Background: Understanding physical educators’ career development is critical to the retention of high quality teachers. This retention is influenced by the degree to which physical educators feel fulfilled with the nature of their work. One challenge to this is the documented marginal status of physical education as a subject and the associated experiences by those who teach physical education. Scholars have offered that studying teachers throughout their career stages offers valuable insight into factors that motivate teachers as well as the reasons they change, burn out, or leave the profession entirely (Moreira, Fox, & Sparkes, 2002). Teacher Career Cycle Model (Fessler & Christensen, 1992) provided the theoretical framework for this study and helped the researchers make meaning of different personal and organizational environment factors that influenced one teacher’s movement from one stage to another and ultimately resulted in career exit.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to investigate the personal and organizational factors leading to career frustration and exit of an exceptional veteran physical educator.
Participants and Setting: Purposeful selection was used and one late-career physical education teacher with 33 years of teaching experience participated in the study.
Data Collection: Data collection involved extended engagement in the school setting to gain an in-depth understanding of the teacher, her perceptions, and the personal and organizational factors that contributed to her transition from enthusiastic and growing to career frustration, and ultimately to career exit. Data sources included observations, field notes, and multiple interviews with the teacher, the school principal, a physical education colleague, and a fifth grade classroom teacher.
Data Analysis: Data were analyzed inductively according to Huberman and Miles (1994) four-stage process including initial analyses, data reduction and coding, data display and organization by themes, and analyses with respect to Teacher Career Cycle Model. Data trustworthiness was established through (a) an audit trail, (b) cross-checking multiple data sources, (c) researchers working as a team, and (d) member-checking.
Findings: The teacher’s professional journey included transitions from one career stage to another in response to personal and organizational environmental factors. The shift from the enthusiastic and growing stage to career frustration stage was the result of four factors: (a) a difficult relationship with her principal, (b) preferential treatment of a non-teaching physical education colleague, (c) messages of marginality and feeling devalued, and (d) declining motivation, enthusiasm, and teaching performance.
Conclusions: The teacher’s individual disposition was an important personal environment factor (Fessler & Christensen, 1992) that influenced her movement between career cycles. Additionally, the principal’s management style as well as resource allocation systems (Lawson, 1989) and a loss of public trust contributed to her shift into career frustration and career exit. Findings support previous literature in that the principal was a dominant force that negatively impacted the teacher’s working environment. Future research is needed to gain an improved understanding of the nuances of the physical education teacher/principal relationship.