You are about to undertake a challenge that many people undervalue and most misunderstand. Sadly, you may actually be one of them. Despite having spent your last four years in professional preparation where faculty have attempted to instruct you about what it means to be a teacher, you will still enter the profession aspiring to emulate the teachers, coaches and programs that molded you as an adolescent.
At this beginning stage of your career, you still see physical education teaching through immature eyes: the eyes of a successful mover, athlete, leader or team player. You aren’t seeing the challenge ahead of you through the eyes of a teacher: a mature professional focused on helping all students. You mostly see only those students that reflect your image and are blind to the less skilled students who are awkward, shy and hesitant to engage. You see success as the number of athletes that gravitate toward you, rather than the number of physically literate children that grow up to become health conscious adults.
Over the years, I have heard many physical education teachers make statements such as, “Don’t they understand that we are different?” or “This doesn’t pertain to me, so why should I be here?” Comments like these are typically made when a policy or expectation is made for all faculty and the Physical Education teacher for some reason believes that he or she should be exempt from its implementation or participation.
While at times I understand why physical educators express these comments, personally I think this line of thinking is at the very least self-serving, and at the worst dangerous to us as a profession. It’s vital that we think of ourselves first and foremost as part of the school teaching community. And we need to act as such if we want others to value us as an important part of the educational system.
Most recently the concept of being different has centered around the implementation of Student Learning Objectives (SLO.) Many physical education teachers and administrators I speak with are opposed to the idea of giving a cognitive assessment as a measure of student growth in physical education.
I wasn’t at the SHAPE America Convention in 2015 when the 50 Million Strong by 2029 commitment was announced. I missed the emotional convention hall moment that physical education teachers attending received. In my mind, I imagine it similar to a political convention where groups of like-minded people cheer on a passionate speaker introducing a new life-changing idea.
But I heard about 50 Million Strong after the event. A friend of mine told me about it and while I wanted to feel the energy, my first reaction consisted of adjectives like unattainable, improbable, idealistic, and vague. It wasn’t that I didn’t share the vision that SHAPE America leaders were aspiring to, it was that I didn’t see how the change could happen. I thought to myself, so many great teachers are working hard every day, how is this 50 Million Strong slogan going to make a difference?
Nonetheless, while I still wasn’t really certain about my role in the commitment, I decided to use the 50 Million Strong slogan to promote my 1st Annual Family Fitness Night. At the beginning of the night, I did my best to explain SHAPE America’s 50 Million Strong commitment and our school program that was committed to creating “380 Southdown Strong.” The night was a huge success. Students, parents and the administration were intrigued and excited. I was ecstatic. I had seen the light!
At my school we are having a SUPER year and I need to personally thank SHAPE America Past-President Dolly Lambdin for it. I had the pleasure of meeting Dolly at the Southern District Convention in 2015.
For several years I’ve been writing fictional stories to introduce physical education units and I showed Dolly the teacher resources I’ve created called Literature Enhanced Physical Education. Dolly suggested that I write a children’s book with Physical Education teachers as super heroes. Dolly rattled off all the wonderful things that PE teachers do for children. I was truly interested in the venture and flattered that she thought I could write this important story. The only problem was that I didn’t think I could do it! It wasn’t that I didn’t agree that PE teachers could be super heroes to children; I just wasn’t feeling much myself like a super hero.
Each year, I set goals for myself at the beginning of the year and reflect upon them at the end. For the last 3 years, I’ve had the same goal: To try to connect better with my students. At the end of each year, despite progress I always feel that I can do better. Like many other PE teachers across the country, we can have up to 70 students in the gym at one time. My focus over the years has always been to get children moving. I intermittently stop to teach skills, share knowledge and reinforce social norms, then get students moving again. But I struggle to connect with each child personally, and if I don’t make a personal connection I question, “Can I really ever become a super hero?” This year I was again going to try.
The first week of school, I explained to our 4th graders that the whole year would be dedicated to finding our super powers. We discussed how everyone has physical activities they enjoy and do well, as well as other activities that they are not so good at and need to practice. In physical education I was going to help them find their physical, social and cognitive super powers so that they could develop skills that would keep them healthy for the rest of their lives.
I would like to share an incident that occurred while I was teaching the other day. At the time, I found the actions of one of my students to be unconscionable. Now, as I look back, I consider the incident both comical and pivotal.
It was a beautiful fall day, 65 degrees, clear with no wind, so we decided to take our classes outdoors. While I love being outdoors, teaching outside at my school does not provide for the best learning environment. The outdoor space consists of a grassy area the size of a soccer field, a small blacktop, and a playground. Therefore, during the lunch periods we are competing with the myriad of distractions that come with seventy-five children at play.
We were working on kicking a stationary ball, so we chose to kick a football off a tee. We used dynamic football warm-ups to begin the class. These warm-ups consisted of agility courses in which the students had to jump small cones, run through hoops, and zigzag through larger cones. Between the kicking stations and the warm-up, we set up 72 cones and 40 hoops. It took nearly a half hour to precisely line up all the cones and arrange all the colorful hoops.