How Important is Subject Matter Knowledge for a Teacher?

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It seems obvious that, if you are going to teach a subject, then you should really know a lot about the subject, right?

Certainly in high schools, where teachers often specialise into one or two subject areas, there is a real emphasis on the subject matter knowledge of the teacher – which is why, the claim goes, that if you want to teach history, you should first learn a lot about history, and if you want to teach mathematics, then you should get a degree in mathematics.

  1. One Chapter Ahead of the Students…
  2. Not so Fast…

Expert teachers can make use of their subject knowledge to organise and use content knowledge more effectively for their students to understand.

In addition, expert teachers are more likely to be able to respond to the needs of any particular classroom, recognising students who are struggling and changing the way the information is presented in order to make it more understandable.

For a teacher to provide effective feedback requires that teacher to understand both what the student is capable of, and how the student can express their understanding and what an improved understanding might look like.

In other words, a teacher needs to call on and deploy skills related to feedback, teacher subject knowledge, and also their relationship with the student in order to complete the process successfully.

Of course, nothing is ever simple in education.

The answer is that teachers – whether they are subject specialists or generalists – need a wide range of different skills and attitudes if they are to assist their students achieve high outcomes. These should include relationships with students, subject matter knowledge and also an understanding of pedagogical processes to develop the understanding that is required.

Should a teacher fail to have any of these, then it is likely that the learning in the classroom will not be as successful.



(This article/text/quote/image is shared in good spirit to strengthen the education system.)

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