7 questions to help you teach outside your subject

Have you found yourself teaching a subject outside of your specialism? Here's how to make the most of the situation
13th December 2020, 6:00am
Nikki Cunningham-Smith


7 questions to help you teach outside your subject

How To Make The Most Of Teaching Outside Your Subject Area

We've all been there in July, hovering outside of the hallowed timetabler's office, not wanting to bother them while at the same time delivering them regular coffee and cake in the hope that they have looked favourably on you. 

But oh, the horror, you finally get a glimpse of their creation and there's a subject on your timetable that you've never taught before.

It can feel pretty daunting, but there are seven key questions that should make everything feel a little more manageable.

1. Why am I teaching out of subject?  

Let's look at the justifications, as it can feel a little personal that you have been highlighted as the member of staff in your department to do this. 

It may be because of funding, to prevent projected redundancies. Often a school can see that there are lower numbers in a year group's cohort but an increase on the horizon, so they will keep everyone employed for that year, and take the financial loss as they know it will be recouped in the next academic year. That means there may be a need for cross-subject teaching.  

Current staff in your department may have more classes that need stability (eg, exams) and you may be seen as a strong member of staff or have a TLR so there are more expectations of competency placed at your door. 

But overall, take this as a compliment: the school and it's leadership trust you to take on this challenge and do a great job in difficult circumstances.

Don't see teaching out of subject as a personal attack, but as an opportunity to add another string to your bow.

2. Can I get additional support and training? 

Ask for the opportunity to participate in some training. Whether that is external training sessions, joining a network within your local authority, finding online support groups or partnering up with a member of the new department so that they can mentor and support you, it is important that you are able to use this as an upskilling and CPD opportunity.

3. What if it teaching out of subject knocks my confidence?

You are still in charge of that class and you are still the qualified professional. Have faith that you can deliver anything. 

After all, we are teachers of children not just of subjects! 

All behaviour management strategies, relationship and rapport builders remain the same, because if you have control of the classroom, that's half the battle and the rest should fall into place. 

4. How can I protect my specialism?

Are there ways in which you can take the skills from your area of expertise and bring them into teaching this new area?

You are losing teaching areas in your initial subject but you can still keep your toes dipped in. 

If you look at the long-term plan for the year, look with the new department for areas where your subject would be able to fit in well. 

This could mean that once every few weeks you are teaching in a manner that is comfortable and second nature to you. 

5. How can I stay on top of the additional brain burden? 

It is going to take a lot of organising, but it's doable if you can get your routine nailed.

If the class has been timetabled in the new department rather than your classroom, can you have it moved to your teaching space so you aren't running around before and after (although you may already be moving around due to "bubble groups").  

6. How do I ensure that I do the job well?

Is there a member of staff in the department that is on PPA during your lesson, so can be on hand to provide you with any additional support you might need?   

Is there some allocated time you can spend observing your new department's lesson so that you can get a head start on the way it is delivered, and the normal language and keywords that may be important to that area?  

Is there a current scheme of work with lesson plans that you can follow? And if not, can you buy one in? 

7. How can I get support with marking?

If your knowledge of the subject is limited, for a period of time can you focus on students' spelling, punctuation and grammar and get advice on how to advance the whole class by sharing your initial findings with a teacher in the department, so that they can help you to identify the next steps that students need to take? 


It can be a very difficult and frustrating situation, teaching out of subject, but as long as you approach your new head of department with some ideas for a support plan, one that means that you are not spending all weekend reading up on the subject, but also that other people aren't spending all of their time on your class, together you should be able to develop a plan that works for all. 

Nikki Cunningham-Smith is an assistant headteacher in Gloucestershire

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