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.