A vital part of teaching will be the subject knowledge that one brings to the classroom. Building that knowledge can be rather daunting for a teacher at any stage of their career, particularly as they enter new jobs or, which so often happens, courses change. Nevertheless, this should certainly be something to be enjoyed as much as possible, in my own subject, History, we have the opportunity to become well versed in a huge range of topics and open up new areas of interest. However, there is always the frustration that a course changes, just when you feel you are getting the hang of it.
But I digress…..
Good subject knowledge builds confidence for many. For the teacher it allows them to feel secure in their classrooms and to push their lesson planning and teaching styles. For the student it allows for a good rapport with their teacher due to them feeling secure in the knowledge that this teacher ‘knows their stuff’ and feeds into good examination results; of course when associated with other key elements of classroom practice.
But what does good subject knowledge look like? In my experience the teacher needs a broad, functional and focused understanding of each topic that they teach. The joy of teaching is the learning journey that occurs within the classroom, this experience is one that a student begins with the teacher at the helm. Nevertheless, to me the journey gets all the more exciting as teacher and student learn together. Indeed, many courses, such as the Extended Project Qualification,now advocate this. Each lesson should, to me, have those moments where either the teacher does not know the answer to a question and discover it with their students or encourages the student to discover the answer for themselves.
Over the years I have had many conversations on this subject. Another point of view is that the teacher should have deep subject knowledge. In other words they should know all there is to know about the subject that they are teaching. I can see the merits of this approach, confidence (beyond that outlined above) for example. Nevertheless, I wonder if this could stifle creativity and independence in the classroom? Some of the best moments I have had in teaching have been when I have been fortunate enough to teach young people who know more about a subject than I may. This is not something a teacher should feel threatened by, but instead encourage and, if possible, employ in their lessons, build the student’s confidence by allowing them the opportunity to be the expert.