Reference: Louis Francis-Edge, Annette Stride, and Hayley Fitzgerald. (2023). Basketball shorts, plantation food, and ponytail weaves: Black teachers' experiences of becoming and being a Physical Education teacher. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2023.2230232
The abstract and section headings: Whilst there has been an increase in the ethnic diversity of the student population in schools this has not been mirrored in the representation of Black and minority ethnic teachers in schools. The reasons behind this have been reported as: discrimination, verbal abuse, lack of management support and racial inequalities in pay and promotion opportunities. These contribute to Black and minority ethnic teachers feeling undervalued. When physical education is considered specifically, it is clear that fewer Black and minority ethnic teachers enter the profession than in other subjects despite the same increases in the ethnic diversity of the student population.
This paper explores Black teachers lived experiences of training to teach and teaching physical education. Using Critical Race Theory it draws upon the tenets of the permeance of racism and counter-storytelling to offer a interrogative lens when exploring White norms and dominant discourse which render the education system inequitable.
From the position of storyteller, the authors of this paper counter-story the experience of Shanice, Leon and Clive to demonstrate the “permeance of racism through the multiplicity of overt and insidious ways it pervades all facets of these characters’ lives.” Through the themes of: lack of representation, stereotyping, and acts of resistance the authors are able to share and shine a light on racism and then offer some strategies that could be used in schools and higher education institutions “that might help to increase the representation of Black educators at all levels of the profession, promote more equitable practice, and better support Black teachers to fulfil their teaching aspirations.
The section headings are: Introduction; Minority ethnic educators’ experiences of ITT/PETE and teaching Physical Education; Methodology; Shanice and Leon: ‘Coping in this crazy world’; Discussion: Representation, stereotyping and resistance; Lack of representation: ‘How can you become something you can’t see?’; The menace of stereotyping: ‘He wanted me to eradicate any cultural aspect of who I am’; Acts of resistance: ‘If you're not gonna support me, I’ll look to have impact elsewhere’; Concluding remarks
Introduction, and conclusion: The paper opens with three vignettes that speak loudly of Louis’ love of “running around”, and “lying on the grass bank, sun on my face, waiting for others to arrive [to play basketball]” and of his realisation that “there are many young people who look like me, but they are not represented at the front of the classroom.” In reflecting on these experiences, the paper sets out to explore Louis’ subsequent decision to become a PE teacher.
For some PE is a space of negative memories and the less favourable experience of some girls, disabled students, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and young people from minority ethnic backgrounds have been attributed in the research to the structures, pedagogy, and content of PE. Despite the near tripling, since 1999, of the numbers of minority ethnic students in secondary schools there hasn’t been the same increase in the numbers of minority ethnic teachers. This raises questions about the marked contrast in numbers and brings into question the representativeness of the teaching workforce and its ability to prepare all young people for life in and beyond schools. This is especially important when research shows that “White teachers are likely to draw on their own experiences of school and be less sensitive to the needs of students from different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.” In contrast, other research has shown that, for example, “Black women teachers can help uplift communities, bolster learning and contradict racial stereotypes.”
While a wealth of attention has been afforded to the lack of Black and minority ethnic teachers in schools more broadly, less research has explored PE. This paper, therefore, fills a gap in the literature by exploring Black teachers lived experiences of becoming PE teachers. Louis, who is of Jamaican and British decent, undertook this research as both a personal and professional journey. Using the accounts of six self-identifying Black PE teachers, Louis and colleagues crafted a counterstory around three composite, data driven characters – Shanice Leon and Clive – and these stories form the heart of the paper.
The concluding remarks focus on strategies that could be initiated within schools and higher education to increase the “representation of Black educators at all levels of the profession, promote more equitable practise, and better support Black teachers to fulfil their teaching aspirations.” This research highlighted both the challenges and rewards experienced by Black PE teachers, with their counterstories talking to the tenacity and determination of Black teachers to overcome the challenges they are faced with to progress their careers and make a difference to the lives of the young people in their care. It also positions racism as an enduring aspect in the lives of these teachers and shows the well-honed experiences they have at negotiating and navigating different barriers.
Given the value that Black and minority ethnic teachers offer schools, combined with both retention and recruitment problems, it is imperative that we change the counterstories at the heart of this paper and these teachers’ lived experiences. While this is a not insignificant task there are some “well rehearsed practical solutions” that could support Black and minority ethnic teachers.” Firstly, we can publicly celebrate the achievements of Black teachers. Secondly, we can secure their representation on selection boards and panels and thirdly we can ensure their involvement in the development of teaching standards and curricula content. Beyond this we can ensure that every teacher is involved in professional development around racism and offer safe spaces to reflect on racism in schools. We can also advocate for recruiting more minority ethnic students and academics.
The use of counterstories, as in the case of this paper, offer a platform for critical engagement and learning and could be used as a pedagogical tool in initial teacher training/education (ITT/ITE). These stories of difference serve as a medium through which to engage White students in discussions about race and racism, identity and power, and the influence of these on their teaching practice and pedagogy. ITT/ITE sit at the initial stages of teacher socialization and as such is a fertile ground for the development of critical and self-awareness and critical consciousness. This is, therefore, an excellent time and place to start to challenge the dominant stories of PE teaching and “debunk pernicious stereotypes and challenge enduring inequalities.”
Tables, figures and diagrams: There are no tables or diagrams.
The point of the paper: The paper sets out to provide counterstories about the experiences of Black PE teachers when training to and becoming PE teachers. Focusing on Black teachers – and the data driven characters of Shanice Leon and Clive – this paper can shine a light on the malevolent presence of racism in the daily experiences of Black PE teachers. In doing so it more fully opens our eyes to the daily realities of Black teachers and the lengths they have to go to negotiate and navigate these often racist spaces. As a White teacher educator this gives me pause for thought and actionable ideas to better improve my practices and the practices, approaches and experiences of the staff and students I work with.
The main arguments: While there has been an increase in the ethnic diversity of the student population in schools there hasn’t been the same increase in the ethnic diversity of the teacher population. Consequently, Black teachers experience the dominant stories of White teachers and student teachers and don’t have their own experiences to live by. Consequently, there is a need to tell their counterstories and there is a need to hear their counterstories if we are going to change physical education for the better.
The importance of this paper: This is, to my knowledge, one of the first papers to explore the experiences of Black teachers when training to be and being PE teachers. The absence of their voices and their stories is a weakness of our subject and I invite everyone to read this paper and take something from it that improves your work and their experiences of teaching and of schools.
The paper’s contribution to my knowledge: I have been looking for strategies to challenge the lived experiences of the students I work with and open up our course to more teachers from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This paper has given me those and for that I am very grateful.
Summary of the paper in one or two sentences: The PE teachers we have in schools are not representative of the student population. The Black PE teachers we do have in our profession have different experiences to their White counterparts and yet they lack a voice to tell of their experiences. Their stories don’t reflect the stories of White teachers and we have been deaf to their stories and counterstories. They need a voice and were given one in this paper.
To the Authors: I would welcome a response to this blog. If you wish to write a response to be published on PEPRN, please email me – A.J.B.Casey@lboro.ac.uk with the final text.
About the Twenty 20 Vision Blog: For many years I wrote a weekly blog. In fact, between 2011 and 2021 I accumulated a catalogue of more than 450 blogs. But then I hit a wall. I simply ran out of energy and time. Consequently, 2022 wasn’t a great year for PEPRN. Following a modernization of the blog by Philte (thanks), and recognising my enduring desire that this break be a blip and not an end, I’m back with a new format and renewed ambition.
During 2022 I acknowledged that I needed to run PEPRN differently and over time the idea of a “Twenty 20 vision” blog emerged. This was, in part, in tribute to T20 cricket (which I love) and 20/20 vision (which I used to have) and in part due to the recognition that PEPRN needed to be easier to write and therefore sustain.
The idea, therefore, is for me to read a paper in no more than twenty minutes using an approach I’ve often recommended to my students but never actually done myself. For each paper I will do a shallow dive, reading only (a) the abstract and section headings, (b) the introduction and conclusion, and (c) the tables and diagrams. All other writing will be ignored. With this information to hand, I will then write the blog in no more than 20 minutes (thus twenty 20) using the eight headers above. Whatever emerges will then be published (after a little editing because I make a lot of grammatical errors typing that fast). The aim is to make paper reading and blog writing manageable once again whilst maintaining the integrity and usefulness of PEPRN. I hope I have achieved this, but feedback is welcomed and invited. Please let me know how I can get better at this and how the blog can better serve the community.