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Be careful what you ask for – you might keep getting it.

Volume 3: Teachers, teaching and teacher education in physical education

The previous blog looked at professional development (PD) and suggested that, as it currently stands, PD is about as useful as more ice would be to a Greenland Inuit. In other words it fails to deliver anything of real use to teachers Until it does teachers will be forced to suffer in silence, adopt avoidance tactics or find (and fund) their own PD.

In this week’s blog we ask what the impact has been of ‘recruiting’ good PE students to be the teachers of the future. The paper argues that, as teachers, we identify students who show the attributes of outstanding PE students and nurture them towards the profession. Yet in doing so do we replicate, generation on generation, the ideal skills and disposition of a PE teacher and in turn limit our subject area and stop it from developing in new and exciting ways?


Paper 50:

Brown, D. & Evans, J. (2004/2012) Reproducing gender? Intergenerational links and the male PE teacher as a cultural conduit in teaching physical education. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 29-56) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

How did you learn, discover, or decide that you wanted to be a PE teacher, a coach, teacher-educator or someone working with those in physical activity contexts? For me, I wanted to become a PE teacher and I have always been proud to say that I decided at the age of about fifteen when, having made time to help out with some of the junior teams at school, I found that I really liked it. We had a very strong house system at my school and in my final year of school I captained my house. It was this thriving intra-school sports competition that – along side my position as the year group ‘jock’ – provided me with the opportunity to coach a junior house team or two and the rest, as they say, is history.

Looking back on those early days from a different perspective I wonder just how ‘prepared’ I was to take on that role and my subsequent profession? When I say prepared I don’t me as an individual but by individuals i.e. my PE and games teachers. What role did they play in melding me into a PE teacher long before I finally qualified?

As a student I was always in the PE department –either for a practice or a match (sometimes even for a lesson). I played for thirteen different teams in my final year at school and in eight different sports (all the traditional ones – rugby (both codes), hockey, cricket, athletics, basketball, badminton, swimming) and had a real aptitude for sport. Yet in my own professional musings, and in reading this paper, I am left to wonder what else I had an aptitude for? I thrived in competitive sport where strong discipline was brought to bear, when needed to, ensure respect. I loved the banter and the fun, the jokes and pranks, the informality and the focus on ability – all of these served my aims and I got recognition in school sport that I didn’t get in the classroom.

I simply loved this “way of being” and relished the chance to be “top dog” and yet my engagement in PE and the subsequent help and advice I got from my PE teachers when I wanted to choose a career suggest that, perhaps, I was groomed to carry the mantle of PE and school sport forwards when I left school. Perhaps, in my case, this is doubly true because I returned to the school to work unqualified after my degree in sports studies and before my teaching certificate. This return allowed me to cement both my place and my expectations about PE and school sport and what it does.

When I became a teacher myself – despite my vow not to be too like my PE teachers (we didn’t always get along and they did some things I didn’t like) – I feel that I certainly carried the ideals of PE practice forwards from my days as a student to my job as a teacher and never really challenged it. Theirs was ‘THE way to teach’ and be a teacher. In turn I have encouraged students that I taught to be teachers or be involved in sport. It carries on the legacy.

Have you done the same? Were you recruited? Have you in turn recruited your own students? In doing so are we limited the ‘gene’ pool (so to speak)? Are we recruiting those students who remind us of us? Are they showing the right attributes – the “right stuff” so to speak? Much has been written about the replication of practices in PE and yet, as a profession, are we guilty of keeping things the same from generation to generation?


The Paper

Brown and Evans argue that despite curriculum innovation, Government policy, and changes to teacher education programmes there is still a “gendered nature” to PE. They argue that PE favours certain types of students and that it is these students who go on to become the teachers of the future who, in turn, favour the same types of students.

They do this, Brown and Evans believed, because of what is valued in PE. It is one of the few areas where gender segregation (at least in the UK) is socially and culturally legitimate – to such a degree that it is often robustly defended as natural and desirable. Yet while girls now have access to previously ‘male’ sports activity, provision and modes of interaction for boys have barely changed in the last thirty years. This has created a culture in male PE and school sport that legitimises a certain type of ‘maleness’ drawn from an idea of what a successful heterosexual male should be.

Brown and Evans suggest that boys PE culture is hierarchical and competitive and favours those who fit cultural expectations around gender. Indeed they suggest that male teachers are centrally involved in the construction and perpetuation of this gendered norm through their actions, sayings or even gestures. For the most part these are unintentional and perhaps hidden behind the messages they feel they are conveying to their students about the content in PE. Still, as Brown and Evans show, they are evident. But where do these ideas and hidden messages come from?

The authors argue that while social cultural background, family and peer group relationships are all important in the construction of an individual’s actions and beliefs these are not solely responsible, in this case, for the reproduction of gendered expectations. Instead they come, Brown and Evans argue, through intergenerational links in the PE teacher recruitment cycle. 

Potential teachers are brought in to the inner sanctum of PE while they are at school and are afforded different status and knowledge than their peers outside of the sanctum. They have a different PE experience and are treated differently by their teachers. For example, these students are often those joking and laughing with the PE teachers in the PE office at breaks and lunch. Those who match the ‘criteria’ and express an interest are steered towards a university degree in PE or sports science.

Those who choose PE as a career are then accepted back into other PE programmes as part of their teacher training. What they find in these new departments is ‘more of the same’ and a reinforcement of the ideals that saw them invited into the inner sanctum in the first place. They see familiar pedagogies used and see how skilled practitioners use them to ‘tame’ and ‘master’ a class. If they display ‘the right stuff’ then they pass the course and become teachers in their own right.

When they move into school they are free to find new ways to teach but they don't. These second generation teachers – supported and nurtured in multiple departments – do what they know best and what worked for them. Eventually they even start to recruit future teachers of their own and so the cycle continues. 

I suppose the bottom line is that if we want things to change then we need to reconsider our recruitment process from start to finish. We have been guilty of selective breeding and, perhaps, now we need to think about how we might breed out some of the traits that we don’t like and encourage those that we do. It seems natural to encourage those we see potential in but we should do this with everyone’s best interests at heart.


What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.?

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear whose work behind the scene as copy editor is a vital part of getting this blog out on time and in a semblance of coherence. 

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On Sunday 12 January at 12:32 Vicky Retter said
Thanks Ash for another great read that is very relevant for me at the moment. I think after recently reading my leavers books (GCSE and A Level) it is safe to say I was 'recruited' into the profession. I like you was in many sports teams, more often than not in the PE department, and had the opportunity to coach younger students. I learnt what I thought it was to be a teacher from my male teachers, who were the dominant influence, in my wanting to teach. I have subsequently had these beliefs and ideals challenged, and now try to teach in the way I want not the ways they may have taught me. In my opinion the ‘recruitment’ process does not occur solely within schools but also at a university level for those that are completing a degree in Sports Science, SPE etc, some lecturers/advisors can have an influence in the decision to apply for PGCE's. This may be the encouragement of the potential you mention but also a reason for the limited advancement in physical education over the past few decades. If the same is always recruited how can change occur? What impact does this recruitment have on the quality of physical education students receive? With a transfer in training routes from university based to school based; will there be a challenge to the teaching methods used or is it promoting maintenance of the same practices we see today?
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On Thursday 16 January at 01:10 Brendan Jones said
Hi Ash, On reflection, my path in PE was pretty random. I was initially lined up to be a fireman, and while waiting fro the entrance exams I was encouraged by my parents to apply for university. I chose PE teaching and before the fire brigade exams came along, I was offered a place at Wollongong Uni. I took it, intending to drop out when the fire brigade exams came along, but never did. Bu why PE? I, like you, enjoyed sport and coaching so I thought a job where you did both was ideal. My PE teaching role models were poor I have to say, so I can't honestly say I gained inspiration from them. In fact I reflect on what they did in class and often promise myself never to be like them! I learned fairly quickly that there was more to it once the uni course started. It was here that I saw in person the phenomenon the paper speaks about - the course students in general had limited and narrow views of what sort of teacher a PE teacher was (physically active and adept, tending to be critical of those that weren't, acted stereo-typically as "jocks", little interest in creativity or the arts etc). To give my training institution some credit, they did try to create well rounded graduates through course experiences, but most of us just focused on the games, coaching and teaching we thought were important But it wasn't until I started teaching that I realised the skills I thought were key for a PE teacher were really only the "visible curriculum", if you like. I realise now that a wider world view and drawing on influences from outside sport and teaching is important to craft a modern teacher of any flavour. A modern teacher needs social conscience, adaptability to change, the ability to be reflective and innovative as well as drawing on the arts, media, design thinking, social trends, gaming and popular culture to make the most of their time in schools. But this only comes with experience :-) Jonesy
Andy Vasily
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On Thursday 16 January at 10:57 Andy Vasily said
Like Jonesy, my entrance into the world of PE teaching was random. I heavily contemplated becoming a police officer while in university. I played on the football (American style that is) team for 5 years in university, as well I played on the golf team a couple of seasons. Sports was my life and I had a knack for coaching. I coached my old high school football team for a number of years and coached golf as well. I knew that I loved coaching and working with young people. Something always drove me toward becoming a teacher. I decided that I was more suited to be an educator and did my teacher training before moving to Japan for what I thought was going to be a short stint of teaching English with my girlfriend at the time (now wife). That turned out to be a wonderful ten years living in Hiroshima, Japan. There was an international school there and I decided to throw my application in. Soon after I was interviewed to teach Humanities and English and was offered a job. At the last minute, a PE position sprung open and they asked if I would be interested and I immediately accepted. Looking back now, I feel very fortunate that this happened. This allowed me to enter the world of teaching PE, something I now know that I was meant to do. When I look back on my own experiences as a student, I must admit that not one coach from high school or PE teacher had any significance on shaping who I am as a teacher. In fact, it was my history teacher from grades 9-12 that had a profound impact on me. He was a gentle, kind, caring man and a wonderful teacher who made me feel good about myself. This is a man who I haven’t seen for 20 years, but last month when my brother passed away, he found out and came to his memorial service. I looked up and saw him enter the church, he is 73 years old now. We hugged and were quite emotional. His amazing influence on me will last a lifetime. Are we recruiting PE teachers the wrong way? Absolutely. I have observed some PE teachers who are amazing athletes, but the quality of their teaching is poor. To them sport has come so easy, but they have little or no patience for the students who are not sport-minded. These teachers proudly teach the jocks and devote loads of energy to them, however this comes at great expense. The majority of the class is often times disregarded or given little attention. What physical education needs are good teachers in general. As Jonesy says, a modern teacher needs social conscience, adaptability to change, the ability to be reflective and innovative as well as drawing on the arts, media, design thinking, and social trends. Added to this list is the need for agile and flexible thinking. Physical education doesn’t need more jocks to teach its subject area. It needs well rounded educators who have a genuine desire to develop the whole student, to help in making them responsible citizens. That’s not to say that the great athletes who become PE teachers are unable to do this. It’s just that we need to be more selective about how we hire PE teachers in the future based on what students truly need from a pedagogical standpoint.
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On Thursday 16 January at 12:54 Toby said
I think the findings have relevance for me as a male PE teacher as they allow me to think critically about how I deliver my lessons to ALL students that walk into my class, not just those with sporting prowess. Reflecting on the article and as I look at my own career path I can take comfort in the fact that I haven't taken a 'cookie cutter' route into PE teaching as I'm sure many of us haven't? I would like to confess however I have been guilty of favouritism towards stronger, more able athletes in my class. We have more in common, we can share competition stories, talk about current sports events, get into deep discussions on tactics and take a lot more enjoyment out of sport than other students of mine who perhaps are less inclined. Gosh, does that make me an awful teacher? Clearly in recruiting teachers like me it's better to attract/hire practitioners that come from diverse backgrounds who can bring in a multitude of talents to the classroom and not just rely on sporting prowess to strike fear and awe into their pupils. TSumerfield
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On Thursday 16 January at 13:43 Mel Hamada said
I would argue that not just PE teaching needs a make-over, but perhaps Education in general is in the process of revolution. I have just read a great article by Dr. Peter Gray about the need for more Play time for children, and it made me consider also the implications of our current age. As Dr. Gray says "we need people who can ask and seek answers to new questions, solve new problems and anticipate obstacles before they arise. These all require the ability to think creatively. The creative mind is a playful mind." and this makes me think about the way we teach full-stop. Are we actively seeking students-teachers into PE that are going to offer these opportunities for our students? I agree with Brendan and Andy that there are many things we want our teachers to have but also that a PE staffroom should have a variety within. You need your ES teachers that have their eyes on every student and differentiating and creating space for growth and MS teachers who are fostering opportunities to learn about being individual and also team players, to work and face adversity as a community (and a team) and then HS PE teachers who can actively promote the students who find PE challenging while engaging the top end sports kids as TSumerfield has said too. There is not a one fit - PE person that we should be cloning out there. I know that I would prefer to work with PE teachers who are like minded like me, but I am not sure that my fantasy PE dept would have the depth that I could get from hiring or working closely with those who have a greater mind for PE ideas I don't have experience in. I worked in a very varied Dept last year and what I learned has made me much more aware of how we can all bring strengths to our students. I chose PE because I love running, but PE is much more than running. I wish I had worked that out sooner.... I believe I am not a talented PE teacher, but rather a passionate Teacher who happens to teach PE. I think this is an important distinction and that we need to consider how we shape Teachers' of the future, not just focus on the PE or sport part.

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