Teaching Outside of Your Method

I was reading this article, discussing how many early years’ teachers are teaching outside of their teaching methods. It talks about the statistics around this, touching briefly on the need due to timetabling. It doesn’t really seem to get into the meat of the matter, as it is article based on a report which was looking at the numbers, not necessarily the reasons behind them.

I have been teaching 4 years, with a year off between my 3rd and 4th years to be a stay at home dad. I have taught outside my methods, almost every year until recently. When I started teaching I had English and Information Technology as official methods.  In my first 2 years of teaching I taught; English, History, Geography, Information Technology, Religious Education, Automotive, and VCAL. And these were across the range of 7 to 10, with the exception of VCAL and RE which were year 11 subjects.  I should note, these were not as a CRT, extras or short contracts, but subjects I had for at least a term or two.

I was happy to give them a go, as I was young and ready to take on any challenge. I may have been naive as a fresh faced graduate, but I wanted to teach and would have said yes to almost any subject that would of but me in the classroom. I was not in a position to say no to work, and felt that I could take on any challenge. Some of them were big asks; Auto especially, which was luckily for a term and all theory and design. It was hard work, I was lucky enough to be “old” (I was 32) by first year teaching standards, and had no desire to have a social life beyond watching some TV with my wife. I devoted myself happily to the preparation and work that I needed to do to deliver these subjects. I never felt pressured to teach anything, but could see how you could easily be pressured into doing that, especially as an early teacher, who is desperate to just have a job.

It is an easy thing to forget, that secondary teachers are trained as specialists. We know our methods; we know the content and the pedagogy that surrounds those methods. We know about classroom management and general pedagogy. We typically are pretty limited outside our methods though! For example, I myself have 5 teaching methods; Information Technology, English, Humanities, Food Technology and Business Management. I admit that this is unusual and due to having too much time on my hands playing stay at home dad for a year, combined with my circuitous route to teaching. I can confidently teach in my methods. I’m also pretty comfortable teaching junior media, religious education, economics or accounting. Beyond that, I have pretty much no clue; there are some areas I won’t know where to start teaching in. I won’t say that I could not learn the content and how to teach them, but if you dropped me in cold, into a class out of my method areas tomorrow, I would have countless hours of work to take on the challenge. And the truth is, I would not be the best person to be teaching the subject. Take math for example. I am ok at math. I work with business math and computer math fairly regularly. I still actually use algebra, but I am not mathematically minded. I don’t understand it at a level that lets me see the how things are done. I cannot explain it in different ways; I am not a math teacher. No matter how much time I spend training and studying, I don’t think I will ever be a good math teacher; it is not my specialty or within my personal capacities. On the other hand, I am an English teacher. I understand English; the structure and function; the complex rules; the different styles and methods of writing. I can explain them in many different ways, and if needed figure out new ways to help a specific student understand what I am on about.

At a junior level, 7-9, there is a valid argument for everyone teaching everything. At year 7, most of us will have enough general knowledge to teach most subjects, except maybe math and LOTE (and the new IT curriculum, but that I’m saving for another post all by it lonesome). Through in PE and Technology subjects and the list starts getting long, but that is why we have specialist teachers; secondary education is about developing mastery in subjects not general learning.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with teaching outside your area, but I for one have never said “yes” to teaching something that I could not really teach; I’m not a math or science teacher; nor a PE or art teacher; I can’t teach wood, metal or plastics; don’t even ask about a language other than English or textiles. I know I cannot teach in those areas, because they are so far out of my personal context and skill set that I would do students a disservice in attempting to teach them. But this is me, not you. Some of the best teachers I have ever worked with or had, were in fact teaching in an area that wasn’t their method, but something they loved anyhow.

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