Role of Caring in Three Physical Education Teachers' Classroom Environments

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Even the most caring teachers need to feel appreciated by their students. Noddings proposed a circle of care in which teachers develop a caring classroom environment and initiate care for students. A positive response from the student is required in order to close the circle of care. Although researchers have described the characteristics of caring teachers, there is little research to examine the diverse ways that students reciprocate.

The purpose of the current ethnographic research was to examine the class environments that physical education teachers created for their students. The research question that guided this study was: "What was the place of caring in three physical teachers' class environments."

To address the question, I conducted an ethnographic, multi-site, case study involving sixth-grade classes from three different middle schools in a suburban school district. In each school I observed one teacher teach two classes. I used qualitative research to collect class observations and teacher and student interview data, focusing on the identification of interpersonal interactions between teachers and students. At the conclusion of the observation period, the three physical education teachers administered a 15 min. written questionnaire to all the students in their two classes. I also conducted one-on-one interviews with 28 students. After the student interviews, I conducted semi-structured interviews with each teacher. I analyzed data inductively and deductively using open, axial, and selective coding and adopted specific strategies to enhance the trustworthiness and transferability of these findings.

Results suggested that the three physical education teachers created and maintained effective classroom environments and held expectations for students associated with learning. However, each teacher's approach to teaching was unique and produced characteristic influences on student learning. The class environments maintained by the teachers led to a wide range of student responses. The students' satisfaction with the classroom environments seemed to be influenced by their interpretation of relationships with their teachers.

One physical education teacher in this study facilitated a variety of interpersonal interactions with students assisting each other in building skills and performing. This environment provided for interpersonal exchanges and relationships, closing the circle of care.