My grandkids have learned to read. They enjoy trying to solve math problems. But when I ask them what they have learned in physical education their answers are opaque. Mostly they tell me what they are doing in P.E.
In this short piece, I am suggesting that physical education teachers, and programs, should be able to describe at least some of what their students have actually learned in their classes. And the kids they are teaching should be able to show you what they have learned.
Physical education programs have a wide variability in the time allotted for classes, from a few days a year, to daily. Classes are also taught by specialists who have majored in physical education, and also by coaches and fitness specialists and classroom teachers.
Earlier this year, many members of my school community felt the impact of President Donald Trump’s controversial Executive Order to temporarily ban travel to the U.S. by refugees and immigrants from some majority-Muslim countries. My school has a significant number of students who are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Just after the ban was announced, one of my colleagues attempted to start a donation drive for the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL), St. Louis’ welcoming center for new Americans. Each year, IISTL provides services, such as education, refugee resettlement, employment, training, and immigration assistance to more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from 80 different countries. IISTL also collects charitable donations to fulfill family wish lists for “basic” items, such as kitchen gadgets, cleaning products, personal items, school supplies, linens, and furniture. My colleague contacted IISTL and surprisingly, they turned her away. “We have great news,” they said, “Our shelves are full and we can’t accept anything at this time.”
Even though I knew the IISTL wasn’t accepting donations, I checked out the New American Wish List anyway. I saw mixing bowls and mops, toothpaste and toilet paper, clean dolls and children’s books, shower curtains and…soccer balls. Soccer balls?! “Surely the IISTL doesn’t have a lot of soccer balls,” I thought. “I know just the school to help them out!” I immediately emailed IISTL to introduce myself and explained that I teach physical education at a middle school that frequently collects items and donations for various organizations. I said I was aware they weren’t collecting anything but had a feeling they didn’t have many soccer balls on hand. A representative wrote back right away, saying, “Yes, we can always use soccer balls!”
Dear Physical Education Student Teacher,
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.
When you happen to meet a former student out in public, do you ever wonder what is going through their mind? What do they remember from you and your classes? Does what they now remember after having you as their teacher match what you wanted them to learn from you?
In short, what do you want your legacy to be? Here’s a hint: Don’t wait. Your legacy starts now! Whether you are a new teacher or not so new, and whether you want it to or not, your legacy is under construction! All of us should be asking ourselves, “What do we want our former students to take from their experiences in our classes?”
What I encourage you to think about is not whether you were “popular” with your former students or they viewed you as their “friend.” But rather, what’s the most important thing you want them to remember from their time with you? Is it a certain set of skills? A particular attitude? Knowledge? Or something completely different?
Thanks! First of all, we would like to thank the 400 folks who attended the 2017 National PE & School Sport Institute this summer. We were overwhelmed to have such a large group of terrific participants representing 37 different states and 10 foreign countries. Many thanks to everyone who was able to attend, participate or present, and for sharing your insights with all of us!
Mark Your Calendars! The 2018 dates have been set for July 23-25, 2018. As always, we will gather on the beautiful, hill-top campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville during this time. We are very fortunate to have all of the many unique and special tourist attractions that the City of Asheville affords as a comfortable backdrop for this annual summer event.