What do you think you know about the subject that you teach? For some teachers, the answer might be obvious. They know everything about their subject. They love it. It is what they studied at University. They are passionate about that discipline and have continued their subject learning into their professional career (Geography geeks are guilty of this in my experience).
Teachers should, I believe, aspire to dual professionalism of mastery over their subject knowledge as well as pedagogical knowledge. For other teachers, the idea of teaching the subject they studied at University is laughable, as what they teach currently is so far removed from their original study. Others might be latecomers to teaching and have already had a career to draw on, rather than a simple academic background. Let’s not forget the Primary sector – where these guys teach everything, which is, quite frankly, damn impressive. (I am going to throw in a cheeky ‘Go Primary’ in here!) So, I think it would be useful for us to reflect on what we know, or at least what we think we know.
When I was studying for my degrees, every time I found I knew something, I discovered a whole area that I knew nothing about. In fact, whole areas of history to which I was totally ignorant. Much of learning now feels like this to me. I am learning about teaching IT and computing – I am so very aware of my ignorance in many respects of the subject. This shouldn’t paralyse you or make you fearful of learning. In fact, it is liberating to know that you are on a journey that had no endpoint, no final destination. Just as developing your practice is never done, so it is the same with learning. I am planning to audit A-Level Computing at my school this coming academic year to try and fill in some of the holes in my knowledge, but there are lots of other steps that I could take.
If you think you have holes in your subject content – then congratulations for being honest that your brief learning (probably quite some time ago) is probably not the be-all and end-all of that particular subject. I am well aware that teaching subjects to GCSE or A-level do not require teachers to have the same subject mastery as a Professor at University. However, what it really does require is for teachers to not be, well, blagging it. If you have knowledge gaps, never try and blag it in front of a class. You will lose credibility much quicker, than if you confess and honestly Google the answer. Teachers should not have to be encyclopaedias of information, but you do need to be a credible authority. There are many courses available from exam boards, education authorities, educational consultants and subject-specific professional bodies. Most schools are prepared to allow teachers a number of professional development days a year, and it might be worthwhile working specifically on subject knowledge content.
Alongside this is the teaching and learning area of development. I don’t care if you have never got less than a Grade 1 in observation. This is something everyone can improve on. You think you are outstanding? Then let’s try and be even better than Outstanding (Great phrase, misquoted from @KevBartle). I honestly do not think the key here is by throwing money at it. There are numerous free options to help you improve your teaching practise. Blog, and take the time to reflect on your own practice. This can be done easily by setting up a free blog on one of the many platforms, such as WordPress or Blogger. If you don’t want to start your own blog, then write something for UKEdChat to engage with the wider teaching community. Of course, there is also Twitter. This aside, I am always staggered at how few teachers get to TeachMeets. Do yourself a favour, look on the TeachMeet wiki and get to a local event. They are free, and there is often free cake/food as well as a sharing of ideas. You don’t have to present – but it will certainly help inspire you through the next half term, and I have always come away from them with at least one good idea to try in my classroom.
Really perhaps what we know, ultimately, is that we can always strive to be better at what we do, in terms of both our subject and pedagogical knowledge. How we go about improving these two things is very much the choice of the individual. For some, they work in schools that have a very prescriptive …
This is an extract of the article published in the May 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine. View the web edition freely by clicking here. The online version of this article was updated in 2019 by the UKEd Editorial team in line with website and policy changes.
Rachel Jones is a teacher and e-Learning coordinator. She shares interesting ideas about pedagogy and other geeky stuff on her blog at createinnovateexplore.com. You can find her on Twitter @rlj1981.