This paper presents the findings of a research study that assessed the variation in teaching in expert teachers' Stage 4/5 History and Geography classrooms in one region in NSW. The specificity of the analysis made possible by the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities Quality Teaching model (NSWQTM) and associated research instruments enabled a number of insights to be drawn about the teaching in the classrooms. After observation and coding of 61 weekly lessons the general qualities of pedagogy described by NSWQTM were not high. The identification of a 'typical HSIE pedagogy' was a major contribution of this study to research. Overall, the expert HSIE teachers in this study appeared to be 'teaching defensively' (by analogy with 'driving defensively') or 'playing it safe'. These findings have implications for policy makers about what is needed for the NSWQTM and for good teaching in general, to become part of day-to-day classrooms and practice.