Why do some of us decide to be in education? Why do some of us decide to be teachers? Why do some of us want to work with young people? Why do some of us work as teacher educators? More specifically, why do some of us, in our heart of hearts, teach the way we do? Position ourselves the way we do? Work the hours that we do?
When I look back and see me as an early career teacher (from the vantage point I have in that young man’s future) I think I did it for some of the right reasons and some of the wrong ones. Yes, I made an early decision to teach physical education, but I think that my version of physical education was actually competitive games. I saw everything I did in terms of winning and losing and it wasn’t, in the words of Brian Moore (the former England and British and Irish lions rugby player), the taking part that I was interested in, was the taking apart (i.e. beating the opposition and beating them well). To me this was the purpose of physical education. It was what appealed to me and what I had thrived on as a student of PE. I was passionate about what I wanted to do but I was limited in my understanding of what that was and what it would mean to others – especially the young people in my care.
Looking at myself in the mirror, and through my own reflections, I think I’m still limited in my outlook and I think that this sometimes limits my ability to articulate my ideas in terms of my words and my actions. Don’t get me wrong I am no longer in it for the competitive elements that I once strove for but for more holistic notions of physical education that help people to engage and positively interact with one another. That said, I don’t think I always go far enough. I am intrigued by different ideas and yet am often traditional in my approaches. I struggle, sometimes, to disenthrall myself (in the words of Ken Robinson) with the normal ways of facing problems and imagine new answers to new problems and ways of being.
To me, Pascual put her fingers on many of the pulses that drive our ambitions if not our pedagogies. She suggests that PE should be a time for students to enjoy new discoveries and learning but then asked, ‘new to who?’ She argued that without making learning dependant on the real needs and interests of our students in both a personal and professional context then learning would continue to be about ‘us’ and not ‘them’. Not an easy undertaking, but without this investment in those we help, how can we help them to be passionate about what they do? As a profession we talk about disaffected children, but do we question what they are disaffected from and why?
Large class sizes and busy timetables makes this a very big ask but do we have mechanism in our schools to facilitate these processes? What would happen if we structured physical education vertically rather than horizontal, for example, and we taught groups of mixed age and mixed ability students? How would that work? Could we form communities that help the younger children out and gave different learning opportunities to the children as they got older? Imagine classes that helped children to understand fundamental movement skills (FMS) as youngsters, and then those self-same children taught FMS as they got older? Is this really such a wacky idea? How might you next think out of the box and do something better? Or even think, “what would be better?”, and then make it happen.
Pascual asks us (as the physical education and sport pedagogy profession) to ‘search for meaning’ in what we do and what our students do with us. What critical role do they and we play in learning? How do our beliefs and practices serve to challenge or maintain the status quo? She seeks to illustrate this idea by drawing on the work of John Gatto to suggest that we have schooling wrong:
“Our teaching methodologies create a huge range of social pathologies and contradictions about the way in which children [and young people] actually learn, sacrificing human potential for an obsession with hierarchy, order, routine supervision and the creation of a lifelong dependence on the authority of ‘experts’” Gatto, cited in Fernández- Balboa, 1998 cited in Pascual, 2006, p. 71)
When we consider these words, it is possible to see how school places the emphasis on particular types of learning, learners and assessment. It is the contradiction between this reality and our aspirations as teachers that forms the heart of this paper. Pascual argues that there is a stark difference between our beliefs and the reality of our practices and then challenges the reader to see if they can see the difference themselves or if they are confused by their own self-deceiving practices.
For example, when we say we teach for democracy, can we be democratic be when our classes are often based on hierarchy, a lack of participation and the absence of dialogue?
When we say we educate for amicable co-existence can we be when “we actually show a lack of respect for our students by making unfortunate remarks or we allow them to show a lack of respect for each other”? (Pascual, 2006, p. 71)
When we educate for autonomy, independent thought and responsibility can we be “when we tell students what to think, how and when to think and even spoon-feed them knowledge”? (p. 71)
Pascual argues that we can’t or at least we shouldn’t confuse our beliefs and our actions and holds that we need to be aware of the differences. She says that we need to intellectualise the learning environment and consider what it means to be a physically educated person and consider what a real physical educator is and does. She suggests that as educators (in her paper she talks about teacher educators but I will extend the argument to all educators) we “must make radical changes, not just in the way we think but in the way we act, so that we enable students not only to learn to be passionate about what they do but also to carry out their roles…with dignity and responsibility.” (p. 72)
If we are to really advocate for democracy, amiable co-existence, autonomy and independent thought then Pascual believes that we need to acknowledge that the real heroes of the education process are the children and young people we work with. In acknowledging this we need to have a clear understanding of what “exactly are the needs, deficiencies and interests of children in our society?” (p. 73) If we can do this then we can destroy what Pascual calls the “unquestioned truth” about physical education i.e. that exercise makes you thin, that sports builds character and that competition motivations, and start, instead, to build a better future for our children.
This takes time and courage and it takes some reconsideration of what we think and do in the name of physical education. We need to ‘get over’ and passed behaviours that show a lack of respect, intolerance, classism, sexism, arrogance etc. and show a real interest in the needs of the children and young people in our care. We need to shake off the stereotypes and start, purposefully, to build new ones that will enhance and change the lot of every child in this subject that we love but which so many hate.
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 Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, maybe 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.
Pascual, C. (2006) The initial training of physical education teachers—In search of the lost meaning of professionalism, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 11:01, 69-82, DOI: 10.1080/17408980500471110