Students in a classroom facing their teacher
Students learning in a classroom

Subject knowledge and pedagogy for new teachers

In many countries, teaching is a graduate only profession. Teachers are required to be educated to degree level before being permitted to lead education in a classroom. The knowledge they need to be ‘expert’ in is an area that requires discussion.

You may hear mention of ‘subject knowledge’ and ‘subject pedagogy’. Subject knowledge is the actual knowledge teachers are expected to teach, for example you may need to have a thorough understanding of a Shakespeare play in order to be able to teach it. ‘Subject pedagogy’ is understanding how the topic can be taught. For example how can Shakespearian language be made more accessible for school pupils to help them understand the story and context of the play?

For some student teachers they already have a degree in a subject they felt passionate about and wanted to study. The teacher training route they need to follow is then around how they can take that knowledge and bring it to the level of the school classroom and support pupils to develop their understanding specifically within the subject. For these student teachers, their postgraduate route would probably need to be specific to their subject and focus on developing an understanding of pedagogy and effective classroom practice.

Other student teachers may have a degree linked much more to education itself where the process of learning and understanding of classroom pedagogy is far more developed rather than an actual focus on specific subjects. For these student teachers, their postgraduate route into teacher training would need to have a level of subject content alongside their development of pedagogy and classroom practice.

If you are currently in the process of thinking about an undergraduate course it may be useful to consider what you think is most important. To learn about an actual subject or to learn about education and learning itself? There are some undergraduate routes that allow students to study both aspects simultaneously. These courses vary from country to country and the subjects in which they are available.

The requirement for subject knowledge can depend on the age of the school pupils you are planning to teach. Those teaching younger children may need a knowledge of a huge range of subjects from physical education to mathematics, where as those teaching much older pupils will often be specialised in just one subject. Having thought about the school structures you would most like to work in, it may give you more direction in terms of the type of course and the level of subject knowledge you may require.

Step 3.7 will encourage you to think about this in far more detail and develop plans for your next steps in order to find courses that meet your needs in terms of developing both subject and pedagogical knowledge.

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