A jack of all trades versus a subject specialist

A jack of all trades versus a subject specialist

Now that I’m no longer teaching, it’s a good time to reflect upon what I learnt from the last decade or so. I don’t regret any of it, not for a moment, but I do find that I’m enjoying my new role, too – but I’ll save that discussion for another time. Something that I became increasingly conscious of, as I became more and more experienced, was that I was very much a jack of all trades when it came to what I taught. To give you just a flavour of that, in my short time as a teacher, I taught:

  • English (to all levels)
  • History, including Ancient History
  • Maths
  • Literacy
  • Science
  • PD/H/PE
  • Religion
  • Civics and Citizenship
  • Computers
  • Media
  • Business Studies
  • Business Services
  • and whatever else I can’t remember.

But more than that, I held a huge number of different roles within schools, too: I was a literacy and numeracy coordinator, a subject coordinator, a general coordinator, a stage coordinator, a year coordinator, a learning technologies coordinator, an assistant principal and much more.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet here – instead, I wanted to explore the challenges that such a career path might bring to a teacher. One of the things that I’m acutely conscious of is that I’m not the subject expert that I might have been, had I spent the last 10 years teaching the same subject – ┬áBusiness Studies, for example. I think this is, in part, related to TPACK – and especially the notions of teacher content knowledge and teacher pedagogical content knowledge. It’s pretty obvious to me that the more you read and study something – and therefore, the more you teach it – then you’re going to develop more knowledge of that subject – that’s just the nature of the beast.

But there’s more to it than that: the more you teach a subject (and assuming that you’re a reflective, thoughtful practitioner), then there is every possibility that you will develop teacher pedagogical content knowledge: in other words, you will develop ideas about how best to teach particular areas of content. The most obvious example here is using chocolate bars to teach fractions – I’ve seen it done, and it works, and it’s the kind of knowledge that only expert practitioners would have – it wouldn’t occur to others.

Whereas, if you’re a generalist like me, you’ve got a great grasp of lots of different ways of teaching and learning many different subjects, but ultimately, you’re lacking that expertise. I wonder if this has any particular relevance to the arguments about subject experts in primary schools…