Teaching physical education in K-12 schools is a very challenging profession. Consequently, colleges and universities must provide instruction and experiences that will adequately prepare teachers to make a successful transition into full time teaching. In this study, a sample of K-12 physical educators within the state of Washington were surveyed to determine their undergraduate coursework in physical education, the value of each course in preparing them to teach, and specific areas in which they experienced difficulty during their first year of teaching. Results indicated that most physical education teacher education (PETE) programs consist of similar course requirements. In addition, the respondents' perceptions of the value of the components that were included in these classes generally validate current college and university PETE curriculums. The findings also indicate that dealing with inadequate facilities and equipment, classroom management and discipline, meeting the needs of students in special populations, schedule interruptions, personal fatigue, parental contact, and student assessment are the most significant challenges experienced by first year teachers.
The goal of all physical education teacher education (PETE) programs should be to graduate highly competent students who will become effective teachers. In order to accomplish this task, departments of Physical Education, in accordance with the requirements of State Offices of Public Instruction, have traditionally identified components that should be included in every student's coursework. Specifically, most PETE programs include the following: (1) required liberal arts courses, (2) completion of a major in Physical Education which consists of skills and knowledge in sports and fitness activities, scientific foundations, sociocultural and philosophical constructs, and health-related fitness concepts; (3) pedagogical knowledge including methods of teaching, curriculum, management, discipline, and assessment; (4) early field experience and observation and opportunity for practice teaching with peers; and (5) a teaching internship under the supervision of a master teacher who serves in a mentoring role. The goal of all of these requirements is that graduates will be well qualified to teach physical education at the K-12 level (O' Sullivan, 1990).
Unfortunately, it appears as though not all graduates of PETE programs are well prepared to teach when they graduate. Specifically, some are not adept at classroom management, assessment of student performance, and adapting curriculum to limited facilities and equipment or differing student needs. Others simply are unprepared for the physical demands of teaching all day (i.e. fatigue) or able to deal diplomatically with parents. As a result, many who have completed a PETE program have not had a smooth transition from the university to student teaching and have either not entered the teaching profession or have experienced significant difficulties during their early years of teaching (McGaha & Lynn, 2000; Williams & Williamson, 1998). The frequency of this occurrence has led to a search for ways to improve the process of preparing teachers (Carter & Anders, 1996).
Challenges for Physical Education Teacher Education Programs
Some have argued that PETE programs have been recently weakened because the development of the disciplinary movement and an expanding exercise, sport, and health-enhancement industry have broadened the required curriculum in order to prepare students for careers other than teaching (Lawson, 1990; O'Sullivan, 1990). Specifically, with the increase of other fields within physical education, including sport management, athletic training, and exercise science and fitness, departmental resources for PETE have been reduced. For example, a study of the physical education programs in 240 universities documented a 50% decrease in courses that addressed performance skills and teaching methods and a corresponding 500% increase in scientific courses over the 29-year period from 1960 to 1989 (Lawson, 1990). In addition, some states, such as Washington, have merged health and physical education in an attempt to elevate fitness and wellness as essential outcomes for K-12 students. The result is that physical education programs are becoming more likely to require such courses as wellness, first aid and safety, and health issues within the major, leaving less curricular time to focus on how to teach traditional physical education.
As the knowledge base for teacher education grows, essential content expands, and more requirements are imposed by certification agencies, accreditation agencies, and administrative units, the portion of time available for professional studies is shrinking. There is simply not enough time (i.e., credit hours) in professional studies to allow students to learn all they need to enter practice (Metzler & Tieerdsma, 1998, p. 478).
There has also been confusion regarding how to best help students in PETE programs develop appropriate pedagogical skills. Specifically, should the primary focus in physical education courses be: (1) to acquire information and skills that are related to the activity or (2) how to best teach the activity (Bain, 1990)? Some teacher preparation programs have attempted to incorporate both approaches by requiring prospective teachers to complete fundamentals of skill/activity courses early in their programs with teaching and curricular strategies occurring during their final year (Strand, 1992). Siedentop (1990), a leading proponent of undergraduate teacher preparation with a stronger emphasis on pedagogy, contends that evidence suggests that failures in teaching derive primarily from a lack of pedagogical skill rather than inadequate subject matter knowledge. In contrast, Hastie and Vlaisavljevic, (1999) and Ball and McDiarmid (1990) state that teachers who enhance their understanding of subject matter develop more elaborate strategies to teach their subject area. In addition, the results of Schempp et al. (1998) support the position that deepening teachers' subject matter knowledge is a documented way to improve teaching since teachers who have demonstrable expertise in a subject matter are more comfortable and enthusiastic in their work. Subject area specialists, according to Schempp et. al. (1998), are also better able to plan lessons that are richer in activities, develop contingency plans that accommodate classroom variations, assess student learning difficulties, and devise remedies to those difficulties. Schempp et al. (1998) conclude by saying that teacher education programs that stress the acquisition of subject matter expertise may enable teachers to become both more effective and enthusiastic. However, it is important to remember that, eventually, perspective teachers will need to assimilate new knowledge into existing instructional skills so that they are equipped not only with the knowledge about movement, sport, and exercise, but with the procedural methods necessary to communicate that knowledge (Amade-Escot, 2000; Walkwitz & Lee, 1992).