Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Environmental Education Research Group

Re-imagining futures in STEME

Upskilling teachers as a way to respond to out-of-field teaching

Posted by Assoc. Prof. Linda Hobbs on February 10, 2021
Written by Linda Hobbs, with contributions from Russell Tytler, Peta White and Jill Brown.
Presented as part of the launch of the DET funded Secondary Mathematics and Science Initiative (SMSI), February 10, 2021

Teaching out-of-field is an international issue sometimes called ‘education’s dirty little secret’.

These are some statistics about out-of-field teaching that come from an analysis of the latest TIMSS data.

From Hobbs, L., Campbell, C., Delaney, S., Speldewinde, C. and Lai, J. (2020). Defining and mapping out-of-field teaching in Victorian Government schools. Report prepared for the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training, October 15, 2020.

Our view about out-of-field teaching is that when adequately supported, it can be an opportunity for learning for teachers.

However, the focus of change should not simply be placed on teachers. So, it is great to see the State of Victoria having a systemic response to this issue through the Graduate Certificates of Secondary Science and Mathematics that are being designed and delivered by Deakin for teachers wanting to upskill to become science or mathematics teachers.

Members of our STEME research group at Deakin have had a long history in exploring the various dimensions of the out-of-field teaching phenomenon. I have run an international group of researchers and practitioners called the OOF-TAS Collective exploring this issue for the past 9 years.

I have learned that the way the education systems are set up creates the need for out-of-field teaching in the first place.

In Australia, this is an issue of unmet demand and unequal teacher distribution. A system response to is required to increase the supply and distribution of appropriately qualified teachers. It is also an issue requiring specific attention by leadership and administration.

But ultimately, when teachers are placed – or choose to teach – in out-of-field contexts, this becomes an issue of teaching quality requiring that schools and teachers embrace innovation and a learning disposition.

Support can be critical for teachers to maintain teaching quality – here teacher professional development, formal qualifications for upskilling, in-school support and sympathetic leadership, can be helpful for teachers as they learn to teach in these contexts.

The SMSI is an important response, that has the potential to be a real game changer within the state for teachers willing to embrace change and expand their horizons, for whatever reason. It can also generate a conversation about how best to respond to teaching out-of-field at a system level.

As we design and implement the courses, we will learn about the intersections between teacher experience and disciplinary expertise, and how best to support teaching as a ‘learning profession’. We hope to learn what challenges out-of-field teachers face, how they learn, and what support and  types of experiences are most helpful for teachers as they become ‘in-field’.

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