Imagine the following scenario: you’ve just spent several years earning your teaching qualifications and are now ready to put your skills to the test in a classroom. You feel prepared and have confidence in your own expertise but are nonetheless a bit nervous going in. Now imagine finding out that you are expected to teach a learning area that don’t have expertise in! As a first-time or junior teacher, one of the most daunting tasks that you can face is teaching outside of your field of knowledge. Even for veterans with years of experience, this tricky situation requires that teachers not only quickly learn the content themselves, but also teach it almost simultaneously.
What is the extent of the problem?
Unfortunately, out-of-field teaching is increasingly common among Australian secondary schools. A recent report by the Australian Council for Educational Research1 indicated that 26% of Years 7-10 teachers and 15% of Years 11-12 teachers are teaching a subject that is outside their field of expertise. Of these, the percentages are higher for teachers with less than two years’ experience.
There are also certain subjects – such as Geography – where out-of-field teaching is more frequent. In fact, 54% of Geography teachers have not undertaken second year tertiary study in their subject. This isn’t surprising given that the generic subject Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) or Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) has been standard at the lower secondary level for many years now. For these teachers, while they may have expertise in one area – for example, History, Geography or Social Studies – they will be responsible for the entire course, meaning that teachers will need to teach one or more of the remaining subjects out of field.
How can you address teaching out-of-field?
So if you’re a new teacher, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll be asked to take up a subject that you aren’t an expert in, for example Geography. What can you do to prepare? Well, for starters, your colleagues in that subject area are a great asset. Not only can they share previous lesson plans and resources, but you can ask questions about unfamiliar material and get their insights based on previous experience. Plus, if they have time, they can even teach you a few things that you don’t understand. Other helpful resources include Google and YouTube and relevant subject associations at national and state levels, such as the Australian Geography Teachers Association.
Still, while these are a great place to start, colleagues have work of their own and internet research can take time and isn’t always helpful when developing lesson plans. That’s why teaching programs can be a life-saver for new teachers, or any time there is a curriculum change and everyone must become familiar with new and/or updated content. Depending on how comprehensive they are (for example, if they are available for each chapter), teaching programs can help reduce lesson planning time and ensure that teachers cover what students need to know in order to achieve the stated learning outcomes.
Take for example Jacaranda’s teacher programs for the new Geoactive series, which provide a detailed summary of each chapter and topic, including how long they should be taught for, what skills students will learn and which key inquiry questions are addressed. They also outline trackable outcomes that are useful for informing and creating assessment tasks. The teaching programs are complimentary with every Geoactive purchase so you’ll have everything you need to start getting ready for 2017. To learn more, please visit the website at www.jacaranda.com.au/geoactive. You can also view a sample BOSTES teaching template here.
So while being asked to teach a subject that you aren’t an expert in can be a challenging task, there are a few easy ways that you can come up to speed. Are you teaching out-of-field? If so, please share your stories in the comments below and let us know how you’ve been handling it!