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Research Spotlight on Out-of-Field Teaching

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

As Richard Ingersoll (2003) says, "few would require cardiologists to deliver babies, real estate lawyers to defend criminal cases... or sociology professors to teach English."

This phenomenon of out-of-field teaching – teachers teaching subjects for which they have little education or training – has long been and continues to be an important issue in our public schools.

Much of the problem in out-of-field teaching can be attributed to selective shortages of teachers, as well as misplacement of teachers. The data show (Ingersoll, 2003) that each year some out-of-field teaching takes place in more than half of all U.S. secondary schools, and each year over one fifth of the public 7th-12th grade teaching force engages in this practice. And, in schools whose students come from low-income households, the percentage of teachers teaching out of their field is much higher.

With rapid growth in student enrollment and a high teacher attrition rate, school systems now realize they need to take some prescriptive measures to address this issue. Here are some recommendations from Glori Chaika (2000) to insure the finding and keeping of those teachers certified to teach subjects for which they have been educated and trained:

  • Providing financial incentives to colleges to steer potential teachers specifically toward shortage areas
  • Offering hiring bonuses to attract – and annual stipends to retain - teachers who have certification in shortage areas
  • Offering stipends for mentor teachers to assist those new to the field – perhaps targeting teachers in special needs areas especially during the critical first or second year of teaching

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