University College UCC, Campus Carlsberg
Humletorvet 3
1799 Copenhagen V

Fourth international
OOF/TAS Collective Symposium


25 August, 2017

Learning To Teach Across Specialisations:
Understanding And Responding To Teaching Out-Of-Field Phenomenon

Organiser: Dr Linda Hobbs (Deakin University, Australia)
Chair: Professor Günter Törner (University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany)
Discussant: Dr Anne Price (Murdoch University, Australia)

Teaching out-of-field refers to when teachers teach specialisations (or year levels) for which they have no qualification or background (Ingersoll, 1999; Weldon, 2016). Broad and small scale analysis of this issue is being reporting internationally, for example in Ireland (Ní Ríordáin &Hannigan, 2009), Australia (McConney & Price; Weldon, 2016), Germany (Bosse & Törner, 2013) and South Africa (Steyn & Du Plessis, 2007). At the heart of discussions around out-of-field teaching is the nature of conflicting or contradictory discourses regarding the knowledge and craft of teaching and development of teaching competence and quality, and their relation to a teacher’s qualifications, specialisations, and background in the discipline. What counts as ‘qualified’ is context dependent. For example, teacher registration in Australia does not take account of a teacher’s specialisations such that a teacher is ‘qualified’ as a teacher only and can therefore legitimately teach any subject and year level – at the discretion of the school principal. In Germany, primary teachers are sometimes trained as subject specialists but in other states and other countries they are not.

Of critical importance here is how disciplinary knowledge is situated in relation to teachers’ craft, the inherent contradictions between teaching as generic transferable knowledge and skills versus the disciplinary nature of subject teaching and learning, and the tensions between the ideal and practicalities in the face of teacher shortages.

These tensions and contradictions arise at the chalk face when a teacher is expected to teach content they are not familiar with, or have just learned for teaching purposes, and as the teacher positions themselves in relation to a role that they may not have been expecting. A teacher’s emotions, commitments, self-efficacy and identity will influence how they orientate themselves in an out-of-field role, whether they see themselves as a learner and seek out professional development, or whether they expand or adapt their identity as a teacher of that subject and develop a ‘provisional identity’ (Ibarra, 1999) where they try-out the new label.

The tension between generic and subject-specific conceptualisations of teaching is particularly profound for initial teacher education when university entry and teacher registration requirements determine how the subject disciplines are to be positioned. These are system-level decisions, and have implications for how schools then position the subject disciplines at primary and secondary school levels. These structures then create the conditions for teachers to be considered in-field or out-of-field, or even without-field as in the case of a generalist primary teacher. 

Research exploring these issues are emerging, however cultural variation as to what defines a person’s ‘field’ makes international comparison difficult. Coming to understand the teaching out-of-field phenomenon becomes complex when comparing and contrasting how the phenomenon is created and perpetuated by the specific conditions of each country, even each state or province within a country. The Teaching Across Specialisations (TAS) Collective is a group of academics and practitioners from different countries exploring different aspects of the out-of-field phenomenon in an attempt to understand how and why the practice occurs in different contexts, the effects of out-of-field teaching, and what can be done to alleviate and minimise the problems that can arise. This symposium represents some of the research being discussed in this group.

Research from three countries is represented in this symposium. The symposium explores the out-of-field teaching phenomenon from three perspectives: the teacher transitioning into teaching (Speldewinde et al from Australia), the teacher undergoing professional development in an out-of-field area and their motivations (Lünne from Germany) and teacher identity (re)construction (Quirke from Ireland), and a systems level analysis examining how primary teacher education creates the conditions for and perpetuates out-of-field teaching (Porsch from Germany).


Bosse, M., & Törner, G. (2013). Out-of-field Teaching Mathematics Teachers and the Ambivalent Role of Beliefs – A First Report from Interviews. In M. S. Hannula, P. Portaankorva-Koivisto, A. Laine, & L. Näveri (Eds.), Current state of research on mathematical beliefs XVIII. Proceedings of the MAVI-18 Conference (pp. 341–355). Helsinki.

Ibarra, H. (1999). Provisional selves: Experimenting with image and identity in professional adaptation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 764–791.

Ingersoll, R. M. (1999) The Problem of Underqualified Teachers in American Secondary Schools. Educational Researcher, 28(2), 26–37.

McConney, A., Price, A., (2009), Teaching Out-of-Field in Western Australia. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 34(6), 86 - 100.

Ní Ríordáin, M and Hannigan, A. (2009). Out-of-field teaching in post-primary mathematics education: an analysis of the Irish context. Research report: National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning.

Steyn, G., & Du Plessis, E. (2007). The implication of the out-of-field phenomenon for effective teaching, aulity education and school management. Africa Education Review, 4(2), 144-158.

Weldon, P. (2016). Out-of-field teaching in Australian secondary schools. Carlton: Australian Council for Educational Research.


  1. Steffen Lünne (DZLM, University of Paderborn, Germany): The reasons of out-of-field teachers in mathematics for applying a professional development course

  2. Stephen Quirke1, Paul F. Conway1,2, Niamh O’Meara1, Olivia Fitzmaurice2 (1EPI STEM, National Centre for STEM Education, University of Limerick, Ireland; 2School of Education, Faculty of Education and Health Sciences, University of Limerick, Ireland): The trajectory from current to designated: a framework for an out-of-field teaching mathematics teacher’s identity (re)construction. (ACCEPTED BUT WITHDRAWN)

  3. Raphaela Porsch (University of Muenster, Germany): Education for specialists or generalists? Initial teacher education of primary school teachers in Germany

  4. Chris Speldewinde, Coral Campbell and Linda Hobbs (Deakin University, Australia): Changing identity and practice of early career teachers who teach across discipline boundaries