Too much emphasis on subject specialism

17th April 2009 at 01:00

I have to admit to reading Lindsay Paterson's comments about specialist subject knowledge with some alarm and concern (TESS, March 6). Unlike him, I believe this actually is a barrier to full implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence.

There needs to be a more fluid and flexible approach to teaching. In industry, the emphasis is on how you got to where you are and how you add value to an organisation, rather than on your academic record or qualifications. So is there actually too much of the subject specialist culture in schools? Do secondary teachers themselves contribute to a process of increasing the barriers between subject areas rather than working to break them down and moving towards much more of a cross-curricular and themed learning experience for our pupils?

This issue has provoked serious staffroom debate in my school whenever it is brought up in conversation. I am often referred to as a biologist or a psychologist, but my degree was physiology with enough psychology content (plus a wee bit of postgraduate study) to enable me to get registration in psychology as well as biology. Does this really entitle me to call myself a biologist or psychologist?

Just what is the criteria for being 'awarded' this status? Is it a masters degree (required by some countries of their teachers) or a PhD, or perhaps authoring a text or publishing research? As I've had my educational research published, perhaps I'm a social scientist, a researcher or even an educationist? Or, as I'm currently undertaking postgraduate study leading to an MSc in education management and leadership, should I give myself a title related to my course?

Are we, as a profession of secondary teachers, too status driven? A willingness to learn things, and work outside your specialism, is more important than subject-specific expertise, particularly in these uncertain and constantly-changing times.

I am, first and foremost, a teacher. It's what I trained for and what I do. I don't do biology every day: I teach that subject or, rather, I teach Standard grade and Higher biology (but that's another story). It is being a teacher which defines me professionally, much more than my subject specialism ever could.

Jaye Richards, Cathkin High, Cambuslang.

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