future

JESSICA ESPOSITOSpecial to Southern News
An elementary education and psychology major: Nope, not anymore.
As a child, I always found myself daydreaming that one day I would be a teacher. When I was in high school I even took an education internship where I would go out to a local elementary school and teach lessons. The course was very similar to EDU 200, offered here at Southern (to be honest, I was actually required to complete 60 documented fieldwork hours, and EDU 200 only requires 40 hours).
I also took a psychology course in high school and loved it. I found that so many aspects of psychology and education overlapped (such as cognition, positive and negative reinforcement and self-efficacy. So, I knew I wanted to double major in elementary education and psychology as a college student.
I came to Southern in 2008 bright-eyed and excited. Almost immediately I met Dr. Deborah Carroll, a brilliant professor here at Southern, who is my advisor. I told Dr. Carroll about my goal of pursuing a degree in elementary education and research psychology. She was extremely encouraging, and we spoke about how easily the fields intertwine. After I left her office that day, I thought, “Wow, someone gets me. She understands.” When I got to the Education Department, they were not as encouraging.
Advisors in the department recommended elementary education majors obtain their second degree in a content area, whereas early childhood majors were encouraged to pursue their second degree in psychology.
I understand completely why teachers should major in a “report card” subject such as mathematics, science or English; but isn’t learning about Miller’s Magical Number, Baddeley’s Working Memory Model and the Capacity Theory of Attention (which are all theories on cognition) just as important? Wouldn’t teaching be better if we learned how children learned instead of regurgitating facts to them? I think so.
I decided to major in psychology even though it was not recommended.
I believe the state of Connecticut is working on “phasing out” psychology as a second major for future elementary education teachers. In my opinion, once again, having a strong background in psychology is just as important as having knowledge in the traditional content areas.
Through majoring in psychology I have learned several techniques that will help me tremendously in my career as a future teacher. I understand how various types of encoding will help students remember and comprehend material. For example, distinctive encoding is something that is different or out of “the norm.” So I can take my students on a field trip or teach fractions with cake or pizza. I can use semantic encoding by having a math magician or a reptile trainer come to school so my future students are learning without even trying.
Further, my psychology courses have taught me that I need to create a classroom environment that is at an optimal arousal level for learning, where students are not distracted by an overwhelming amount of external stimuli. Also, I know the dangers of overloading my students with information because an individual’s brain is limited in how much attention it can give to each task. Without my degree in psychology, I would not be as knowledgeable about these techniques and why they work.
I have heard some rumors that principals are less likely to hire teachers who have majored in psychology because we are not considered highly qualified. Basically, in order to be considered a highly qualified teacher in the state of Connecticut, you must major in a content area in addition to your education major.
OK, I get it.
But think about this: you are an elementary education major and you decide to second major in history or mathematics. When you get a job in an elementary school, a few of your students have parents who are currently going through a messy divorce, have trust issues with adult figures or are too consumed with adult burdens to do their homework. With those and many other issues becoming more and more common in the classroom today, how does your course in Russian history or calculus three help you?
How does majoring in a content area make you a more qualified teacher in circumstances such as this?
Now that I am almost ready to graduate and take on the job market, I am weary about the future that lies ahead. I am not certain how principals will view my second degree in psychology. I hope they see the value of teachers who have a background in this field. Hopefully one day in the near future, elementary education majors who also major in psychology will be desired instead of frowned upon. One day psychology will be considered an area that makes teachers highly qualified.

2 Comments

  1. As a parent, I totally agree with Jessica. In my opinion, having a background and/or degree in psychology is even more important currently in light of the many socio-economic issues that our students bring to school. I would much rather have a teacher who has a background or major in psychology and can assist a student who may be troubled or need a modified learning environment, than one who has only a major in the traditional core content area. I know this from experience since my daughter has received special education services from our local school system.

    Jessica, keep the faith, your talent in the education field and knowledge of psychology will serve you well, and will be appreciated by the parents of the students who are lucky to have you as an educator.

  2. I completely agree with you Jessica, I am a psychology and elementary education major as well at SCSU. I have found that each classroom I enter through fieldwork every mentor tells me that psychology is extremely important.

    As a future educator, we are tested for our certification, required to complete classes towards this certification and complete fieldwork hours. All of these factors are helping us to go out into the education field and give us an edge in the classroom. We are thriving to work with students and help them throughout their school years. Without Psychology how are we supposed to work with these students from different backgrounds? One developmental class does not cover it.

    At the end of the day, we have to look at this simple fact. Teachers will be hired based on their qualifications, shown the curriculum that they must follow and asked to put forth all of their efforts to teach. A great teacher will work hard and thrive in the classroom regardless of their second major.

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