«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The influence of others In all cases, trainee teacher recollections of PE and sport involved other people. The groups of people discussed included family members, friends, peers and school staff. Ellie (Stage 1c) reinforced the importance of family support, saying ‘at home, encouragement was a big thing’ whilst for Jane, having a younger sister (who was in year 6 at the time of the start of the investigation) has enabled her to become an interested sibling and role model (Stage 1c). She explained how she was brought up in an active family, enjoying cycling holidays and football days in the park. She also developed this childhood involvement into adult participation and was still keen to try new activities, joining the university trampoline club during her first year.
Jane appeared positively predisposed towards PE and sport and was looking forward to applying teaching methods in the school context. Ellie similarly described the positive
influence of her active parents:
Both my parents were really active and they always encouraged me. Like in primary school I was going to athletics. They were both athletes, so they always encouraged me. They did encourage me…they always dropped me off and collected me (Stage 1c interview).
A strong connection to memories of PE and sport was made when respondents referred to their PE teachers. Those at James’ middle school were ‘rugby barmy- we did very little soccer’ (Stage 1c). James recalled trying to please his PE teachers by taking part in everything, saying ‘if you do everything, the PE teachers love you, don’t they?’ Role models in school were seen to be important by respondents who named a person who had a positive impact on them.
Amanda explained her own motivation to become a teacher in this regard (Stage 1b
I had a really nice teacher in primary school, Year 6, she was great. I just wanted to be a bit like her really.
The influence of peers continues to be a source of motivation to be active for trainee teachers.
Rachel commented that:
a friend of mine trampolines, and watching them makes me think, oh- I could do that, so I gave it a go and loved it and carried it on (Stage 1c).
Amanda reflected on studying at an institution with a ‘sports culture’ which seems to permeate student life beyond the realms of taught courses. Watching student teams on Wednesday
afternoons was discussed as an influencing factor. She commented:
everyone’s kind of like, look at them. I want to be more like them. There is definitely a view here that sport is a good thing (Stage 2a).
This influence was one stated factor that shaped Amanda’s choice to select to study further PE in the second year of ITT. Adam’s peer group also continued to provide motivation for participation in sports. At the end of Year 1, Adam explained his accommodation arrangements for the following year and that he had chosen to live with his ‘sports scientist friends because they shared a passion for playing sport’.
Disposition and trainee primary teacher practice during ITT The results discussed above support the earlier views of Morgan and Bourke (2005) and Garret and Wrench (2007) who suggest that a wide range of life experiences and social influences combine to produce an equally wide range of ITT needs amongst the cohort of trainees. This range of factors has been also been seen within this study to create a range of possible behavioural outcomes, a ‘horizon of action’ (Stones, 2005, p.101) for each trainee during the ITT process. Varying dispositional characteristics are animated by the properties and structures of ITT and particular behaviours and practices result. Personal disposition towards PE, demonstrated by physical self perception and perceived importance of sport has a ‘priming effect,’ positioning each trainee teacher in favour of or against the notion of becoming a teacher of primary PE. Those trainees who have confidence in PE and sport and who value sport highly are generally ready and willing to embrace professional development possibilities (such as practising the teaching of PE in school or electing further non compulsory PE modules) within the subject. The most positively predisposed trainees in this study were those who remembered PE and sport fondly and who had recent experiences in sport and physical activity as adults. Such trainees seized opportunities to teach PE during school experiences, readily volunteering to do so and electing to study further PE modules in years 2 and 3 of the course. This group of trainees, however, was relatively small; of the 24 trainees comprising the Stage 1 interview sample, only three trainees clearly fitted within this category (Adam, James and Nicola).
Those who were least confident about their own sports participation and who did not place a high value on sport appeared more likely to avoid teaching the subject. These trainees were also highly unlikely to elect to study further PE to fill any perceived knowledge gap or to increase levels of confidence and perceived competence. Such trainee teachers generally held negative memories of PE and sport, and appeared unprepared to consider the possibility of becoming a teacher of PE. Of the 24 Stage 1 trainees interviewed, five were identifiable in this way (Amy, Fran, Jo, Kay, Ria). There is also a third broad group of trainees for whom wider life experiences have resulted in an acceptance that PE is an important aspect of the primary school curriculum, despite a low personal level of perceived physical self competence. In some cases, trainees with initial ambivalence towards the subject grew in confidence as a result of university based lectures and positive experiences in school; for others, a lack of opportunity to apply knowledge in school reinforced a pre-existing indifference towards PE and served to animate perceived low levels of confidence. Trainees within this group appeared more susceptible to a shift in disposition in relation to PE, as previously suggested in general, non PE specific terms by Burn, Hagger and Mutton, (2000) and Oosterheert and Vermunt (2001). For this group, initial indifference towards PE appears open to the possibility of change, either through further reinforcement of indifference or through positive change. This is only apparent where such possibilities of action are encouraged and provided for within the ITT process.
The results lend weight to Rogers’ (1951) suggestion that behaviour serves to maintain a consistency of self and that trainee teachers invest elements of self in their work, resulting in a merging of personal and professional identity (Nias, 1996). For some trainees, a successful amalgamation of self and social identity (Shilling, 1993) has been achieved. This includes those positively disposed towards teaching PE who are afforded frequent opportunities to teach PE during school placements and who are perceived by others to be ‘specialists’ at an early stage. Through experiencing early (albeit informal) teaching responsibility in school, by receiving acceptance as ‘specialists’ from school based colleagues and peers, and through acquisition of further knowledge and experience within elective studies, this positive disposition was animated and enabled throughout the ITT process. For those who are negatively predisposed towards PE, however, successful amalgamation of self and social identity is also achievable. This is facilitated when trainees are able to avoid teaching PE during placements (through a lack of a formal expectation to do so) and further legitimised when working alongside class teachers who attach an equally low priority to PE. For such trainees, the low priority afforded to PE is validated by the behaviours of others (such as the host class teacher) within the school context. Such trainees progressed through ITT without experiencing significant challenges to either personal disposition or professional development.
Dissonance or tension did not surface as each of this identifiable group progressed satisfactorily through successive teaching placements without being faced with regular and assessed requirements to teach PE. The requirements of ITT and expected norms for achieving QTS did not create conditions for the manifestation of such tension through which the negative disposition (and accompanying low levels of confidence and experience) could be fore-grounded, challenged or broken down. For such trainees, day to day practices in school legitimised a negative view of the subject through, for example, the use of non - qualified teachers to teach PE in school, an acceptance by mentors and class teachers of the relatively low priority of PE, and lack of structured opportunities to reflect on experiences. In this way, negative dispositions were animated, reinforced, tolerated and legitimised.
Trainees’ general progress Trainee teacher decisions about how to act were not always been made easily or freely. As Craib (1992, p.172) points out, decisions are ‘often surrounded by internal conflicts, and it is quite conceivable that we might feel that one part of ourselves has decided something that another part is fighting’. At times during ITT the trainee teachers were faced with such conflict in relation to PE. For example, the subject temporarily became a low priority for James against the aim of ‘survival’ during year 2 school experience, despite a clear and long standing commitment to becoming a physical educator. Prior to embarking on year 2 school
experience, Leanne commented:
I’m like a marble rolling about in a big tin: banging about in the sides and thinking well I’ve done that and I’ve done that. Where is it all going? What am I doing? What focus do I have? That’s why I’m here…I’ll find out whether it’s the right thing for me or not (Stage 2a).
Such comments crystallised Leanne’s feelings at that moment in time; she appeared to be racked with self doubt and wondering whether a commitment to becoming a qualified teacher was indeed the right path for her. These feelings were much more significant to Leanne at this moment in time than any view she may have held regarding PE. Her concerns were about life decisions: was teaching the right thing for her to be pursuing as a career? Could she actually teach? This typifies the view of the trainee teachers across the investigation; the ITT experience was characterised by a clearly defined set of expected behaviours and ‘norms’ imposed by the requirements of ITT and the ITT provider. The dominant goal was to become a qualified teacher, achieved by conforming to expected norms of behaviour. In this context, being able to teach PE was not a high priority for the majority of the trainee teachers or those charged with supporting their development in the school context.
The ITT experience represented the primary school curriculum through a subject approach, mirroring the NC with regards Core and Foundation subjects. As a result, the amount of time (and therefore perceived importance) afforded to PE during university based ITT, through formal written assessments and in school based requirements was relatively low, further reinforcing a view that PE was not particularly important (or at least not as important as the Core subjects). This was also reflected in the experiences of trainees who faced significant challenges during ITT. For example, when faced with being removed from school experience
in Year 2, James said that:
To be honest with you, PE is the least of my worries. I just need to survive this, get into a new school and get my head down. I know I can teach PE without too much effort, and I have to focus on the paperwork side of things. There’s just so much of it and to be honest with you I had a clash of personalities with the class teacher who was the complete opposite to me (Stage 2b).
Discussing the ITT experience during interviews provided a rich source of reflection and comment. Interviews took place during the time frame of the ITT experience and participants were readily able to comment on immediate past experiences and on-going events. Interviews were timed to coincide with key events of the three year course (for example following PE lectures, immediately prior to the first major school experience, immediately after the final school experience). The trainee teachers described a feeling of apprehension at the outset of the ITT course. This was coupled with a sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task of becoming a qualified primary teacher. Trainees were quickly aware of the need to
conform to expectations with regards planning, paperwork and folders:
I can’t believe the amount of paperwork, it’s like you are constantly being bombarded with stuff and we haven’t been anywhere near a school or kids yet (Jo, Stage 1c).
I am not so good at the paperwork to be honest…I feel happy when I am on my feet actually teaching, I love it…but the planning and all the forms and guidance is a bit much (James Stage 3a).
They [the tutors] have been great at explaining what we have to do with the standards and expectations or TP this year…I just hope that I can keep up with it all when I am in school. I’m sure I’ll be OK and I just keep thinking that I will be doing it for real in September – kind of exciting and a bit daunting at the same time (Ellie Stage 3a).
The pattern of early apprehension was usually followed by a view of positive, enjoyable
I found the first two weeks of the course totally overwhelming… daunting- I felt that part of me had made the wrong decision. When things settled down a bit I thought I can do this and I am now enjoying things. It’s what I really want to do (Julia, Stage 1c).
The adjustment to university learning was, in some cases, difficult, with the ‘amount of reading required coming as a bit of a shock’ (Sarah, Stage 1c). Interestingly, one trainee who had followed an ‘access to teaching course’ felt ‘better prepared for academic writing in comparison to A- level students’ (Fran, Stage 1b). It was also evident that despite challenges and apprehension, the trainee teachers in the interview sample remained committed to the task in hand and to their vision of becoming a qualified teacher over time. School based experiences played a central role in the trainees’ overarching experiences of the ITT process.