OOF/TAS Collective Symposium
11 September, 2015
Teaching out-of-field: Perspectives on teacher education and training
While the first part of this symposium focuses on the experiences of out-of-field teachers in terms of their practices, beliefs and incidence, the second part of the symposium explores teacher learning. Internationally, teacher learning and those responsible for teacher learning, both pre-service and in-service, are fundamental to the growth of teacher knowledge and expansion of teacher identity. Teacher learning occurs at pre-service teacher level and is generally the responsibility of universities and colleges. Continuing professional development is offered by a range of providers and funded in multiple ways (different approaches to professional development of teachers are summarised in Hobbs & Törner, 2014). There are different expectations for continuing professional development internationally.
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Teaching out-of-field has been common practice for some time, although silent and tabooed in some countries (Ingersoll, 2002; Harris, Harris & Jensz, 2006). Improving the quality of out-of-field teaching requires teachers to engage with continuing professional learning; needed is serious attention to both raising pre-service teachers’ awareness of and preparation for the challenges that out-of-field teaching might present as they enter the workforce (explored in Paper 1), and to supporting, retraining and professionally developing in-service teachers (explored in Papers 2, 3 and 4). Whether these teachers seek out or participate in formal professional development or retraining programs depends on many factors: availability, accessibility due to context, time, identity-related issues, school leadership and professional development cultures, and state incentives, funding and support. The last factor is essential if high quality and targeted professional development and retraining opportunities are to be targeted, available and sustainable. Papers 2, 3 and 4 report on state funded retraining programs for out-of-field teachers.
Identity-related factors can determine how teachers approach an out-of-field teaching assignment. Teachers who embrace the challenge and are willing to see themselves as learners are more likely to seek out or engage with professional development seriously, leading to increased knowledge, improved practice, and expanded professional identities. However, these types of transformations require recognizing where their practice could be enhanced, recognizing their strengths, reflection on practice, and risk taking to embrace new practices. Papers 2 and 3 indicate some of the challenges involved for teachers in taking on new identities, and taking on the big ideas of mathematics in their retraining programs. Papers 2, 3 and 4 provide some indication of key features needed for professional development to lead to transformation in identity and practice for out-of-field teachers.
Early career and experienced teachers can be mis-assigned, either as common long-term practice (such as science teachers teaching mathematics) or in order to complete a teacher’s load. Consequently, new teachers would benefit from being made aware of the reality of out-of-field teaching. Pre-service teacher education programs that build teachers’ capacity to engage in teacher learning-oriented reflection practices, and to embrace an identity of teacher-as-researcher-learner may enable graduate teachers to be more adaptable and ready when they receive an out-of-field teaching load. Tensions exist in initial teacher education because teacher education programs are often subject to strict accreditation requirements. Maintaining a balance between strict subject specialization and preparing students for the reality of teaching is difficult within these requirements. Paper 1 (Hobbs) explores teacher educator perspectives of the possibilities and challenges involved in raising the issue of out-of-field teaching in their courses in a way that seriously prepares teachers to be adaptable, confidence and competent, and resourceful in the event that they are asked to teach out-of-field.
The research question explored in this symposium is: In what ways can teacher education programs and retraining programs attend to the issues around teacher knowledge, professional identity, and transformation of the practices of out-of-field teachers?
Papers for download
Teacher educator perspectives on exposing Pre-service teachers to teaching out-of-field. Linda Hobbs & Coral Campbell
In-service training to become a mathematics specialist: Aspiration and resistance. Melissa Rodd & Cosette Crisan
Professional development for out-of-field post-primary teachers of mathematics: An example from the Irish context. Maíre Ní Ríordáin & Fiona Faulkner
Research on teaching practices and beliefs of out-of-field teachers
The papers presented in the first part of this symposium explore various elements of the very complex issue relating to out-of-field teaching in Europe and Australia. Teaching out-of-field arises for many and varied reasons, and there are a variety of effects that are manifested differently throughout the world. There is national and international variability in its extent, effects and contributing factors (cf. Hobbs & Toerner, 2014). This variability can hamper international comparisons of TAS; if we are to learn from each other, we need to take this variability into account. At present, Governments are mostly influenced by the numbers: who is teaching what and in what numbers. While the extent of the out-of-field phenomenon differs across different nations, Paper 1 explores some of the difficulties involved when establishing the extent of out-of-field teaching nationally and internationally. But the issue is complex and not just a matter for the statisticians. All the key stakeholders should be considered when understanding the issue. Papers 2, 3 and 4 explore some of this complexity.
The teacher stands to be impacted on by out-of-field teaching, although this impact may not always be acknowledged by governments, leadership or other members of the school community. Teacher identity, self-efficacy, attitudes and motivations, well-being, knowledge and practice, are key variables that must be scrutinized in order to understand the complex and individual experience of what it means to teach out-of-field. Paper 2 argues that content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge provide only part of the picture and that it is only when we look at teacher identity that we can understand how teachers stand in relation to mathematics and mathematics education.
The issue of teacher quality in many countries has emerged as an issue partly because of international testing regimes. In recent years, student achievement, teacher qualifications, and broader issues relating to the teaching and learning experience can be scrutinised can be compared across nations. The problem with such testing is that there are many factors, some qualitative in nature, that contribute to a student’s experience at school and possibility of participating in society. A data driven approach to education can fail to acknowledge these qualitative factors; it also funnels the curriculum. While at the one hand it has the potential to reflect the extent and effect of out-of-field teaching, there are ethical issues if such testing is used to measure the performance of an out-of-field teacher. Use of a balance between high stakes testing, local school data, and other qualitative measures that are encompassing of school contexts and supply/demand issues is therefore needed when imposing accountability measures. Paper 3 presents some of the latest TIMSS findings for Germany and explores links between being out-of-field and teacher self-efficacy, as well as how being taught by an out-of-field teacher affects student self-concept.
The students are on the receiving end of decisions about out-of-field teaching. Affected can be student learning outcomes and achievement, and students’ engagement with and attitudes towards the subject. In addition, Paper 4 raises serious doubts about out-of-field teachers’ abilities to create inclusive learning environments and a lack of preparedness to accommodate the learning needs of all students. These difficulties arise as teaching practices are not informed by strong disciplinary and subject knowledge.
The research question explored in Part one of the symposium is: In what ways does out-of-field teaching influence the quality of teacher practice, teacher’s experiences of teaching, and students’ experience of learning; and how can we compare these factors across international borders?
Papers for download
Towards Out-of-field Teaching Mathematics Teachers’ Subject-Related Teacher Identities. Marc Bosse & Günter Törner