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Teachers frequently teach out-of-field

PROVO — BYU researchers have found that teachers are being asked more and more often to teach a subject they’re not trained to take on, especially if they are newer to the field.

Ryan Nixon is now an assistant professor at BYU, but he graduated from Weber State with a degree that qualified him to teach high school physics. Because he was hired as an 8th grade science teacher, he therefore had to teach geology and other 8th grade science material, even though it wasn’t his area of expertise.

“Just because I know about physics doesn’t mean I know anything about natural selection,” he says.

At BYU, Nixon has been studying just how often other new teachers face similar situations. His research shows about 40% of new teachers teach mostly or entirely out of their field, and 64% had at least one out-of-field course in their first five years.

Nixon says teachers may grow from that kind of challenge, but he worries students may suffer.

His research is available online here.