An Interview with Bette Hyde
“Some people seem to have the wrong impression of what an educational psychologist does. Often when I tell people what I do for a living, they think I will try to pry into their lives. Educational psychologists don’t read people’s minds and we don’t talk about dreams or boyfriend problems, like some may imagine. Those are silly stereotypes, and they certainly don’t apply to this field.”
Bette Hyde is the Director of Early Learning for the state of Washington. She earned a PhD in Educational Psychology in 1972 and a Master of Arts in Child Development in 1968, both from University of Minnesota. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, which she earned 1966.
Bette has worked in many different capacities in her educational career, including school psychologist, college professor and superintendent. Currently, she works with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to plan early childhood education policies in Washington state.
In your own words, what is an educational psychologist?
An educational psychologist is a person who is professionally trained to look at children as individuals in order to assess their strengths and their needs in areas related to education. Educational psychologists partner with teachers and families to develop clear, accountable plans to help children improve their learning.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming an educational psychologist,” what would your response be?
I think educational psychology is a fantastic field because you learn a way of thinking and a way of problem-solving that works for diverse situations. You can apply diagnostic and analytic skills to children, adults, groups and systems. It is a rewarding and challenging career.
What level of education is necessary to become an educational psychologist?
You can become an educational psychologist with a masters degree, and in fact, I have seen people do very well with that level of education. However, I think you will see many more doors open to you if you have a doctorate. A PhD carries weight and credibility with your peers and with your students.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become an educational psychologist?
Yes, there are a number of certification and licensure requirements that educational psychologists need to obtain. The exact requirements vary by state. For example, in the state of Washington, you need a certification in school psychology. I am a licensed clinical psychologist as well, and I take continuing education credits every 3 years to keep my licensure current.
Why did you decide to become an educational psychologist?
I chose to enter educational psychology because I have always been interested in helping people with their issues and problems. In particular, I like to help people interact in groups. The school environment offers a dynamic cross section of students, including those who exhibit healthy development, have learning needs, deal with behavioral issues and display special gifts and talents. It was my job to help all children develop and learn to their fullest ability.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming an educational psychologist?
Some people seem to have the wrong impression of what an educational psychologist does. Often when I tell people what I do for a living, they think I will try to pry into their lives. Educational psychologists don’t read people’s minds and we don’t talk about dreams or boyfriend problems, like some may imagine. Those are silly stereotypes, and they certainly don’t apply to this field.
What did you enjoy most and least about being an educational psychologist?
What I most enjoyed about being an educational psychologist was the interaction with people. I loved testing children, talking to parents and helping teachers in the classroom. It was exhilarating to be an active partner in solving a problem and seeing results. But the aspect of educational psychology that I least enjoyed was all the paperwork. Increasingly, the job is slowed by red tape, timelines and litigation. I found it frustrating to navigate all the procedural issues that surround the job.
What was a typical day like for you?
I started a typical day by meeting before school with a teacher who was referring a child to me. During school, I would test children, consult with teachers, write reports and meet with families about their child’s progress. About once a week, I would confer with other school psychologists in the district too. But I spent most of my time interacting with children and documenting their progress in writing to meet compliance requirements.
How did you balance your work and your personal life?
I balanced my work and personal life by drawing boundaries between the 2 areas. Any job that involves people can be consuming, so I have always made a valiant effort to get my work done before I go home. Sometimes that meant staying late so that I could go home in peace. In addition, I make time to pursue my own interest that has nothing to do with work, which is running. If I can run 3 or 4 days a week, I know that for that half hour I have done something for myself, and I feel good about it. I think you are better at your job if you take care of yourself first and do the things that make you happy outside of your career.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an educational psychologist and what traits would hinder success?
In order to be an educational psychologist, you need to be caring, ethical and analytical. First, you have to be genuinely invested in the progress that children are making. You need to have a good sense of ethics because you are dealing with confidential portions of people’s lives. And you need to be analytical so that you can walk into a situation and figure out what is going on and how best to deal with it.
A personality trait that would hinder success is shyness. You will occasionally have to deal with hesitant children, frustrated teachers and angry parents. The key is to enjoy what you do and maintain your sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously, because it is not like this is open heart surgery. If you make a mistake, you can undo it.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
No, I wouldn’t change anything about the educational path that I have pursued. I have served in many different roles as an educator, and I have taken something valuable from all of them. If someone had told me when I was a teenager that I would be working for the governor someday, I would probably have laughed in their face. But opportunities sometimes arise unexpectedly, and you have to take them with grace and do your best with them.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming an educational psychologist should pursue?
I would suggest that students pursue extracurricular activities like volunteering in a school and a clinic. That way you can experience the rhythm of both places and see if you like the environment before you commit several years of your life to the education this job requires.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
I think the most valuable courses I have taken were about evaluation and assessment. Learning how to assess kids through a lens free of cultural bias has been helpful both as an educational psychologist and in my administrative jobs. Another course that has served me very well in my career is statistics. People are scared of statistics, but it is a valuable skill to be able to understand data and to present it in an attractive and useful manner.
On the other hand, the least valuable courses I have ever taken were courses in curriculum, because they were boring and they were not relevant to actual classrooms. Those courses were useless because they presented an ideal reality instead of the one in which educators work.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming an educational psychologist?
I would say that students should look into all the possibilities that a career in educational psychology offers, because it is a wide open field. You could be a school psychologist, a statistician, a researcher in a school or a curriculum developer, among other things. There is so much variation, and that is why this is a great field. Educational psychology gives you a way of thinking about issues and solving problems that is applicable in many different settings.