Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Gratitude: Taking a Look Back . . . Way Back

07 Dec 2022 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Gratitude: Taking a Look Back . . . Way Back

“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.” – Vietnamese Proverb

As I write my last Presidential column, I am experiencing a mix of emotions—emotions that mirror those sentiments that often swirl at the end of a semester: relief, pride, sadness, and accomplishment.  I am sure that everyone reading that brief list can relate and add to the list, as we say goodbye to students and start to look forward to a new semester. Although many of us have experienced the ebb and flow of semesters across the years, these past two-and-a-half years have been unique. Many of us have lost family, students, friends, colleagues, and mentors during this time. Many of us have experienced our own physical difficulties. The pandemic has challenged and changed us as individuals, teachers, and communities. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. Nonetheless, as I sit here and reflect today, the primary emotion that I feel is one of gratitude.   

We all know that there is a growing literature related to the power of gratitude to help us shape and find meaning in our lives.  As I reflect on this past year, I am grateful to all of our members within STP.  It has been an honor and privilege to meet and work with you—teachers committed to both psychological science and our students. I am extremely grateful to have been able to serve as your STP President and to build on the work of so many others who have served in this role over the decades.

Looking Back a Few Decades

If you look at STP today, it would be easy to assume that as a Society and a Division of APA (Division 2), we have always been a thriving and successful organization.  We also might assume that early in our history, that teachers would have flocked to Division 2 and the mission of the organization would have been clear.  Yet, that is not the case. 

In the years following World War II, APA put forth the idea of creating “divisions,“ which focused on specialty areas. Interest in psychology was growing in large measure due to the growth and success of applied areas of psychology, including clinical, child, personality, and educational psychology. In total, APA initially created 19 divisions and decided to assign Division 1 to General Psychology and Division 2 to Teaching of Psychology, as both cut across specialty areas.  At one point, there was discussion of combining the two divisions but a vote of the involved members kept the two divisions as distinct. 

Division 2 (Teaching) was slow to draft bylaws and develop membership categories.  Indeed, I think I can safely say that for many psychologists, enthusiasm for the division was lacking. As noted by Wight and Davis (1992), it was a “division in search of self” (p. 365). Early membership figures are unclear but the numbers were small.  Moreover, in 1948, Helen Wolfle, Secretary of APA, noted that the Teaching Division had one of the largest numbers of resignations—21% of the membership had resigned leaving only 184 members. In 1951, the Division President Claude E. Buxton surveyed the membership about “whether the division should continue to exist” (Buxton, cited in Wight & Davis, 1992). 

Part of the challenge for psychology was the growing divide between specialty areas of practice and teaching.  Buxton (1952) stated, “Once we were all teachers” (p. 111). However, with increasing areas of specialty practice, Buxton noted a growing divide and conflict between those who focused on teaching and those he defined as subject matter specialists. Certainly, subject matter specialists were instrumental in the growth of divisions based on areas of practice and research interests (e.g., clinical, measurement).  Teaching was often secondary to many of these areas of practice and as noted by Buxton (1952), “undergraduate teaching has assumed a subordinate role among us” (p. 111). Buxton further wrote that undergraduate teachers often were overloaded with too many responsibilities, stretched in too many directions, and focused on helping students. He wrote, “As we all know, very few of our undergraduates in psychology are going to become psychologists. Psychology teachers are accountable, then, for attempting to help their students live more advantageous private lives” (p. 112).

With these challenges, it was hard to muster broad support for the division. Fortunately, in that 1951 membership survey, a slim majority of individuals leaned towards keeping Division 2 with renewed focus on ways to build the division and expand its mandate. According to Wight and Davis (1992), Buxton articulated the following objectives for the division: “(a) communicate research or experience in teaching, (b) facilitate studies of the teaching process and situation, and (c) symbolize the teaching profession itself” (p. 373). 

Membership was lean through the 1950s but began to grow dramatically in the 1960s as Division 2 added affiliate membership categories (e.g., student, international, high school). In the decades that followed, Division 2 expanded to become the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) creating parity between members of all backgrounds. 

Certainly, those basic objectives outlined by Buxton have flourished, and today our Mission Statement reads:

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology promotes excellence in the teaching and learning of psychology. The Society provides resources and services, access to a global collaborative community, and opportunities for professional development. It endeavors to promote equity and social justice for teachers and students of psychology with marginalized, racially minoritized, and intersecting identities. The Society also strives to advance the scholarship of teaching and learning; advocate for the needs of teachers of psychology; promote diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the teaching and learning of psychology; foster partnerships across academic settings; and increase recognition of the value of the teaching profession.

From a struggling division in search of an identity, STP has grown into a thriving organization with a top-tiered Teaching of Psychology journal, an array of programming (e.g., the amazing Annual Conference on Teaching), numerous awards and grant programs, resources, eBooks, social media, professional services, and the list goes on. 

So, today I am filled with gratitude for all of those early teachers who struggled to keep Division 2 alive—individuals who envisioned a dynamic and creative home for teachers of psychology.  Division 2 could have easily become one of these division numbers with no name and no membership.  Instead, early teachers of psychology kept working and refining the mission of Division 2 until it began to flourish. I am grateful for all the teachers who sustained Division 2 and then transformed it into STP, all the while growing the resources and opportunities for teachers. I am grateful for the work of all within STP over the past couple of decades, who have been dedicated to fostering ongoing development of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive society with a global reach.

Additionally, for today, I am grateful to and want to thank all of the leaders within STP, including Susan Nolan (Past-President); Diane Finley (President-Elect); Stephanie Afful (Secretary); Jeffrey Holmes (Treasurer); Bill Altman (Vice President for Resources); Keli Braitman (Vice President for Grants and Awards); Danae Hudson (Vice President for Membership); Teceta Tormala (Vice President for Diversity and International Relations); Kristin H. Whitlock (Vice President for Programming); Thomas Pusateri (Executive Director); Maureen McCarthy (Representative to APA Council); Jodie B. Ullman (Representative to APA Council); and Amy Fineburg (Chair, Elections and Appointments Committee).  Of course, this list is just the tip of the iceberg!  STP functions because of the myriad of individuals who serve as leaders (e.g., committee chairs, editors, directors).  The STP leadership page highlights these impressive individuals who form the foundation of STP.

I am also deeply grateful to all of who worked on the presidential task forces this year and will continue to work on their various projects over the coming months.  These projects will expand our knowledge related to the teaching of psychology and bring additional resources to teachers. I am in awe of all who have worked so diligently on these projects.

  • Task Force for “Teaching to Make a Difference”: Neda Moinolmolki, Leslie Berntsen, Joan Bihun, Mike Corcoran, Jessica Simon, Maaly Younis
  • Task Force on Teaching Ethics: Literacy, Thinking, and Reasoning:  Karen Nauful, Rachel Besing, Elizabeth Pantesco, Vishal Thakkar 
  • Task Force on “Decolonizing Psychology” in Introductory Psychology: Teceta Tormala, Gabi Martorell, Leslie Berntsen, Ashley Morris Biddle, Vishal Thakkar, Angela Farris Watkins
  • Task Force on Teaching Psychology and Climate Change:   Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges, J. Michael Friedline, Danielle Fynczak, Alexandria (Ali) Hadd, Christopher Holland, Jessica (Jess) Nolan, Amy E. Sibulkin, 
  • Continuation of the work of the Task Force on Integration of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and International Initiatives Across STP:  Jerry Mize, Neda Moinolmolki, Ranjana Dutta 

I encourage all of you to become involved in STP.  It is an opportunity for professional development as well as service.  It is also incredibly rewarding—you will never find a better group of people with whom to work and it is a wonderful and open community.  

I began this column with a Vietnamese proverb: “When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.” I know that I am grateful for all who planted the tree of Division 2.  I am even more grateful to all who over the decades through today have continued to plant and nurture the orchard that is STP.


Buxton, C. E. (1951). Teaching: have your cake and eat it too? American Psychologist, 6(4), 111–118.

Wight, R. D., & Davis, S. F. (1992). Division in search of self: A history of APA Division 2, the Division of the Teaching of Psychology. In A. E. Puente, J. R. Matthews, & C.L. Brewer (Eds.). Teaching psychology in America: A history (pp. 365-384). American Psychological Association.

Wolfle, H. (1948). Across the Secretary’s desk: A comparison of the strength and weakness of APA Divisions. American Psychologist, 3(8), 378–380.

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