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The purpose of this study was to examine situational and personal contextual factors that teachers and students reported as enhancing or minimizing student engagement in urban high school physical education classes. In this ethnographic study, 21 physical education teachers and their students in six high schools were observed, and all teachers at six schools and 51 students at five schools were interviewed to examine their perspectives on physical education. Data were analyzed using constant comparison. Findings suggested that students found some tasks to be embarrassing, boring, and irrelevant. Some students preferred to receive a failing grade rather than participate. All participants reported a sense of fear and alienation in the school or class environments. Students, however, described several teachers who created contexts of engagement in these schools. These teachers connected personally with students and worked to provide an innovative curriculum that students felt was relevant and worthwhile.
The authors are with the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-2611.