Teachers' Perspectives on the Challenges of Teaching Physical Education in Urban Schools: The Student Emotional Filter

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to analyze how the challenges of urban schools influence physical education teachers 'emotional understanding and connections with their students and the implications on their teaching. Sixty-one elementary physical educators from an urban school district in the midwestern U.S. were interviewed multiple times (N = 136) over 3 years using interpretive methodology. Teachers reported five unique challenges that significantly shaped their thinking about students and their careers, along with strategies they used to overcome or manage those challenges. The challenges were: (a) insufficient instructional resources, (b) implementing culturally relevant pedagogy, (c) dealing with community violence, (d) integrating more games in curricula, and (e) teaching in a culture of basketball. Implications centered on the guilt-inducing nature of urban teaching, developing an informed and realistic vision of urban physical education, and the role of teacher preparation and professional development.

Key words: culturally responsive teaching, school violence, teacher feelings, teacher knowledge


To craft equitable and effective practices that facilitate students desire to learn, teachers use multifaceted and complex methods to understand and interpret their students' learning. These methods include predicting students' prior motor skill development, observing movement patterns, and providing necessary feedback and learning opportunities to enhance motor skill acquisition (McCaughtry & Rovegno, 2003). This understanding relates to teachers' visual acuity, recognition of motor development, and direct pedagogical responses (Stroot & Oslin, 1993). Similarly, other methods teachers use include cognitive constructions of subject matter (Marks, 1990) to understand common learning patterns, typical errors, inaccuracies as students learn, and the array of pedagogical responses to help students past cognitive difficulties. In this way, teachers understand and can interpret how students cognitively grasp curricular content.

Teachers' emotional understanding of their students represents a recently recognized and complex knowledge that seems to be equally significant to quality teaching. Hargreaves (1998b, 1998c) pointed out that the emotional understanding teachers share with their students appears to function as an "emotional filter" through which most thinking about teaching and learning is sifted. This filtering occurs on many levels. For example, at the classroom level, students' emotional reactions to a teacher's instruction can provide the teacher with critical information to evaluate its success and future instruction (McCaughtry & Rovegno, 2003). Similarly, teachers' interpretations of students' emotional dispositions and personalities influence how they provide feedback, assign leadership positions, and plan management strategies (McCaughtry, 2004b, 2005), pedagogical approaches, and curricular structures (Hargreaves, 1998b, 1998c). On a school-wide level, teachers' emotional connections with students influence their support or resistance for broader school policies and practices, such as beauty pageants, facility renovations (McCaughtry, 2004a, 2006), school calendars, and block scheduling (Hargreaves, 1998b). In these studies, teachers' support or resistance to school-wide issues hinged on how they believed students would interpret them and how the issues could affect their students' desire to learn. Finally, teachers' emotional perceptions of students' experiences beyond the school in popular culture (McCaughtry, 2004a, 2005), at home (McCaughtry, 2005), on local playgrounds (McCaughtry, 2004b), and in cultural communities (Rosiek, 2003), appear to directly influence teachers' behavior in their classes. Teachers' interpretations of students' experiences beyond the school affect the curriculum they adopt (McCaughtry, 2004b, 2006; McCaughtry, Martin, Kulinna, & Cothran, 2006), content order for the school year (McCaughtry, 2004b), content scaffolding (Rosiek, 2003), and pedagogical styles (McCaughtry, 2005). …