Introduction: Raising Physical Education's Status Will Increase Physical Educators' Effectiveness and Work Satisfaction

By James, Alisa R. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Raising Physical Education's Status Will Increase Physical Educators' Effectiveness and Work Satisfaction


James, Alisa R., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


In today's educational landscape, physical education is undervalued and regarded as a low-status subject in schools. Historically, physical education has never been given the same status as academic subjects that are considered more intellectual than physical (Sparkes & Templin, 1992; Sparkes, Templin, & Schempp, 1993). Physical education's low status in relation to other subjects has serious implications in terms of physical educators' bargaining power for resources, enhanced teacher-student ratios, and the effort to secure a place for physical education in the school curriculum (Sparkes et al., 1993).

The lack of value given to physical education and the fact that it is not considered an academic subject is nothing new. Henry (1964) asserted that in order for physical education to be considered an academic subject, it needed to be an organized body of knowledge that consisted of content that was theoretical and scholarly, rather than technical and professional. Unfortunately, today, 47 years later, the discussion of the merits of physical education as an academic subject continues.

Currently, there is a national effort spearheaded by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) to have physical education recognized as a core academic subject. At present, only English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign language, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography are identified as core academic subjects under the No Child Left Behind Act (Gambescia, 2006).

The recognition of physical education as a core academic subject is being pursued for many reasons. First, if physical education were identified as a core academic subject, the status of physical education teachers would be enhanced, as would the importance and positioning of physical education in relation to other school subjects. Second, only teachers in core subjects are required to be highly qualified, in that they must hold a bachelor's degree and full state certification, and must demonstrate competence in the content area they teach (Gambescia, 2006).

It is disheartening that over the past 47 years, physical education has struggled to attain legitimacy and is still an undervalued subject. As a result of physical education's lack of importance in schools, physical educators face a number of challenges that have the potential to affect their work satisfaction and effectiveness.

Sparkes and Templin (1990) indicated that if a teacher's subject is devalued, his or her sense of self worth and personal identity is also diminished. In this case, the subject's lack of value may affect physical education teachers' sense of personal identity. Physical education is often described as a "special subject" and, as a result, students and even other teachers may not view physical education as an important subject or physical education teachers as "real" teachers. Further support for this viewpoint is provided by the following quip: "Those who can, do. Those who can't teach. Those who can't teach, teach physical education."

Another factor that has contributed to the lack of value assigned to physical education is that the focus on curriculum, instruction, and accountability has changed over time. Physical education as a discipline has been quick to alter its focus in order to align with the newest educational reform in an effort to gain some legitimacy. Unfortunately, the result has been the opposite: the value that society and the school community assign to physical education has actually diminished. In addition, the constant change in focus has made it difficult for the field to pursue and measure meaningful learning outcomes. In fact, Pangrazi (2010) went so far as to suggest that the outcomes identified by and tied to the national standards (NASPE, 2004) may be unachievable.

In the early 20th century, the focus was on developing good health for students, and the content consisted of gymnastics and physical training. …

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