Four Considerations for Urban Physical Education Teachers: Physical Education Teachers Must Be Prepared to Face the Challenges of Teaching Urban Youths

Article excerpt

Beginning one's physical education teaching career in an urban setting often produces feelings of excitement and pride. Why then do some dedicated and technically qualified teachers choose to leave urban schools in their first five years of teaching and seek employment in the suburbs or in rural settings? Still others abandon the teaching field altogether to pursue a different profession. While searching for an explanation, it may be helpful to explore the viewpoints of experienced urban teachers. Their thoughts could help new professionals to experience the long-term rewards of teaching urban physical education. This article describes four considerations of teaching physical education in urban settings that can help teachers succeed.

Consideration One: Know the Challenges

Over the last 10 years, most of the research literature and refereed journal articles on pedagogy within urban physical education settings have used observations, surveys, and formal interviews to identify teachers' perspectives of their greatest challenges. These findings reinforce the fact that many urban teachers confront numerous problems that influence their teaching effectiveness. For the sake of brevity, these situations could be referred to as the "highs and lows" of urban physical education. For example, the majority of urban schools tend to have high teacher turnover, highly disruptive neighborhood conditions (Orfield, 2009), and an elevated population of non-English-speaking immigrant students. For example, New York City's Department of Education translates report cards into eight languages (Spanish, Chinese, Urdu, Russian, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean, and Arabic; see

There is also a high incidence of social problems such as gang violence, teen alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and teen suicide, as well as high student absenteeism and dropout rates (Egley & Major, 2004; National Center for Education Statistics, 2008). Many teachers in urban settings are confronted with hostility from students and other behavior management problems (Henninger & Coleman, 2008; Kulinna, Cothran, & Regualos, 2006; Supaporn, Dodds, & Griffin, 2003). Many urban schools also struggle with low parental involvement, low administrative support, and students having a low socioeconomic status (Ward & O'Sullivan, 2006) and in some cases severe poverty and homelessness. Urban schools are also characterized by their below-average workplace conditions and scarcity of equipment and facilities (Kulinna, McCaughtry, Cothran, & Martin, 2006). Identifying an urban school's greatest challenges when first employed will help in planning a curriculum that coincides with the realities and needs of the setting (Rochkind, Ott, Immerwahr, Doble, & Johnson, 2008).

Consideration Two: Acknowledge Successful Beliefs and Practices

Regardless of these hardships, large cities in the United States offer physical education classes that are taught by competent teachers who persist in overcoming barriers, even when there are situations beyond their control. Furthermore, a review of related studies reveals that successful urban physical education teachers tend to have similar beliefs and teaching practices. Most importantly, they maintain high expectations for student accomplishment and acquire an understanding of the personal and social factors that increase students' participation (Ennis et al., 1997). They also believe that their students are resilient and energetic (Henninger, 2007; Patterson, Collins, & Abbott, 2004), and they experience pride and feelings of being needed when they can facilitate their students' learning (Henninger & Finch, 2007).

Regarding outdated and often unsafe teaching environments, these teachers fully recognize that their workplace conditions hold a variety of challenges, but they are willing to create the best possible program despite the lack of facilities and resources (Griffin, 1985; Henninger, 2007). …