Out-of-field teachers as learners: Influences on teacher perceived capacity and enjoyment over time


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 44:5, 627-651

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors focus on the education that out-of-field teachers obtain through their day-to-day teaching practice, in both their in-field (IF) and out-of-field (OOF) contexts.
On-going teacher education through practice, and the need for teachers to learn and grow through experience, is particularly pertinent when teachers are asked to teach OOF (Hobbs 2020).
This learning is both cognitive, as teachers extend and build their capacity in the knowledge, skills and practices needed in the new subject.
It is also emotional, as teachers deal with the implications for their identity, attitudes and enjoyment in teaching a subject in which they have limited background, and often, limited interest (Hobbs 2012).
Dewey (1938) recognised this dualistic nature of experience, claiming that in an experience the cognitive (factual) is intricately interlinked with the affective (feelings or emotion).
Examining how these factors change over time highlights what Dewey (1934/1980) calls the continuity of experience where past experiences lay the foundation for future experience.
The following research questions guide this analysis:
(1) What changes do teachers experience in their perceived capacity and enjoyment in their out-of-field and in-field teaching contexts?
(2) What influences those changes?

The larger study from which this paper is drawn uses a three-year longitudinal qualitative case study methodology (Stake 2005) to examine the experiences of secondary teachers teaching in OOF contexts.
A set of research questions focused on teacher change in identity, knowledge and practice, and the effect of context on these changes.
Each year multiple semi-structured interviews were conducted with a selection of teachers, their mentors and school leaders.
The interviews were conducted by members of the research team, each of whom took responsibility for data collection at one of the case study schools.
The analysis presented in this paper focuses on a sub-set of data from this larger study that focused on the use of the fortune lines technique to elicit teachers’ reflection on changes in their perceived capacity and enjoyment.

Seven schools from three Australian states acted as case studies.
School selection was based on there being at least one teacher who was teaching any subject OOF, and who had taught mathematics or science IF or OOF.
Data for this paper are drawn from the interviews of four teachers teaching IF and OOF from three schools.
These teachers were selected because they were early career teachers at the beginning of the study, having taught for five years or less, and they had completed fortune lines for both their IF and OOF teaching.

Data collection
The analysis reported in this paper used data from teacher interviews from year two of the study where the teachers drew and described their fortune lines for about 20–30 minutes of the 45–60 minute interview.
To further interrogate the support needs and teaching practice of the OOF teacher, some of these interviews included a mentor or ‘critical friend’.
During these interviews the teacher and mentor would prompt each others’ thought processes so that differing perspectives could come in contact (Maykut and Morehouse 1994).
Where no mentor was nominated by a teacher, the interview involved just the teacher and focused on teacher identity, teaching practices, supports and experiences in relation to their IF and OOF teaching roles, as well as application of the fortune lines technique.
The fortune lines technique involved the following process.
During the interviews the teacher (and mentor if present) were asked to draw graphs (White and Gunstone 1998) on a graphical template depicting their perceptions of the changes in the teacher’s capacity and enjoyment for their OOF and IF teaching.
The authors allowed teachers to interpret and refer to capacity and enjoyment in their own way.
Participants were asked to explain their graphs, describing their capacity and enjoyment and influences on them.
They could also add labels to their graph if that assisted the reflection process.

Analysis processes
Two related forms of data were used in this analysis: the fortune line artefacts drawn and annotated by the teachers, and the associated transcripts of the interviews.
The analysis process was informed by Lichtman’s (2013) approach to developing codes, categories and concepts.

Findings and discussion
The data are presented as case descriptions of the four teachers.
These case descriptions comprise the data from which the ensuing analysis is drawn.
An aim of much teacher professional learning is to build teacher capacity (Department of Education and Training 2003).
The data shows mostly upward trajectories in teacher perceived capacity particularly for OOF teaching, and mostly without formal intervention or influences external to the school.
School-based support, however, was important for many of these teachers as emotional support and to build their capacity.
Student-related factors, including whether students were willing to engage and students’ learning as a consequence of instruction, provided teachers with evidence of how effective their practice was in different situations.
Improvements in teacher knowledge, gained through prior experiences of teaching the subject, led to increased confidence in their teaching capacity and, for some, increased confidence made teaching more enjoyable.
Experience was important for developing capacity and enjoyment of both OOF and IF teaching.
In keeping with other research relating to the difficulties faced by OOF teachers (e.g., Nixon, Luft, and Ross 2017), content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge were mentioned as influencing capacity by teachers in both IF and OOF, but more commonly in relation to their OOF teaching.
Looking across the graphs and influences, there appeared to be more rises than falls associated with teacher knowledge.
The OOF fortune lines tended to start at a lower point on the y-axis than the IF lines, suggesting that there was more space to improve their OOF capacity and enjoyment.
In line with Dewey (1938), teaching experience appeared to lay the foundation for future experience in a positive way, with the upward trajectories, regardless of whether smooth or punctuated, suggesting that teachers believed that they were learning ‘through’ the OOF teaching experiences.
This idea of learning ‘through’ the ups and downs provides an alternative narrative to viewing OOF teaching as an insurmountable challenge or as an ordeal to be endured.
Punctuation, however, can be dangerous if rises do not follow falls, for example, if teachers do not feel they have anyone in the school to help break a fall in capacity or enjoyment through point-of-need support.
Experiences and influences that must be monitored and managed because of the volatility that they can cause include negative student experiences that can make a teacher feel inadequate, such as critique from parents, unrealistic expectations of students, constant changes to teacher allocations, and restrictions to teachers’ innovative tendencies.
The Domain of consequence, in particular, student factors, was particularly volatile and responsible for both rises and falls.
Du Plessis, Carroll, and Gillies (2015) claim that teacher relationships with students are compromised when teachers are OOF.
This research shows, however, that student-related factors can be edifying for the teacher’s perceptions of capacity and feelings of enjoyment when students exhibit progress and engagement as a consequence of teacher practice, but can also corrode teachers’ confidence in their capacity and reduce enjoyment when student responses to the teaching show thoughtlessness, little appreciation, and poor learning outcomes.
In keeping with other research, teacher resilience was essential when capacity and enjoyment levels were low.
The steep learning curve that novice teachers often experience (Veenman 1984) can be seen in graphs depicting growth in the IF teaching, although the curves are not so steep possibly because the first one or two years were not represented.
For OOF teaching, a roller coaster ride may more aptly capture the nature of this experience for some teachers, as they can be gradual, protracted, multiple (across different subjects), and punctuated.
Resilience has been seen to be essential for all early career teachers during this time (Johnson et al. 2014), but the roller coaster ride of developing OOF teaching practices requires a particularly high degree of resilience.

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Updated: May. 23, 2022


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