Most people would struggle to win an argument that insisted that what happens in the workplace of a lawyer, a doctor or a teacher were in anyway (or many ways) similar. In contrast few would struggle to win if the argument revolved around the clear need for people to engage in work place learning in order to ‘move’ into these professions.

The ‘point of access’ for most professionals is via a legitimate work place. This is where their induction occurs and where qualifying begins and continues. It is where, after a period of monitoring, mentoring, and guiding, an individual starts to be able to call himself or herself a beginner. From there comes an induction and/or probation period (for a teacher in the UK this is the NQT or Newly Qualified Teacher year) where further standards have to be met. It is only then, and over a protracted period time, that professionals are considered as experienced or even expert.

This is a model of professional qualification that was ‘established’ in a world where advanced economies were defined by manufacturing industries; industries that are now, almost exclusively, found in the developing world. Furthermore, economies are no longer really measured or even governed at national levels. Things have changed and that change (indeed change more generally) has become one of the persisting elements in the modern world. The truth is that what is ‘done’ has changed considerably but the way that people are ‘prepared’ for this changing world hasn’t.

Given the supply (in physical education at least) of aspiring teachers, employers (and the gatekeepers who control pre-service teacher places i.e. Physical Education Teacher Education [PETE] and school-based programmes) are likely to seek out ‘recruits’ who already understand what they will be required to learn. Worryingly, given the manner in which the world has changed, what is valued is “how one is and should be as well as what practices and spaces are legitimized or not, including those practices reinforced in education, credentialing processes, and the shaping of the profession/al for and by its members”. In other words, what has occurred before becomes legitimatised as the accepted practice of the membership – be that within PETE, workplace learning as a pre-service teachers and NQTs, and/or later as experienced or indeed expert teachers/mentors. For me, an example would be prospective teachers knowledge and competency of a particular sport.

The preparation of physical education teachers does not occur, however, in isolation or in a vacuum. Instead it occurs at a time when teachers and schools are repeatedly audited. Consequently new teachers are required “to learn in a community itself under pressure from the burden of expectation such as success in school sport, high scores and grades by students in the high-stakes senior programme, and minimization of costs associated with running the HPE department”. Teacher do what needs to be done and pre-service and beginning teachers are expected to do the same.

Taken alone, that would be complex enough but learning is no longer confined to the working day. The divide between “work, leisure time, unpaid work, family time and education” is barely discernible and ‘work’ is now free, it seems, to spill over into other facets of people’s lives. The boundaries of work have become, at best, blurred and yet we accept this. We accept this because to work has become one of the key indicators of good citizenship and to be out of work is seen as a serious social stigma. We accept that learning is more than learning generalities but is now about ‘picking up’ routines and watching and copying colleagues in the same context. Significantly, these ways of learning are far from uniform even for pre-service teachers in the same school or on the same teacher education programme. This is a very different form of learning to the one that most children experience at school, i.e. one where they are “continually pushed through the same curriculum in institutional forms of learning, doing the same tests at the same time”.

Teachers are expected to learn how to respond in institutional ways to given situations while still having the flexibility to react. They are required to know the techniques, skills and procedures of their school so they can react, accordingly, to common events. This is not so they remain uncritically ‘on message’ but so that they can react appropriately and quickly to any uncommon or novel events that might occur. To do this they need to practise. That is not say that new teachers simply absorb what they need to learn and regurgitate it. They learn through a structured, yet individually specific, approach to learning that includes “organized mentoring, assessment of task performance, competency and skills inventories, and so on”. These approaches are far from uniform and are “contingent upon the degree to which the school itself is a dynamic site, generative of serious intellectual questions about the nature of teaching and learning.”

The school is not, however and as we discussed last week, a single space. Instead it should be considered as a loose hodgepodge of groups who are competing for students’ attention, for funding, and for recognition. There are implications for teachers who are required, expected and mandated to learn and qualify in the diversity of these conflicting spaces; implications that centre on safety. Their safety. Workplace learning is dependant on the specific workplace climate because it is only when this is safe that it becomes and remains favourable to learning. If it isn’t socially, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and/or physically safe then it can have a “devastating effect” on any teacher; let alone novice and beginner teachers. Indeed, “any work environment that is doubtful or uncertain will likely provide opportunities to learn that are defensive or evasive”.

Significantly the very process of becoming a teacher is dominated by a small number (two or three maybe) spaces and two particular phases i.e. the school experience/practicum and the first year of teaching. Within these wider spaces the subject department staffroom (or PE office) is the space more frequently occupied by novice teachers. This is, however, one of the spaces we know least about, especially how it “operates as a professional learning community and how this affects the process of becoming a teacher or learning to teach”.

In Australia “the most entrenched criticism of teacher training relayed to its practical component.” Even if this criticism is only a shadow of the global picture then it still raises questions about the whole process and the unquestioned need for workplace learning in the professional qualification of a teacher. It is clear that the subject staffroom or office, and particularly its culture, “is a key factor in facilitating a positive and productive professional development experience” and yet we know so little about it.

In many cases it could be argued that it affords new teachers with outstanding learning opportunities. It might also be argued that in many cases it gives new teachers a taste of the real world. Equally that ‘taste’ could be unsupportive, questionable, abusive and filled with language and practices that ridicule others because of their sex, sexuality, culture, religion and/or body shape. This would not be a new story. As a subject physical education has been “described as insensitive to social issues, elitist, sexist, anti-intellectual, and full of pragmatic sceptics”.

Learning informally as a member of workforce is something that individuals will, in different guises, spend more of their life doing than learning in formal settings. They will learn to ‘play the game’ and they will learn the language and gestures of the workforce. This is to be expected but shouldn’t we be more aware of what this means for new teachers and, eventually, for the young people they will teach themselves – be they new teachers themselves or students. It could be argued that this hasn’t been important before, given how little we really know. Surely it’s time that changed.

Rossi, T., lisahunter, Christensen, E. & Macdonald, D. (2015). Workplace learning in Physical Education: Emerging teachers’ stories from the staffroom and beyond. London: Routledge.