Teaching Through the Pandemic: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) of Experiences from New Zealand Physical Education Teachers
In early 2020, the world was informed of a new virus that was highly transmissible and life-threatening. This virus was COVID-19. Governments responded by enforcing lockdowns of cities and nations to stop the virus's spread. The flow-on effect meant educational institutions had to close their doors and open new classrooms via online platforms. Although online teaching is not a new term for teachers, the rate at which the transition from face-to-face education to full-time online teaching caught many, if not all, off guard. Many teachers were left to rapidly digitise resources and lesson plans and upskill their digital skills independently. This impact was felt more strongly in those curriculum areas that generally involve more active and hands-on learning. This research study aimed to examine the online teaching experiences of New Zealand (NZ) Physical Education (PE) teachers through the pandemic.
This study employed a qualitative approach that aligned with an interpretive paradigm, which utilised an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) framework from Smith (2004). Six New Zealand PE teachers currently teaching senior PE participated in one semi-structured interview. The participants' recollections were analysed through the cyclic analysis by Alase (2016), in which a three-step cycle refined the data into the ‘core essence’ of their online teaching experience. The findings revealed that overall, participants perceived the experience of teaching online during the pandemic as negative and detrimental to their job satisfaction. The main findings were that participants were under-prepared for the full-time switch to online teaching, resulting in stressful and unrealistic workloads. The participants also experienced substantial emotional loss and felt disconnected from their students, as it was difficult to foster or maintain relationships via online teaching. However, the findings of this research also demonstrate that participants approached online teaching with a pragmatic outlook. They acknowledged that they were under-prepared for full-time online teaching but still demonstrated positive attitudes towards using online platforms to continue education and saw the pandemic as a catalyst for upskilling teachers with 21st-century skill sets.
A significant finding from this research was the ‘shared experience’ that participants used to connect with their students. Participants recalled how they spoke to their students about their struggles, and their students were sympathetic and shared encouragement towards the teacher. This new finding opens the possibility for future research into the dynamics of online teaching and the potential ability to build or foster relationships within online media.
Recommendations suggest a three-layered approach to address these research findings. Three recommendations suggest organisational, departmental, and personal approaches to address the pandemic's barriers and capitalise on the potential positives.
Overall, the pandemic brought a move to full-time online teaching at a time when teachers were unprepared, resulting in negative experiences. The detrimental effect on relationships was felt by teachers, reducing their satisfaction and enjoyment with teaching PE. However, participants could also see beneficial outcomes from this experience, which helped upskill teachers through their pragmatic approach. Lastly, the participants ‘shared experience’ theme uncovered a new dimension of the teacher-student relationships that have opened new avenues for future research.