10 SES 12 C, Learning To Teach Across Specialisations: Understanding and responding to teaching out-of-field phenomenon
Pre-service teachers (PSTs) study in preparation to teach certain subjects. In Australia, Europe and other countries, the reality is that once teachers commence employment, they may be expected to teach subjects they are not qualified to teach, that is, teach out-of-field (Ingersoll, 1999). In Australia, Weldon (2016) reported that early career teachers are particularly vulnerable, with 37% of first and second year teachers teaching out-of-field, compared with 25% of their more experienced colleagues. Amidst efforts to up-skill unspecialised teachers, and to recruit science and mathematics specialised teachers, teaching out-of-field continues to be both a necessity and a challenge. Therefore, understanding how to support early career teachers as they transition into teaching becomes paramount. This paper reports on a longitudinal study examining the impact of teaching out-of-field on early career teachers transitioning into teaching, and the changes experienced over time, focusing specifically on teachers’ reflections on practice, identity and wellbeing. Structured interviews were conducted annually with ten teachers, beginning in their final year of initial teacher education in 2013, and then during the first four years of teaching. Case studies (Stake, 2005) show the progressive changes in teacher perceptions about practice, identity and well-being during their transition into teaching. Data shows that almost all early career teachers interviewed had taught out-of-field. Teachers had little control over their teaching allocation and devoted negligible time to formal professional learning in the out-of-field area. Teachers had varied beliefs about the opportunities and challenges associated with teaching generally and what was needed to teach out-of-field. After four years, it was clear that the trajectories of teachers varied substantially, with some teachers teaching in-field for the first time in their fourth year, other teachers undertook further training in the out-of-field area thereby making them technically in-field, and others continued to teach out-of-field. These findings are consistent with Weldon’s (2016) finding that teachers are more likely to teach out-of-field in their first two years. As has been reported elsewhere (Du Plessis, 2015), school context, and leadership practices played a critical role in determining how teachers managed and coped with teaching out-of-field. The variety in trajectory through these first few years of teaching, even within a sample of only ten teachers, indicates that the experiences of teaching out-of-field and the conditions that lead to its emergence, are varied and not necessarily disastrous to a teacher’s development. These insights inform transition arrangements required for teachers as they begin teaching.
Du Plessis, A., Carroll A., & Gillies, R.M. (2015) Understanding the lived experiences of novice out-of-field teachers in relation to school leadership practices. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 43(1), 4–21. Ingersoll, R. M. (1999). The problem of out-of-field teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 79(10), 773–776. Weldon, P. (2016). Out-of-field teaching in Australian secondary schools. Carlton: Australian Council for Educational Research.
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