PE teachers teach the way they were taught:  Asset or handicap?


Tim Hopper, Assistant Professor

School of Physical Education

University of Victoria


Historically, research shows that student teachers will initially teach the way they were taught (Britzman, 1991; Lortie, 1975).  In physical education research indicates that novice PE teachers not only teach the way they were taught, but often teach the way they were coached in elite sports (Siedentop & Locke, 1997).  The biographies of physical education student teachers tend to show them as body-slim individuals who have been socialized by the rigors of highly competitive sport.   It is expected that such experiences encourage prospective physical educators to adopt, unquestioningly, more elitist didactic teaching approaches that rarely relate to the learning needs of the diverse ability of children in most physical education programs.  Therefore, teaching the way you were taught would seem to be a handicap.

In the research described here I have tried to work from this previous experience as an asset in becoming an effective physical educator.  Using a psychoanalytical (systematic way of looking at how you think) tool known as a repertory grid, PE students examine the biographical roots of their beliefs about effective. In the grid student teachers select approximately ten teachers or coaches from their past and compare them in order to generate descriptors on effective and ineffective teaching.  These descriptors are then used to rate (1 to 5) each teacher, one being very much the positive descriptor, five being very much the negative descriptor.  This rating process generates a number pattern for each teacher.  Using a computer software application to compare number patterns, a simple clustering analysis produces a matrix known as a repertory grid.

The repertory grid shows how closely number patterns for effective and ineffective teachers are related.  In conversation, student teachers are invited to describe similarities and differences between these teachers from a variety of different teaching/coaching contexts.  From over seventy such interviews currently conducted the majority of responses from PE student teachers have focused on effective coaches from their past, coaches who were instrumental in their success as athletes.  Occasionally, PE teachers or other teachers from student teachers' pasts come up as model teachers.  It is these teachers, rather than the coaches, that offer the frame to understand the principles and concepts of effective teaching in PE.  The coaches, though inspirational in a particular sport, rarely offer the strategies for teaching that transfer into effective PE teaching. 

Student teachers also describe and explain similarities and differences between the clustering of the number patterns on the descriptors they have generated.  This analysis enables student teachers to construct themes for effective teaching.  After completing a PE field experience student teachers re-rate the grid.  In this re-rated grid student teachers' past memories about teachers are re-interpreted with their themes for teaching re-forming or becoming more defined.  These themes stimulate rich narratives from student teachers that capture critical events from their field experiences. These events form the narratives of their forming teaching identity and have served as evidence that student teachers can have a positive impact on schools, that they have the ability to transform principles and concepts from teacher education programs into practice.

The repertory grid process offers a tool to help prospective PE teachers positively use memories of being taught.  This use becomes an asset in framing and enabling them to transform personal beliefs about effective PE teaching into practice.


Britzman, D. (1991). Practice makes practice:  A critical study of learning to teach. Albany: State University of New York press.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher:  A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Siedentop, D., & Locke, L. (1997). Making a difference for physical education.  What professors and practitioners must build together. JOPERD, 68(4), 25-33.