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Physical Education

Preparation Of Teachers

In the United States, teacher preparation in physical education originally had close links to medicine. A program of study would commonly include anatomy, physiology, health, first aid, history and philosophy, educational psychology, and various physical skills–from gymnastics through dance, games, and sport. Major shifts across time have largely involved the length of programs of study on each of these topics.

A Brief History

The early roots of physical education teacher preparation in the United States can be traced to the northeastern part of the country during the latter part of the 1800s. In 1952 Charles Bucher described a ten-week course at the Normal Institute of Physical Education in Boston (founded by Dio Lewis) as graduating the nation's first class of physical education teachers in 1861. A one-year course of study was developed in 1866 in New York City under the name of the North American Turnerbund. The Sargent School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the direction of Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, began preparing teachers in 1881, and in 1886 the Brooklyn Normal School for Physical Education was opened.

In 1886 the International Young Men's Christian Association College at Springfield Massachusetts began operations. This institution, which evolved into the Springfield College, began with the mission to prepare physical education teachers for the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Later, degrees at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels for study in physical education were awarded by this institution. In general, the preparation of physical education teachers in the late 1800s and early 1900s ranged from as little as two months to as much as five years.

Prior to World War I, preparation to teach physical education was primarily completed in normal schools. The poor condition of many of the men in the country who were called to serve in the war heightened interest in physical education. As a result of such concerns, there was some form of compulsory public school physical education in thirty-eight states by 1930.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the requirements for physical education teachers vary somewhat by state, since education is governed at that level rather than by national standards. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has published guidelines for beginning teachers in an attempt to provide some professional leadership. These guidelines are not binding on either institutions preparing teachers or on state governments, where the responsibility of licensing teachers rests. In a collaborative effort with one of the major accrediting agencies for teacher preparation programs, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), NASPE has created guidelines for programs seeking accreditation in the preparation of physical educators for initial certification.

Current Structure

Physical education teacher education (PETE) programs in the United States are designed around at least three models and five conceptual orientations. One model is delivered at the undergraduate level and two at the graduate level. At the undergraduate level, programs are usually delivered in a four-year program with course work in three major areas: general education (e.g., the broad concepts in many fields that the general public associates with an educated citizen), professional education (e.g., concepts specifically linked with what is known about teaching and learning), and content knowledge (e.g., the information unique to the field, often represented in a variety of subdisciplinary areas such as exercise physiology, biomechanics, and motor learning). The actual number of credits and sequence of these courses varies and is often dependent upon the philosophical orientation of the program and resources available to the faculty.

One type of graduate PETE program has evolved from various reform efforts, including the Holmes Group initiative. In this approach, students study for a four-year degree in the content area supporting the type of licensure they seek. In physical education, an undergraduate degree could be in sport studies, exercise physiology, biomechanics, or some other related subdisciplinary field. At the master's level, students then study the pedagogical content to learn how to deliver the content knowledge to students. This approach is a response to perceived needs of teachers to be better prepared in the content knowledge of their field.

A second type of graduate PETE program is sometimes characterized as a response to teacher shortages. In this approach, candidates have typically acquired an undergraduate degree in some field other than physical education. Graduate programs for this approach must include a combination of content knowledge and professional education. Students changing careers are often attracted to this model.

In 1990 Sharon Feiman-Nemser described five conceptual orientations to teacher education, regardless of the model; three years later Judith Rink provided adaptations to these models using examples appropriate to PETE programs. Both authors suggest that the conceptual orientation guides the delivery of content. In contrast to Feiman-Nemser, however, Rink suggests that it is possible for parts of each orientation to exist in any program.

The academic orientation holds that the subject matter knowledge is central. The focus of these programs is on games, sports, dance, and fitness knowledge. In the practical orientation, experience and conventional wisdom are the focal points. Field experiences are key parts of these programs, where students are given ample practice time with practice-proven methods of teaching. The technological orientation has also been characterized as systematic, science-based instruction where there is an emphasis on mastering teacher effectiveness skills. Instruction is based on research-based teaching for student skill development. The personal orientation is a more humanistic approach where the teacher and learner are considered as people first; teaching, learning, and content are secondary concerns. Individualization, nurturing personal meaning, and growth are hallmarks of this approach to teacher education. In the critical/social orientation, the relationship between schools and the structure of society becomes central. Attention is drawn to the moral obligations of teachers to include all members of society, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, skill level, or socioeconomic level.

Michael Metzler and Bonnie Tjeerdsma (2000) suggest that teacher educators have a responsibility to assess the effectiveness of what they do, with whatever model or conceptual orientation is selected. They suggest that few teacher educators have spent much effort doing this type of assessment. In an effort to be of assistance, Metzler and Tjeerdsma provide a variety of tools for assessing and improving program delivery.

Daryl Siedentop and Larry Locke provided an alternative perspective on assessing PETE programs in 1997. They describe the minimum conditions necessary for the effective operation of a PETE program, and also suggest that the responsibility of PETE programs goes beyond educating new recruits and includes a duty to "create and sustain good school programs" (p. 27). These authors go on to lament that few PETE faculty have assumed any responsibility for the quality of programs in schools, instead adopting an "us" (e.g., faculty in higher education) versus "them" (e.g., teachers in the K–12 schools) mentality. The outcome of this adversarial relationship has been a declining level of competent program delivery, with national health-related consequences. In 1990 John Goodlad identified a similar concern when he suggested that the reform or renewal of schools, teachers, and teacher preparation programs has to occur simultaneously.

In-Service and Staff Development

Most states require some sort of ongoing accumulation of continuing education credits for teachers to retain their licensure. Most school districts create opportunities for continuing education related to topics relevant to the purposes of schools and needs of students in their community. Unfortunately, these opportunities are often too generic to address the specific needs of physical educators, and are often perceived to be ineffective.

Beyond state and school district requirements, there is a key challenge for licensure programs: convincing graduates that their preparation to become true professionals has not ended, but has just begun. Without an internal commitment to ongoing professional growth, few in-service or staff development efforts are effective at eliciting change. Indeed, although specific examples of successful change efforts can be cited, Linda Bain (1990) describes practice in physical education as "generally resistant to change"(p. 771).

Michael Eraut (1987) describes four approaches to in-service education that can be used to categorize some of the work in physical education. The defect approach involves behavioral training to build skills that teachers lack. In physical education, targets of this approach have included different verbal behaviors (e.g., feedback, prompts, questions, use of student names, etc.), teacher movement, task selection, and others. The growth approach is about helping teachers seek greater fulfillment, rather than helping them simply become competent. In physical education, this approach is difficult to distinguish from the problem-solving approach, where efforts are made to help teachers diagnose problems in their own instructional setting. Program research from places like Teachers College at Columbia University and the University of Massachusetts would be examples of this kind of in-service program. Lastly, the change paradigm involves efforts to make changes in programs that are responsive to greater societal needs. Attention to gender equity, mainstreaming, and nondiscrimination would be examples of this work in physical education.

Trends and Controversies

The most critical concern facing physical educators in the United States is the viability of physical education programs as a required subject in schools. As opportunities for advanced placement courses; electives in art, music, and foreign languages; and other varied courses have occurred, time in the required curriculum for physical education has declined. There are consequences to this on at least two levels. First, the health of the nation is at risk when the most equitable delivery system for ensuring active lifestyles is curtailed. Second, there is a declining need for teacher education programs when there are fewer teaching positions available for program graduates.

Related to the time available for physical education programs in schools is an ongoing debate over the most appropriate content for programs. In some states (e.g., West Virginia and Florida) there is a major emphasis on student performance on fitness tests as an indication of physical education program effectiveness. In other states (e.g., Missouri) there is more of an emphasis on the demonstration of written competence in health-related fitness knowledge. In at least one other approach (South Carolina), there is an attempt to hold teachers accountable for fitness levels and fitness knowledge, as well as out of-class behaviors and movement competence. There are obvious implications for teacher preparation programs in each of these states with respect to what will be expected of program graduates. It is also worth noting that none of these approaches is an exact match with NASPE guidelines.

Part of the debate over appropriate content for teacher preparation can be traced back to a classic 1964 work by Franklin Henry, where physical education was first conceptualized as an academic discipline in the United States. For the first time, the study of human movement spawned viable areas of study, leading to degrees and careers other than teaching. Today, locating departments of physical education in colleges and universities is a challenge, partly because such departments can go by so many different names: 114 have been counted by P. Stanley Brassie and Jack Razor, including Biomechanics, Kinesiological Studies, Kinesiology, Sport Science, and Sport Studies, to cite just a few. Approximately half of these departments are in colleges of education, while others are in colleges of liberal arts, applied sciences, health, or elsewhere. This identity crisis has lead to marginal status for physical educators at all levels.

A common trend in teacher preparation programs is for early and frequent field-based experiences for students. The challenge is to find (or create) placements where desirable practices are being modeled. An additional challenge is to determine the amount and type of training required to prepare school-based supervisors.

The last major controversy that warrants mention in teacher preparation involves determining the most appropriate level for initial licensure. In some institutions (e.g., the Ohio State University), initial licensure in physical education is only available at the graduate level. In other schools (e.g., University of South Carolina), initial licensure is available at both the undergraduate and graduate level. In most of the rest of the country, initial licensure is predominantly delivered at the undergraduate level. There is no definitive evidence on which (if any) of these approaches is the most appropriate way to prepare physical education teachers.


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