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Perceived Workplace Experiences of Adapted Physical Educators and Physical Educators

Wesley J. Wilson, K. Andrew R. Richards, Justin A. Haegele, and Steven K. Holland

rqes cover September 2020

Considering the contemporary educational climate, which includes high-stakes testing and school accountability (Dworkin & Tobe, 2014) and a negative public perception of teachers (Nuñez, 2015), the teaching profession has been recognized as a stressful career path (Greenberg, Brown, & Abenavoli, 2016). Those who teach “non-core” or “special” subjects, including physical education (PE), often face additional stressors associated with isolation, teaching large class sizes, and limited resources that stem from their discipline being viewed as marginal or peripheral to the mission of schooling (Laureano et al., 2014). Physical educators may internalize feelings of marginalization and begin to believe that their subject area is not as important as “core” subjects, such as reading, mathematics, and science (Richards, Gaudreault, & Woods, 2018). Collectively, these stressors can contribute to the dilution of innovative teaching practices through the washout effect (Blankenship & Coleman, 2009), feelings of burnout (Richards, Washburn, & Hemphill, 2019), and early career attrition (Mäkelä, Hirvensalo, & Whipp, 2014).

The workplace experiences of those who teach adapted physical education (APE) may be different than those who teach PE, given that job requirements place greater emphasis on aspects of special education, such as individualized education programming (Wilson, Richards, & Kelly, 2017). For example, APE teachers must be prepared to teach high caseloads of students with diverse ranges of disability types and severities (Obrusnikova & Kelly, 2009) while contributing to individualized program development and assessment (Nichols, Block, & Wilson, 2018). To this end, APE teachers may feel the stressors associated with marginalization to a greater extent than their PE counterparts (Wilson & Richards, 2019). To address the stressors that PE and APE teachers encounter in the workplace, researchers have examined how positive sociopsychological experiences, such as resilience and perceived mattering, may reduce stress and prevent burnout (Richards, Wilson, Holland, & Haegele, 2019; Richards et al., 2018). Nevertheless, it remains unclear how APE teachers experience workplace stressors in comparison to their PE counterparts. Since there is a dearth of research in this area, this study serves an important, initial, and exploratory purpose by comparing the workplace experiences of PE and APE teachers through the lens of role socialization theory (Richards, 2015).

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