AP Psychology Teacher Launches Speaker Series


AP psychology teacher Ms. Darling. Photo by Olivia Hoover

Alexis Chen and Devangi Rathi

In the summer of 2020, Tammy Darling, a psychology teacher at Lexington High School, initiated an AP Psychology Speaker Series on adolescent identity development. The purpose of the series was to share beneficial tools from social psychology to help students during their high school experience.

Darling has taught AP Psychology for two decades, earning her master’s degree in Psychology. Her speaker series is part of her doctoral program, which she started in 2020 at Northeastern University.

“Telling students to take good care without any tools and strategies is kind of like saying: here’s a bunch of two-by-fours, why don’t you build yourself a house,” Darling said.

Darling’s concerns regarding the absence of quality information about student well-being led her to pilot the First Year Community program. This program intended to help middle schoolers transition to high school, and high schoolers develop a healthy lifestyle.

“I think that there is a seismic shift from middle to high school, and I think that there are tools and strategies from psychology that students can try on. It’s not prescriptive, and it’s empirically backed so that students have tools and strategies to deploy and can tap into this neural hub of things that can help them live their version of their best life,” Darling said.

First Year Community had three components: recruiting incoming freshmen, engaging them in five self-paced activities organized by researchers, and hosting a speaker series.

“The speakers are made up of scholars whose work I’ve admired who are now friends of mine. I reached out to them last year and said, ‘Listen, I’m piloting something, is there any way for you to spend 40 minutes to an hour with high school students to share some insights as a scholar of psychology, of things you wished you knew as a high schooler?’ And so they all had their own area of expertise,” Darling said.

However, due to the pandemic, participation rates dropped.

“My first speaker series, only seven of the 33 students who were involved in First Year Community signed up. This is behavioral science at its best, so I opened it up to my AP Psych classes,” Darling said.

The turnout has increased significantly since Darling opened up the program to her students.

“It’s been so successful, and there’s been a couple with an attendance of over 70 students on a Thursday night, once a month, that I’m hoping to continue that next year,” Darling said.

The presentations conducted by speakers equip students with a set of tools and strategies that are necessary through and beyond high school.

“There are a lot of students who find deep purpose in thinking broadly about who they are, and their space in this social world, and this psychology course is unique in giving them the opportunity to do that, to think more deeply about humanity. I don’t think you can measure that impact, and I just think that this class teaches you how to be a better person. The impact is endless,” Darling said.