When on the first day of September 2019 we began another academic year of the Teaching Practicum in the Initial Teacher Education of Physical Education we were far from thinking that six months from then we would be experiencing the greatest pandemic of this century with all its implications and consequences. From one day to the other, pre-service teachers were asked to remotely experience the most important year of their initial teacher education, away from their school, their students, and all key actors.
Mentoring the pre-service teachers during those months created in us the suspicion that the lockdown was experienced differently by females and males, thus this being the purpose of this study. To achieve this aim, we performed content semantic analysis of 20 narratives produced by 10 females and 10 males pre-service teachers enrolled in the Master’s Degree of Teaching Physical Education at the University of Coimbra. The results revealed that, despite the fact that most pre-service teachers found this lockdown very difficult, the females expressed their difficulty in reconciling home chores and caring for family members, with their Teaching Practicum. It was also female pre-service teachers who lost less income, given that their part-time jobs could be done remotely, which was not the case with most of their male colleagues. It was the male pre-service teachers who felt lonelier and missed their involvement in school, which could be justified due to have more time available.
Keywords: initial teacher education, physical education, lockdown, COVID-19
The teaching practicum is perceived by most pre-service teachers (PSTs) as the most significant moment of their initial teacher education, considering that it is where PSTs put their theoretically knowledge acquired in the first years of academic education into practice (Flores, 2020; González-Calvo et al., 2020). Therefore, it is an academic year in which PSTs have high expectations, given that for the first time they will be a teacher in a real learning context, while having constant guidance and mentoring by two teachers.
When the world faced the greatest public health crisis, the consequent lockdown, and with it the end of face-to-face classes, pose enormous difficulties in all areas for which no one was prepared, including the educational field. Many were the students who were three months away of completing their initial teacher education and whose transition to remote education generated excessive insecurity due to the uncertainty of the situation (Varea & González-Calvo, 2020) and the lack of balance in life and academic expectations.
Their teachers felt the same, in particular those responsible for the teaching practicum, who had to continue their work resorting to their own teaching and mentoring experience and, above all, their common sense. The need to get to know pre-service teachers better in order to be able to respond to their necessities has never been more pressing (Delamarter & Ewart, 2020).
Purpose of study
This study aims to understand how female and male pre-service teachers, enrolled in the Master’s Degree in Teaching Physical Education in the University of Coimbra (Portugal) during the academic year 2019/2020, experienced lockdown at a personal and academic level, in order to identify the most significant differences between genders so that we can intervene in a more adjust and informed way in possible future situations.
This study is initiated by the existing concern for pre-service students and their difficulties, constraints and/or readiness experienced during the period of lockdown, corresponding to the last three months of their initial teacher education. We followed a qualitative methodology, applying a semantic criterion on content analysis (Bardin, 2011) of 20 narratives, with pre-defined dimensions (Personal-self and PST-self) but without pre-established categories.
Those narratives were produced voluntarily by physical education PSTs, 10 female and 10 male, after having completed their teaching practicum in basic and secondary education, urban and suburban schools, in central and north-central Portugal. For this narrative, a set of indicators was provided as a way to guide the narrative but not conditioning it. The aim of it was to let participants address subjects focused with the dilemma, which allowed us to obtain more consistent data and categorisation was facilitated.
As mentioned earlier, the categorisation started from two dimensions: personal-self, in which it was intended to know the life conditions of the pre-service teachers and their household during lockdown; and PST-self, in which we wanted to understand how they had experienced the remote teaching practicum. When saturation of data occurred, for the personal-self dimension, we obtained five categories, ten subcategories and seven indicators; and for the PST-self dimension we gathered five categories, eleven subcategories and fifteen indicators for both genders. After careful analysis we decided to attribute the categories, subcategories and/or indicators to the gender that had a representation higher than 75% in that category, subcategory and/or indicator. Lower results than that were considered as perceptions common to both genders, thus not relevant for this study.
The following table (Table 1) shows the results obtained in the Personal-self category for female PSTs.
Table 1. Personal-self dimension for female PSTs
The following narratives show the female pre-service teachers’ report of their unsuitable adapted living conditions, specially the cohabitation with sick family members:
“When the lockdown started I had to go to my parents’ house, due to the fact that the student accommodation where I was required so. The working conditions were initially favourable, however and due to my mother’s health condition, my ability to concentrate and work started to decline.” — MF
Regarding the gear/material category, there were considered insufficient:
“I do not have internet at home (only a hotpot in one room) and I had to live all these months in that room, from morning to night in front of the computer. If I did not even got that weak signal, how would I teach remotely? How would I continue to be aware of everything that was going on?” — AC
With regard to the category repercussion of (new) family dynamics, we found in data the following difficulties: Reconciling tasks between the family aggregate, and Reconciling housework with teaching practicum:
“These months also changed my family routines, and my brother also stayed home with remote learning. I tried to adapt my schedule in order to work at a time when he did not have to attend classes because of the noise and for us two to be able to focus (…). Sometimes that was not possible (…) and I think that in this respect we fumbled a little but it was a situation what we could not control.” — CF
Concerning the male PSTs narratives, they stood out in two categories such as living conditions and loss of income (Table 2).
Table 2. Personal-self dimension for male PSTs
Despite the private narratives regarding this dimension, we can observe that the male PSTs’ experiences were mainly negative:
“On a personal level, during the lockdown I lived alone in my parents’ house. Since they are doctors, they were not able to come home.” — GF
Loss of income
“Since I teach swimming classes, having pools closed prevented me from working, which was very hard monetarily (…). Resorting to social support was the only way to overcome this difficulty, although it was not very personally rewarding.” — NG
Moving on to the PST-self dimension, the female PSTs narratives overlaps with their male colleagues narratives. This is seen in remote learning category and the difficulties subcategory (adapting to the unknown, the students’ lack of motivation and excess of work) and the successes subcategories (being able to teach students). Among the narratives the following categories were also highlighted: concern for students (well-being subcategory) and professional training (loss in professional training subcategory) (Table 3).
Table 3. PST-self dimension for female PSTs
In the PST-self dimension we can observe that for the female PSTs the most significant experiences relate to:
Remote learning — difficulties
a) Adaptation to the unknown
“Since it is a new situation for everyone and the fact that there is no right way to deal with it, it has made it difficult to reach and respond to some problems.” — MF
b) Lack of student motivation
“Overtime (…) the commitment and the will on the students’ part was disappearing, and there was a need to motivate them, realising that the times in question were difficult and exhausting.” — CD
c) Excess of work
“The end of the 2nd and 3rd term ended up giving more work than it would in face-to-face classes.” — AS
Remote learning — successes
As for their successes, they were not very expressing, summing up to:
a) Being able to teach students
“The successes achieved over these three months were to have managed to teach my students, to have taught classes in which the students learned new content and liked it.” — SR
Concern for students — well-being
“I always did my best for my students, so that they remained active and healthy.” — CF
As for the male PSTs, their narratives about the PST-self dimension overlaps with their female colleagues narratives, specially in the subcategory negative implications of non-classroom teaching in physical education (remote learning category). In this same category, five indicators stood out in the difficulties subcategories and four indicators stood out in the successes subcategories.
Table 4. PST-self dimension for male PSTs
In this dimension we can observe that, despite the difficulties, the male PSTs noticed several successes.
Remote teaching — Negative implications of remote teaching in physical education
“It seems obvious that physical education is practically incompatible with online classes and lockdown.” — PQ
“Physical education was an extremely penalised discipline with this situation, since face-to-face and practice with students was lost.” — LM
Remote teaching — Difficulties
a) Control and monitor students
“The most difficult thing is to verify whether or not the students fulfil the requested practical tasks.” — RJ
“Although I encouraged all students to practice sport daily and reviewed the contents taught during the year, it became impossible to control the achievement of what I was proposing.” — RS
b) Finding appropriate materials and pedagogical intervention
“During the teaching practicum, it was difficult to choose new strategies to implement in the online classes.” — PQ
“The biggest difficulties I felt were finding a suitable work methodology for all students and the physical education class, while being able to complete the projects and activities inherent to the teaching practicum.” — RJ
c) Work with the teaching practicum group
“The weakest point was the difficulty I felt in working in a group, since there was not always compatible schedules for us to work together at the same time.” — RJ
d) Work with unknown software
“At a professional level it was complicated due to the fact that I had to learn to work with different platforms for online classes.” — GF
Remote teaching — Successes
As for the successes in remote teaching, the male PSTs were much more articulate than their female colleagues, resulting in the following subcategories:
a) Professional enrichment
“The greatest success of the remote teaching was to prepare myself for the future in case of being necessary again.” — RJ
“Finishing tasks inherent to the teaching practicum was rewarding since I learned to use other means of communication, new tools, new information, and communication technologies that will be useful in the future.” — MP
b) Adaptation to unforeseen situations
“As positive aspects I highlight the ability we had to adapt teaching to a new reality, and the class showing availability to carry out small theoretical tasks related to the contents of the units of work covered in the 3rd term.” — MM
c) Better relationships between the teaching practicum group
“Specifically in relation to the teaching practicum, our teaching practicum gourd adapted very well to the situation as we managed to meet whenever possible via Skype, and we helped each other as we recognised that the difficulties were diverse and together we would be able to overcome them much better.” — BF
“I highlight as a positive aspect, the ability we had to have to find ways of professional progression, using different digital media, and even taking online training.” — BF
From the data obtained and its analysis we can observe that the final stage of the teaching practicum was not experienced in the same way by female and male PSTs. Female PSTs took on the role of caregivers and houseworkers. As future teachers their concerns focused essentially on the physical and emotional well-being of their students, as well as the pupils’ motivation and learning ability. They narrated feeling overworked (Collins et al., 2020; United Nations, 2020) which could be the result of the accumulation of domestic responsibilities with their professional ones. Being the ones with the least loss of income, it is understood that they continued to work on their part-times. Unlike Georgieva et al. (2020) which argues that due to the nature of their job many women did not have the option of remote working, these female PSTs kept their work commitments remotely (most of them personal trainers).
The male PSTs narratives reported significant loss of income, due to the kind of work not being feasible to do online (such as coaches and swimming instructors). On the other hand, the lockdown gave them more availability to commit to their academic tasks (more than their female colleagues) which allowed them to focus on their concerns in controlling and monitor their students, in finding adjusted forms of pedagogical intervention and in remote teacher development. They were also the ones who expressed their dissatisfaction with teaching physical education remotely.
Although traditional gender norms still persist, essentially attributing housework to women (Petts et al., 2018; Thébaud et al., 2019) leading them to a work overload (Livingston & Parker, 2019) it is important to recognise the care (evident in the results of female PSTs) as an important dimension of teachers’ professional identity, regardless of gender and not just exclusively as a maternal or parental activity (Granjo & Peixoto, 2018).
This study, although preliminary, showed us that the teaching practicum was experience differently by female and male PSTs during the lockdown, pointing to a greater organisational ability by females (given their multitasking) and a greater focus on academic tasks by males (given their time availability).
As teachers, we consider the results of relevance, given that not only they allowed us to confirm that the lockdown was lived differently by females and males, but we were able to identify some of those differences. This knowledge will allow us to have a more enlightened and adjusted educational intervention to the students’ living conditions. In short, these results will help us to lead students to success with less suffering on their part (and ours). It will be fundamental that in addition to the dimensions mentioned here, the affective-emotional dimension is also studies, contributing to a more complete view of the way female and male PSTs experience their teaching training in lockdown.
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and Catarina Amorim
Faculty of Sport Sciences and Physical Education
University of Coimbra