01 SES 09 A, Principals as Professional Learners
Teaching out-of-field means teaching a subject or year level without the necessary qualifications or specialization (McConney and Price, 2009; Ingersoll, 1998). Such teaching assignments usually arise for a number of reasons, such as when there are no other suitably specialised teachers, due to timetable constraints, or when a teacher chooses to diversify their teaching. There are differences as to what is defined as an out-of-field teacher internationally due to differences in specialization and qualification requirements. Regardless of definition or reason for teaching out-of-field, a teacher who is assigned a teaching load that is counter to what they were expecting must adapt and learn to accommodate this role as part of their professional identity. The experience of teaching out-of-field is unique to the individual and school context, as is the journey of learning to be an effective teacher under these circumstances. This paper reports on the learning journeys of teachers new to teaching a subject at secondary school. As part of a longitudinal study following teachers new to teaching science and mathematics, this paper reports on one part of the research where researchers used metaphor as a research tool to facilitate teachers’ reflection on the journey of learning to teach.
This paper responds to the following research question from the larger project: “What shifts in understandings and identity occur as beginning teachers in a specialization cross the boundaries between their in-field teaching and out-of-field mathematics or science teaching?” Two sub-questions are relevant for the analysis provided by this paper:
- How do teachers describe the changes that have occurred as they learn to teach a new subject?
- What can we learn about the experience of learning to teach out-of-field?
The research focuses specifically on early career teachers as they are more likely to be allocated out-of-field than their more experienced colleagues in Australia (Weldon, 2016).
This paper is framed by a theoretical perspective on teacher learning that is underpinned by the common phrase ‘teachers as learners’ (Feiman-Nemser, 2012). The potential for learning at the boundary (Akkerman and Bakker, 2009) between in-field and out-of-field teaching, that is, having to teach something new, has been applied to this change space (Hobbs 2013a, 2013b). This spatial metaphor is useful where experienced teachers are teaching a new subject, having developed proficiencies in teaching their in-field subject. An experienced teacher may use their general teaching skills to re-establish proficiencies so that with time they can become effective teachers of this out-of-field subject. This characterization however may not be adequate for early career teachers who have not yet developed such generic teaching skills (Hobbs, 2013b). The research reported in this paper frames out-of-field teaching as a change space where there is potential for learning, transformation, agency and identity expansion, as long as the teacher operates within an adequate culture of support, and that the teacher recognises their potential to learn and maintains a disposition of learning and a willingness to forgo efficiency for innovation. The early career teacher especially faces the added challenge of navigating, taming and controlling the unfamiliar chaos that often accompanies this time. Such metaphors—boundary, chaos, navigate, tame—are used to describe the nature of the change space and the teacher’s response to it. When out-of-field teachers describe their own learning there is potential for them to clarify the discontinuities (Akkerman and Bakker, 2009) arising for them, that is, articulate where they are having problems. And then to identify what boundary objects (Akkernman & Bakker, 2009) assist in re-establishing practice, or in the case of early career teachers, establish quality teaching practices.
The broader three year longitudinal study involved interviewing teachers from six case study schools across three Australian states, as well as interviewing these teachers with their mentors, and school leadership teams (such as principals and department heads). The study had an emergent design. The focus of each interview changed each year, and each interview was only partly conceptualized at the beginning of the project. Metaphors, as 'fortune lines' (White and Gunstone, 1998) were introudced in the second mentor/mentee interview to prompt teacher and mentor reflection on the out-of-field teacher's capacity to teach and enjoyment teaching an in-field subject and an out-of-field subject. Metaphor was also introduced to the third individual teacher interview by asking teachers to suggest an object that reflected their feelings of learning to teach out-of-field. Analysis involved isolating the data relating to the metaphors from the interview transcripts, identifying the meanings associated with each metaphor, then looking for commonalities across the metaphors and meanings to identify themes. The fortune lines and descriptions from the transcripts were sat alongside the metaphors to identify how the overall experience relates to the specific events identified. Metaphors are often used in education research. Carpenter (2008) claims that metaphors enable people to understand a familiar process in a new light, they help to identity situation-specific interventions, and they evoke emotion. Using metaphor to explore abstract, novel and speculative ideas (Yob, 203) can lead to new forms of conceptual insight (Zhao, Coombs, & Zhou, 2010). In a broader sense, metaphors can provide a framework for enabling people to make meaning of their lives (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) and professional lives and identities (Midgely & Trimmer, 2013). In our research the fortune lines provided a graphical way to examine how enjoyment and capacity changed over time and across a sequence of events, with changes or constants in arrow direction representing developing, worsening, unchanging or fluctuating enjoyment and capacity, helping them to centre on specific experiences and reflect on the effects of these experiences. Having the mentors present reinforced, expanded, or put into perspective some of the teachers' responses. The objects gave the teachers new perspectives on a familiar process in a way that clarified emotion and helped to foreground particular aspects of the experience of being and teaching out-of-field.
Both methods provided insights into teachers' experiences that had not been evident in the interviews previously. The graphs and commentary revealed the teachers' perceptions of the specific experiences that caused change over time. The metaphors and why teachers chose them gave insight into what was particular to the experience of learning to teach out-of-field. Metaphors could be categorised as being about: " learning to 'be' an out-of-field teacher: eg. Deflated football - meaning not intended use, ego deflation and a need to re-inflate, eg. 'You walk into a class and your ego takes a bit of a second place…over time you start refilling again with confidence'); or " the process of teaching out-of-field: eg. Dimmer light - learning to anticipate the challenges, eg. 'It starts off and it's a bit dark…over time it gets brighter and clearer'). Analysis of the characteristics of learning to teach out-of-field related to: " teacher agency (eg. external shaping versus teachers' shaping themselves); " the pressure associated with developing knowledge; " disruption due to the newness and how teachers navigated the unknown; and " the steep learning curve. Also indicated were the expected learning outcomes for the out-of-field teacher: " that learning means that a teacher has shape, tidiness, confidence, and maximum usefulness; " also gaining teaching efficiency and effectiveness is depicted as: speed in their actions; a firmness and holding shape in terms of their identity; and clarity in their knowledge. Ultimately the analysis highlighted the tension between teaching out-of-field as disruption versus edification, and that being out-of-field is both dynamic and temporal, and part of their professional development as they grappled with how to generate and sustain quality teaching. Discussed is how the metaphors might powerfully illustrate the demands that teaching out-of-field can place on teachers, as well as the potential for teacher learning when the conditions are right.
Akkerman, S. F. & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of Educational Research, 8(2), 132-169. Carpenter, J. (2008). Metaphors in qualitative research: shedding light or casting shadows? Research in Nursing Health, 31(3), 274-282. Feiman-Nemser, S. (2012). Teachers as learners. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press. Hobbs, L. (2013a). Teaching 'out-of-field' as a boundary-crossing event: Factors shaping teacher identity. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 11(2), 271-297. Hobbs, L. (2013b). Boundary crossings of out-of-field teachers: Locating learning possibilities amid disruption. In, Janice Langan-Fox & Cary L. Cooper (Eds.), Boundary-Spanning in Organizations: Network, Influence, and Conflict (pp. 7-28). New York: Routledge. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Ingersoll, R. (1998). The Problem of Out-of-Field Teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, June, 773-776. McConney, A., & Price, A. (2009). An assessment of the phenomenon of "Teaching-Out-of-Field" in WA schools. Report for West Australian College of Teaching. Midgley, Warren and Trimmer, Karen (2013) Walking the labyrinth: a metaphorical understanding of approaches to metaphors for, in and of education research. In: Metaphors for, in and of education research. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, pp. 1-9. Weldon, P, R. (2016). Policy Insights. Out-of-field teaching in Australian Secondary Schools. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). White, R., & Gunstone, R. (1998). Probing understanding. London: Falmer Press, pp. 114-150. Zhao, H., Coombs, S., & Zhou, X. (2010). Developing professional knowledge about teachers through metaphor research: Facilitating a process of change. Teacher Development, 14, 381-395.
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