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Ryan Nixon spent four years studying matter, energy, and the universe—and learning how to teach those and other physics-related concepts. In his first year as an eighth-grade teacher, he hit a roadblock. He was supposed to teach his students geology: something he hadn't learned about since, well, eighth grade.
Nixon, now a McKay School assistant professor of science education, recently teamed up with colleagues from the University of Georgia to explore the rates and predictors of secondary science teachers who teach classes out of their field. Their research revealed that just 36 percent of new science teachers are teaching only in their trained subjects. "When you are a new teacher and you want a job, you take the job the principal gives you," Nixon said. "And if you are assigned out of field, maybe you figure it out and do a good job with it, but it makes your life difficult."
Though the problem has its roots in a number of areas, including vague policy, Nixon believes important change can come when administrators are aware of the issue. "I wonder if administrators really realize it is a problem. 'You are a science teacher—why does it matter? Teach whatever,"' he said. "But when it comes down to it, administrators need to say, 'My teachers need to be where they can teach best."'