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What's the Job Description of a Psychology Instructor?

Explore the career requirements for a psychology instructor. Get the facts about duties, education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right field for you.

What Is a Psychology Instructor?

Psychology instructors deliver lessons to students about human behavior and the way the human mind works. They may teach at the high school level or work as college or university professors. High school psychology teachers usually teach introductory courses that provide an overview of the field, touching on a wide range of topics, such as neuroscience, learning, memory, emotion, psychological disorders, therapy and social psychology. College professors may teach both introductory courses and more advanced, specialized courses in topics such as neuroethics, cognitive development and political psychology. They are also usually expected to conduct research in the field and publish their findings in academic journals.

Education and licensing requirements can vary depending on where you work. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter the field.

High School InstructorCollege or University Instructor
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Master's degree, Doctoral degree preferred
Education Field of Study Psychology Psychology
Key Skills Teaching, planning, grading, discipline Teaching, planning, grading, advising
Licensure or Certification State teacher's license required Not required
Job Growth (2018-2028) 4% growth* (about average, for all high school teachers) 12%* (much faster than average, for all postsecondary psychology teachers)
Median Salary (2018) $60,320* (for all high school teachers) $76,710* (for all postsecondary psychology teachers)

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Psychology Instructor Do?

A psychology instructor is a teacher who educates students about the human mind and behavior. As a psychology instructor at the high school level, you'll typically teach students about many different kinds of psychology, including developmental, abnormal and behavioral psychology, as well as introduce them to the theories of influential psychologists, such as Freud and Jung.

At the postsecondary level, you'll often focus more on your specific area of expertise, such as clinical, cognitive or child psychology. As a university professor at a research institution, you could conduct independent studies with the aid of undergraduate and graduate students and aides.

What Education Do I Need?

To become a psychology instructor, you could start by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in psychology. A few courses you might take in an undergraduate program include behavioral evolution, biopsychology, Jungian theory, health issues, child psychology, mental illness and educational psychology. You can customize your curricular focus with specific electives, and you'll usually need to participate in academic and research experiments and projects.

To teach at a public high school, you'll need to earn a state teaching license or certification. In addition to earning a bachelor's degree, you'll also need to complete teacher training through a post-baccalaureate certificate or master's degree program. Some states might allow you to obtain provisional licensure while you gain this supplementary education.

If you want to teach at the college level, you'll need to earn a graduate degree. Community colleges usually only require a master's degree, though 4-year universities tend to hire professors with a doctoral degree in psychology or a related discipline. You don't need state licensure to teach at postsecondary institutions.

What Skills Do I Need?

In order to be a psychology instructor on any level, you'll need to be able to effectively manage a classroom and to explain complicated concepts in understandable terms. Part of your job will include accurately assessing students, developing a robust curriculum and dealing with school administration. Also, if you are willing to teach other social science subjects in addition to psychology, it could improve your job prospects.

What Is the Job Market Like?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that high school teachers earned a median salary of $60,320 as of May 2018. The BLS also projects that the number of secondary school teachers is projected to grow four percent from 2018-2028 (www.bls.gov), which is about the same as the average for all occupations. However, it is important to note that job opportunities will vary by region: it will be easiest to find work in urban or rural school districts.

If you're more inclined to teach at the postsecondary level, the BLS estimates that the overall number of psychology teaching jobs at colleges and universities will increase 12% between 2018 and 2028. Most available positions are expected to be non-tenured or part-time, with more competition for tenured professorships, according to the BLS. Salary statistics for psychology professors, in accordance with BLS data reported in May 2018, show a median income of $76,710 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to work in education, you could think about getting a job as an elementary school teacher. Like high school teaching jobs, you would need at least a bachelor's degree and a teaching license for this occupation. Alternatively, if you are passionate about psychology, you could become a school counselor, but it is important to note that you need to get a master's degree and pass a licensure exam before you can practice.