Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Study Shows Science Teachers Often Teach Beyond Their Training

The study found that 64 percent of new science teachers had at least one out of field class in their first five years and 40 percent of those teachers taught most or entirely out of their subject area.

A new study from researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Georgia shows that new science teachers are often expected to teach beyond their subject matter training.

College students training to be Middle or High School science teachers, often choose a subject, like Biology, Chemistry or Physics. They then take the necessary classes to specialize in that subject area so they can achieve a “highly qualified” teacherstatus.


But, the majority of new science teachers across the country, 64 percent, are asked to teach more than their area of expertise.


Ryan Nixon, the BYU professor who co-authored this study, says those teachers will most likely be less effective.


“You’re much less flexible to respond to student questions and ideas and much less likely to encourage their questions and their comments," Nixon says.


Nixon says they’re busy just keeping up with the new subject matter. And he says that at the college level it would not be smart to begin teaching every prospective teacher, every subject.


“We can’t do that and if you do that, they’re just going to end up leaving [college] not knowing any of the disciplines well enough," says Nixon.


That approach would dilute all the subjects, Nixon explains.


David Evans, the executive director for the National Science Teachers Association,says having an area of expertise is a very good thing for a teacher, as long as they’re able to teach it.


“One of the things we know is that teachers who are very comfortable in the content area of their own particular subject are better at all the other aspects of their professions as well," says Evans.


They’re better at classroom management, they try new teaching approaches and they stay up to date on their planning. But, on the flip side, all of those things suffer when theyhave to juggle multiple subjects


Evans understands that due to teacher shortages some schools are forced to make do with what they have. Sometimes teachers are spread thin.


In those cases, Evans says it’s crucial new teachers have additional professional development and qualified mentors. If not, chances are they won’t stick around very long.


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.