Advice for new/training teachers: 5. Working in isolation or in more than 1 department

Where do I belong?

As a Psychology teacher you are likely to find yourself either in a small department, a department made up of teachers who also teach another subject or sometimes a lonely Psychology teacher in a department of one. Although Psychology is officially classified as a Science A Level by the exam boards, you may well find yourself in a variety of departments or faculties including: Science, Humanities, Social Science or even as a stand-alone Psychology department.

If you are teaching in a secondary school, as opposed to a Sixth Form or Further Education college, you may well also be teaching another subject, and as a result be a member of more than one department/faculty.

Pros and cons

The disadvantage of straddling departments is that you can feel pulled in different directions and you may feel like you don’t quite belong, which as a beginning teacher or NQT can be difficult to cope with. If you are the only teacher of Psychology in your school you may well feel at a disadvantage when it comes to planning without colleagues to bounce ideas off or give much needed subject-based feedback.

The advantage, however, is that in both instances (straddling or isolated) you have, or least you can make, the opportunity to come into contact with lots of colleagues from different disciplines which is a great way of exposing yourself to different approaches to learning and teaching.

If your department is made up of colleagues teaching a range of subjects, find out what skills are common across your subjects and take the opportunity to see different ways of teaching those skills. If you are in an isolated department, on the other hand, make these opportunities yourself even if they don’t seem immediately available. You have a very good reason to be proactive (your development as a teacher) so make sure you get a chance to work with other staff. Model the learning skills you want your students to have and find out who in your school would be willing to look at group work techniques with you or how to engage gifted and talented learners, for example. If your school has teachers whose specific role is to develop learning and teaching find out who they are and ask for some time with them – they will be happy to give advice and support.

Avoid subject based isolation by networking

There is help on offer from professional bodies. If you are a lone teacher in your school/college or feel isolated in your teaching for any other reason there are a number of organisations you can join to network with other Psychology teachers. The Association for the Teaching of Psychology and the Association for Psychology Teachers both aim to support teachers of this subject. Exam boards such as AQA have a teacher support network which although it basically only consists of an emailed list of other teachers in your area teaching the same spec, it does provide a way in to contact other colleagues for support or advice.


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