5 Things Teachers Can Do During Summer to Reboot

Summer is almost over for me and I’m sad.  Not because I don’t want to get back to my students, but because I feel like haven’t had enough time to unwind and do the things that give me life.  I have found that it takes about 5 or 6 weeks for me to finally relax and enjoy myself, which only gives me 2 weeks of real summer.  Plus, I’m one of those people that packs professional development into their summer.

I’ve been reflecting on the importance of NOT doing teacher stuff during the summer.  I’m constantly thinking about what’s next for the year, how I can improve as a teacher, how I can make lessons or classroom management better, etc.  So during the summer, I’m still going to start thinking about next year, I’ll probably attend a conference or two, I’ll probably read a teacher book, I’ll probably listen to teacher podcasts, and I’ll definitely get my planner organized with important dates for the upcoming school year.  But it is important to create a balance and to make sure we are taking care of ourselves during summer.

I have found five things that I have really enjoyed this summer and wanted to share them with you.

  1. Take a break:  It’s okay to do a little Netflix binging or nap during the day.  I’ve also really enjoyed starting my day off a little slower, taking time to make a real breakfast (normally I drink a protein smoothie on the way to work) and enjoy my coffee (usually cold by the time I get to it or I don’t have time to drink a whole cup).  We spend so much of our school year taking care of our students, we often neglect ourselves.  Our free time is spent planning or grading or just thinking about our students, so don’t feel guilty if you have some time when you are doing literally nothing.
  2. Read a book for fun:  I have a stack of 5 education books I wanted to read this summer.  I’ve read none, although I have started.  But have have read three books for fun and that makes me happy.  I enjoy reading but don’t feel like I can get through a book during the school year.  I even read while my students are doing their SSR.  Summer is a great time to read that new book you heard about or to join a fun book club.  I’m into many different genres, but if you want to read the books I did, I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (I had it before I knew it was an HBO series) and I love The Magic of Mixology 3 book series by Gina LaManna.
  3. Travel/Explore: Last summer I went to Japan to visit one of my best friends and this summer I went to MD, DC, and NY with my husband and some friends.  These trips brought me so many happy memories and allowed me to get out and explore.  But let’s face it, teachers don’t make very much money so traveling around the world may not be on our summer plans.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t explore around your city or do a stay-cation.  Take time to be a tourist in your own city and explore the things you normally take for granted.
  4. Spend time with family/friends: In addition to traveling to see friends, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with other teacher friends and visit with family.  It has been great being able to have this time without thinking about work or having a limited amount of time because of work.  This time spent has been precious.
  5. Exercise: I’ve been able to get my exercise back on track.  During the school year, it’s easy for exercise be put on the back burner due to being tired or just having less time in the day.  I find it difficult to stick to a routine.  During the school year, I get to spin twice a week and most mornings I can squeeze in a 30 minute strength workout before I head to work.  However, now that it is summer, I cam getting 60 minute workouts in, sometimes getting in two workouts each day, and have time to add yoga back into my schedule.  Plus, in addition to having more time to exercise, I find that I am enjoying it more because I’m not rushing through it.

So I hope that you are able to take time for yourself and know that it’s okay to do things unrelated to teaching during the summer.  It’s important to reboot and recharge so that come the first day of school, we are ready to give our best to our students for 180 days.

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3 Ways to Teach Mindfulness in PE

Physical Education: Exercising the body and the mind!

As a young woman, I was active because it was fun.  I played a myriad of sports just because, walked to school, and rode my bike around town as a means to visit my friends.  As a high school multi-sport athlete, I began using strength training to prevent injuries and compete at a higher level.  As an adult, I use fitness as a tool to stay active, a means to compete, and as a tool to relieve stress.  I didn’t use exercise and sports to relieve stress when I was a kid because I didn’t think of it being an option.

When I look back on my youth, I had my struggles (I was bullied, my parents divorced when I was 8, and had a 45-minute commute to school during high school), but I don’t recall specifically using sports as a way to manage that stress of being a young woman.  Also, when I was a kid, social media wasn’t a thing.  I didn’t have the current pressures that young people have to look a certain way or always appear to be happy and living a perfect life.  As Bob Dylan sings, “The times they are a changing.”

Young people still have normal kid stress.  The pressure to get good grades, to have the right friends, to have some sort of idea what you want to be when you grow up, to have a perfect family, etc.  But because of social media, we are much more exposed to the idea that other people’s lives are perfect, which makes us feel like our lives are not.

I don’t blame the people for posting their seemingly perfect lives on their favorite social media platform, I blame social media as a platform for sharing our lives.  Let’s face it, no one wants to scroll through their Instagram feed and see people’s “real” lives.  Do you want to see your friends and family posting sad pictures and captions about their bad day at work?  Do you want to see the posts about their pet or family member being sick and dying?  Do you want to see the posts about people getting fired? Do you want to see a post about the game they lost by a huge margin?

At first, you probably thought, “No I don’t want to see that.  I want to see happy things, that’s why I go on social media.”  But if you really start to think about the way you feel when you scroll, do you start to feel like your life doesn’t live up to those in your feed?  Do you find yourself trying to compare your life to others?  Do you find yourself trying to mimic the lives you see on social media?

Imagine how our youngsters feel!

I work with middle schoolers whose lives seem consumed by social media.  They are always seeking “likes” and “followers”.  They post things to get the reaction of others.  If they post something that’s not perceived in a good light, they won’t get likes.  Their popularity and happiness are determined by how many double taps their post gets.

And then we have the issue with online bullying.  People say things about others without having to see the person’s reaction, making the whole process seem like nothing.  The bully doesn’t see the pain they cause.  According to a 2016 article by NPR, suicide among middle schoolers doubled from 2007 to 2014, and it will only continue to rise.

Kids spend most of their time at school.  Schools are understaffed with counselors and mental health professionals.  The counselors that are available are mostly dealing with managing the issues of their students rather than helping them prevent.  In our district, students don’t take a health class until high school.

If there’s no funding for proper ratios of counselors to students and no funding for a health course at the middle school level, how can our students learn coping skills for stress?  What can we do as educators to help our students combat the constant feeling of not being enough?  How can we provide tools and resources to deal with bullying?

As a Physical Education teacher, I know that physical activity and exercise release endorphins that help make us feel happy and that regular physical activity can help improve overall mental health.  I am passionate about creating a classroom environment that helps my students develop confidence and physically active people for life.

I have a confession:  I don’t make it a point to share with my students the ways in which exercise can be a tool for improving mental health. 

However, just because I haven’t done it in the past, doesn’t mean that I can’t start.  It’s one of the beauties of being a teacher.  Each year, we get a new batch of students and fresh opportunity to do better for them.

I feel that I can relatively seamlessly weave stress management and mindfulness techniques into my curriculum.  I know that I cannot sit back and not do more for my students’ mental health.

So here are the 3 simple things to help students improve their mental health:

  1. Bring awareness of their mental state before and after activity.  Something as simple as having a quick discussion with our students and asking them to bring awareness to their feelings of happiness/self-worth/confidence before we begin an activity and again afterward can help them see the value of physical activity and exercise.  It could even be taken a step further by having them do an entry & exit ticket comparing their feelings may lend an additional value in getting feedback or insight into their feelings if they are having a bad day.  Taking the time to read their thoughts and then using that to connect can be huge in creating a safe classroom.  You can also have them identify specific activities that improve their mood.  It’s all about education and awareness.
  2. Teach them strategies to combat the stress of daily life.  Teach breathing and meditation type techniques and when to use them.   Explain that the breathing technique can be helpful to combat in the moment of anxiety, especially before a test or a presentation.
    • Start with a simple one-minute breathing meditation.  Have students sit comfortably yet engaged.  Ask them to close their eyes.  With a closed mouth, breathe in deeply for a count of 4, hold the breath for 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold empty for 4.  Repeat.  With practice, you can increase the time for up to 3 minutes.
    • Find a guided meditation either for you to dictate or one that is pre-recorded.  You can find many free resources with a simple Google search.  The app Calm, offers a free subscription for educators as well as other amazing resources.
  1. Take the time during class to allow for your students to practice the meditation and breathing techniques you’ve taught.
    • Get to know your students and their schedules.  If you know that your students have a big test coming up, take a minute or two at the end of class to help them get into a positive mindset by practicing meditation.
    • Make it a part of your daily closing routine. In addition to recapping what students learned that day, you can go through a quick meditation to help them transition into their next class.

Early in this blog post I mentioned the struggle our students face with social media.  The most valuable thing I have found is to only follow people who bring me up and make me feel good.  Try to encourage the same thing of your students.  Remind your students that they have the power to follow who they choose.  Try to help them recognize how people’s posts make them feel.  If they notice that someone’s posts make them feel bad about themselves, don’t feel guilty and unfollow that person.  They are doing the simplest thing possible to improve their happiness and mental health.

Or even better, have a social media detox and delete those applications from your phone.  Connect with people the old-fashioned way, a phone call or text.

You may also benefit from these strategies so feel free to add them to your daily routine as well 🙂

Standardized Testing in Phys Ed

It’s that time of year, all 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th grade Physical Education classes are completing their fitness testing.  I have so many thoughts on this and still haven’t really figured out where I stand.  I see the value in testing for physical fitness and using that data to set goals, but I think that the with the current state of obesity in the US, this testing does not truly indicate a child’s chances of being a healthy adult.

In our district, we use the FitnessGram test.  Students must pass 5 of the 6 components: Aerobic Capacity, Body Composition, Upper Body Strength, Abdominal Strength/Endurance, Flexibility (shoulder or hamstring), & Trunk Extensor Strength to be considered “healthy”.

In my opinion, although these are standardized tests, they should not be used to determine whether or not a PE teacher is effective, someone’s health or lack thereof, or predict the likeliness of one becoming a healthy or unhealthy adult.  They also should not be a determining factor in whether or not a student is required to take PE in high school.  I believe all of this mostly because every teacher I have seen administer the tests does it differently.  So if this is the case, how accurate can the results be?

Time Is A Precious Thing

With testing, timing is everything.  A student’s test scores can vary from day to day or from the beginning of the day to the end of the day.  Proper sleep, nutrition, hydration, etc., all play a factor in how well a student will do.  Does that mean that we should be administering the test multiple times to get the most accurate results?

Also, PE classes are notoriously large.  At our school, they range anywhere from 45-60 per class, per teacher.  That means that tests such as the Curl-Up test are impossible to get through in one class period.  And while students are testing, what are the other students doing?  Are they sitting there doing nothing, waiting patiently?  Are they doing an activity unsupervised because the teacher is administering the test?  There has to be a better way to administer the tests in a timely manner, without taking away from precious instructional time.

Inputting Data Is A B****

I’m lucky enough to have 6th graders and thus do not have to report my data to the state.  However, I see what my 7th grade teachers have to go through.  It is a tedious process of clicking individual drop downs and buttons on the district page.  And before that, teachers had to bubble in each student’s scores on a scantron.  So a teacher spends precious minutes copying down scores during testing and then having to input those scores a second time.  Again, there has to be a better way!

What The Heck Happens To The Results?

So the students have tested and the teachers have submitted the scores.  What happens to that data?  Do the students receive it?  Do the parents receive it?  Does the district receive it?  Where does it go?  We don’t see their fitness scores compiled with their other standardized tests?  Why not?  The scores could be a valuable tool in setting summer fitness goals or starting points at the beginning of the school year.  The scores should travel with the student to any new schools they attend or when they move on to high school, just as other standardized tests do.  But instead, they seem to sort of disappear.  There has to be a better way.

So at the end of the day, I’m just complaining with no solution to the problem.  But it sure does get me thinking of how I can better use the tests to my advantage as a teacher and as a tool to engage my students in fitness practices.  As far as some of the logistical stuff, I feel like it’s a district and state problem that needs to be addressed.

 

 

My Favorite Unit

It’s finally here, the unit that I look forward to each and every year.  Drum roll, please….

Dance!

The 6th grade standard for dance is line dance.  Not only is it one of my favorite types of dances, it is one that I think my 6th graders learn to love. And to top it off, it really is a skill that they can use throughout their entire life.  We all can think of at least one social event that we attended where we found ourselves dancing along to the Cha Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle, the Macarena, the Electric Slide, or the Wobble.

I am not a good dancer at all but this is by far my favorite unit to teach.  The first day, I always spend the time teaching by modeling and dancing along with the students.  I believe that it helps them loosen up and lets them watch me mess up but also lets them see that I can have fun and not take myself too seriously.  I can quickly figure out who are the dancers and who are timid to get started.  It’s a great opportunity to get involved with my students.  My calves are always incredibly sore after day one, but it’s worth it.

Once I’ve taught them the Cha Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle, and the Electric Slide, I put the learning int the hands of my students and do a jigsaw of the Wobble.  I have pre-determined teams, that are broken down further so that one person from each team to learn a step of the Wobble before returning to their original group to teach their steps to the group.  Then each group practices the dance before the entire class dances together.

And this year I have big plans for the Wobble.  I will share that once it happens.

After my students have begun collaborating and communicating, they add creativity and critical thinking by using what they have learned so far to design their own line dance.  After a few days of planning and practicing, they present their dances to the class as their final assessment.

I am always so amazed at the engagement of this unit.  And the best part, is when these 6th graders become 7th graders and the Wobble comes on at lunch or during a school dance, I always see my students get up and dance.  That’s fitness for life!

So even if you are not a dancer, you HAVE to find a way to make sure your students are exposed to the dance standard.  I guarantee that it will be worth it.

 

My Podcast Guest Debut

Social media has been a recent addition to my professional development arsenal.  I have been enjoying listening to a variety of teacher podcasts.  My current favorite podcasts are The PE Geek Podcast, SHAPE America Podcast, Google Teacher Tribe Podcast, and the Ditch that Textbook Podcast.  The first two are specific to PE, but the last two are some great tech podcasts for teachers in any subject.  The PE Geek Podcast and the SHAPE America Podcast were the first podcasts that I started listening to and have found so much inspiration from.  Listening to these podcasts has given me a million ideas for my classroom.

One of the most influential things I have gotten from listening to podcasts over the past few years is the need to connect with other teachers on Twitter.  I had a classroom Twitter account that I sometimes used, but I wasn’t active on it by any means.  So I decided to make my use of and time on Twitter much more frequent.  I started searching for some of the names I’ve heard on podcasts and from there Twitter would give me suggestions for others to follow.  In addition to following people, I started sharing my knowledge, which has been great for me as well.  It’s so awesome to know that I am part of this great PLN that is supportive and willing to share our knowledge with each other.  Plus, it’s FREE professional development!  If you’re a teacher and aren’t using Twitter for professional development, you’re missing out!

A couple weeks ago, I saw a tweet from Jarrod Robinson, the voice behind The PE Geek Podcast and creator of a bunch of apps for PE teachers.  The tweet was asking for guest speakers on his podcast who would be willing to share their experience using tech in PE.  I quickly signed up for a time to be interviewed and anxiously waited a week for my time.  I was nervous that I would be awkward but also excited for such a great opportunity.  I’ve listened to podcasts for 3 years and always wondered what it would be like to be a guest.  I’ve learned so much and thought it would be incredible to help others.

The experience was fantastic.  Jarrod was extremely professional, yet I felt like I was talking to a friend.  We talked for almost 45 minutes about technology tools that I use for assessment, management, and organization.  When the recording was over, the anxiousness set it.  I wondered what my voice would sound like, would it be annoying, nasally, or would I sound unintelligent?  I wondered if anything would get cut from the recording.  I wondered if anyone would listen and hoped that if people did, that they found it helpful.  The podcast was posted a couple days later and as I listened, all of my fears were put at ease.  My only regret is that I didn’t get to share more and there was one thought that I didn’t get to finish, which makes me wonder if people think I’m a little strange.  Oh well!

I hope that I can have more opportunities like this one, to share my experiences with technology and my best practices that create a positive learning environment for my students.

I have to give a huge shoutout to Jarrod Robinson for the opportunity.

If you want to listen to my podcast, it can be found on your Apple device in Apple Podcasts, look for “The PE Geek Podcast” or HERE as episode #102 Crowd Funding Tech in PE

Twitter Links:

And be sure to follow me on Twitter

My #armmewith Thoughts

It’s been 10 days since the most recent school shooting and there are many angry people in our country.  Angry because more innocent children and beloved teachers have been murdered.  Angry because the FBI didn’t do their job.  Angry because the shooter had access to an assault rifle.  Angry because schools should be safe.

As a middle school teacher, I feel like I need to voice my opinion.  I grew up in a “gun friendly” family.  We shoot at targets and some of our family hunt.  I also have family in law enforcement who are all trained to shoot guns.  All the men in my family own a variety of guns, including assault rifles.  Gun safety is always a priority, but I have also seen first hand what can happen when someone with mental health issues has access to a gun.  Two years ago, my cousin committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I once thought I wanted to go into law enforcement of some sort but found my way to teaching.  When I decided to go back to school to become a teacher, I never once thought about having to carry a weapon in the same manner as if I would’ve been an officer of the law.  I grew up seeing a variety of school shootings in the news, I was a freshman in high school on April 20, 1999, when the Columbine shooting happened.  I chose to teach, knowing that the possibility of this sort of tragedy happening at my school is real.

The schools I have taught at all have active shooter lockdown drills.  In fact, we had to go into lockdown last year because of a threat at the high school.   That incident, although it was just a threat, was scary and also eye-opening.

At my current school, locked gates surround the main part of campus; however, the PE facilities are completely exposed to the surrounding neighborhoods.  Literally, any person can walk onto our campus or the high school campus and access both school’s PE facilities.  This thought scares the crap out of me on a daily basis, but never once have I felt that carrying a weapon would provide me and my students with protection.  I have a plan for myself and my students in the event that we are in danger.

I have spoken with my kids and remind them to be aware of their surroundings and to immediately report anyone on campus that doesn’t belong.  They are quite good about letting me know if they see something odd.  Usually, its just a high schooler passing through, but I love that they are keeping an eye out for themselves, their peers, and me.   I remind them that if they hear or see anything concerning around campus or on social media, even if they think it’s fake or the source is “joking”, to report it immediately.

I have told my students that I will do everything in my power to protect them, but in no way do I feel that carrying a gun is necessary.  I’m also not convinced that arming teachers will prevent another tragedy from happening.

I appreciate that the President wants to do something about school shootings, but arming teachers isn’t the answer.  Has he consulted with teachers on the issue and gotten their honest opinions?  Every teacher I know (except one) who have voiced their opinion things arming teachers with guns is a terrible idea.

Does the President feel that his kids are safer if their teachers carried guns? Okay, I get that now they are protected by Secret Service and have probably had bodyguards their whole lives, but what if their teachers carried guns?

How can the President guarantee that those teachers who carry are mentally stable?  If law enforcement officers make mistakes with their weapons, couldn’t that happen with teachers who are much less trained to handle stress on the job?

How can the President guarantee that teachers’ weapons won’t end up in unsafe hands?  We have so many things to worry about, making sure our gun is locked up but also easily accessible sounds like a stress and burden that I have no interest in bearing.

The President is willing to provide raises or bonuses to teachers who carry guns, but I know teachers that take on extra responsibility at school just to make a little extra money.  Are those the people we want carrying guns?  We have teachers paying for their own supplies, schools are falling apart with age, technology updates and equipment are few and far between, teachers barely make enough money to survive (many of us have “side jobs” at night, on weekends, and during summer), and the list goes on.  Let’s provide teachers with the money and resources they need to do a good job teaching before we start handing out guns.

Instead of arming teachers, how about providing more mental health services to our youth?  Our school has 1600 students and 2 counselors. How is 1 counselor expected to check in and support 800 students effectively? Our district doesn’t offer a health class to middle schoolers.  Maybe if they were being taught a variety of mental and physical health tools at school, kids would develop powerful tools and strategies to deal with all the changes life throws at us and increase the chance of preventing this sort of tragedy from the source.

Instead of arming teachers, how about providing services to parents on how to talk to their kids about mental health, how to see signs of mental health issues or trauma, or how to get kids the help they need if they have mental health issues?

I think what I’m getting at is that there isn’t just one solution to preventing school shootings.  I don’t think that I have the solution or that there’s one simple solution, but I do know that arming teachers with guns is not the answer and that US schools should be safe for teachers, staff, and students.

The Struggle Is Real but Worth It

Beginning a Physical Education teaching career right now is very challenging.  We are in a state of education where all subjects are being held accountable for what students know and are able to do when they leave our class every day.  This is such a wonderful burden to bear, especially for a PE teacher and I’m sure my elective teacher friends are feeling the same pressure.

Physical Education classes are changing, but this change is for the best.  I am only about 20 years removed from middle school, but I can tell you that PE now is nothing like PE when I was a kid.  I hated PE. I remember playing capture the flag, dodgeball, and running the mile.  I was athletic and loved to be active, but PE was torture for me.  I can recall writing notes and forging my parents’ signatures to get out of PE, which is part of what drives me to be a PE teacher.  I want to make PE fun for all my students, but I also want my students to actually learn something about their body, how to make healthy choices, and understand how our bodies move.  None of this was taught when I was in school.

The current struggle of PE teachers is not teaching our content and inspiring our students, it’s educating the parents, classroom teachers, and administrators that our subject holds value and should be taken seriously.  I am extremely lucky to have an administrative team that supports our department completely.  We also have an amazing staff that consistently tell me how impressed they are what we have done with our PE program in such a short time.  My 6th grade students quickly figure out that they will be learning more than just how to play various sports, that they will be asked to demonstrate their learning and by the time they are 7th graders, they’re on board 100%.

But the parent pushback is tough to combat.  Some parents get it and love what they are seeing, but I hear quite often, “Why can’t you just make my kid run and play dodgeball?”  or “My kid is athletic, why don’t they have an A in PE?” It baffles my mind that parents would be okay with this.  I’m not a parent, but don’t you want your kid to go to school to be challenged mentally in all of their classes?

I’ll compare this thinking to Math.  If you’re a kid who is naturally good at math, class would be boring if you weren’t challenged with more difficult problems to solve on a consistent basis.  What about if you only solved math problems from a textbook or worksheet and never got to see how math applies to real life situations and can be used to solve real-life problems?  Not only would you be bored, you may never realize how fun math can be or maybe think about pursuing a math-related career.  Sure, you might get an easy A, but what do you have to show for it if you didn’t actually learn anything or be challenged to achieve that A?  What if you are that kid that struggles with math, now think about the scenarios I just mentioned.  You would be consistently frustrated if you were always given information the same way.  But if every day when you walked into math class, you knew that your teacher was going to apply math to more real applications, make math a game, or approach the learning with different methods, you would most likely have a much different perspective on math.  Sure, the subject might still be challenging, but most likely you wouldn’t dread being in class every day and would most likely be able to achieve decent grades.

So let’s go back to PE.  The concept of Physical Literacy that we are trying to teach, helps us to reach every student in our class regardless of ability, previous PE experiences, preconceived notions, or impacts their parents may have.  It makes PE more fun for our students and more fun for us to teach.  We need to continue to drive our profession forward by finding new and innovative ways to educate our students.  We need to share what we are doing with parents, staff, and admin through blogging, using social media or class newsletters, and inviting these people to observe our classes.  We have to stick to our guns, do what we do best, and not let parents, staff, or admin lessen the importance of Physical Education in schools.  The more teachers who begin to teach to the whole child and every child, the better we make our profession.

I recently heard the saying, “Over a 30-year career, I want to teach the same lesson 30 different ways, rather than the same lesson 30 different times.”  This has stuck with me.  We need to consistently reflect and innovate the lessons we teach.  If we become complacent, it will show in our teaching and our students won’t enjoy our class which could affect them for life.

Another great quote, this one from Michael Metzler’s book Instructional Models in Physical Education is, “Teaching physical education poorly is the easiest teacher job in any school; teaching physical education well is the hardest teaching job in any school.”

One of my fitness inspirations, Candace Moore, recently released a podcast on how to stay motivated.  In her podcast, she talks about knowing your “why”.  If you know why you started teaching in the first place and consistently remind yourself, it can drive you and help you focus on the bigger picture when you are faced with challenges or aren’t feeling motivated.

So don’t be complacent.  Work hard to make PE the class that every student looks forward to on a daily basis.  Make it impossible for parents, staff, and admin not to get on board with what you are doing in your class because you inspire and challenge students both physically and mentally.  Reflect on every lesson, seek out professional development opportunities, go to conferences, reinvent your teaching style if you have to.  But don’t let anyone stand in your way of teaching PE the way it should be taught.

New Year, New Goals, New Challenges

It’s been awhile, but I’m back!  On a recent flight to DC for a friend’s surprise birthday party, I had a burst of inspiration and my pen wouldn’t stop writing ideas.  I have enough material to write a blog post every week.  Thus, that will be my goal for 2018: to write a blog post each week of the year.

Now that I’m in my 3rd year of teaching, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of things and can start branching out on other challenges.  With that, I’ll be increasing my writing, I’ll be looking into obtaining my National Board Certification, saving up to get a Yoga Teacher Training cert, and working on putting materials together for when I get my first student teacher.

2018 will be a big year, professionally speaking, and I can’t wait to jump on the adventure.  Thanks for following along.

The Un-realized Power of a PE Teacher

I experienced my first every 6th grade Camp this week.  It is a 5 day outdoor school that supplements the science curriculum for 6th graders.  In addition to education, it is a week full of social and personal education for our students.  But the purpose of this post is not to talk about the value of our young generations learning first hand the beauty and complexity of nature, it is about what I learned on night three.

Walking through the camp office around 7pm, getting ready to head out on the night hike, I found myself in a role that I never really considered was part of the job description.  Two female students had been in a physical altercation.  Both students were visibly upset, both students set to go home that night, both students in need of love and support.  My “work wife”, I’ll call her,”T”, gave me a look that said, “I need your help”, so into the room I went.  She was sitting with a student who I recognized but who was not directly one of my own 25o 6th graders.  This poor girl was crying hysterically, to the point that she was struggling to breathe and her hands were so stiff they were seemed frozen.  Before I became a PE teacher, I was a professional massage therapist and a Reiki healer, so my inner healer stepped up to the plate.  T and I sat with the student, I’ll call her, “D”, and did everything we could to help her get her breathing under control.

T talked to D and reminded her that she know what a strong, good young lady she is and that this behavior was uncharacteristic.  Although she did point out that her behavior in class lately had been increasingly aggressive.  While T talked, I healed, sending love and strength to D, trying to calm her breathing and relax her tense hands.  After some time, D finally broke down and we both realized that our students are going though way more than we can even imagine.  D started confiding in us that her parents had recently began thinking about separating and that D had heard and seen them fighting on more than one occasion.  D had been bottling up emotions of fear and blame for months while feeling like she could not tell anyone.  Her grades have been suffering and her relationships with friends began to suffer but she felt like it was not her place to share her worries and anxiety with anyone.  This poor 11 year old felt like it was her duty to keep her parents and her family together, and that this fight at camp will further put a strain on her parents’ relationship.  She felt like there was no one at school or at home to talk to.  T and I insisted that she can confide in us any time and that the school counselor is there to help her as well.  We couldn’t fathom the pain she must be feeling by not realizing the resources she has available to her.

We kept reminding D that the fact that her parents were open and honest with the current state of their family, meant that they deeply love her and are working towards keeping the family together and working through their differences.  D was worried that her parents would be upset with her for ruining camp and to be honest, we were too.  We had no idea what her parents’ reaction would be when they came to pick her up later.  We feared the worst but hoped for the best, knowing that her parents were in the car almost immediately after receiving the principle’s phone call.

As we waited with D for her parents to arrive, she continued to cry and we continued to console.  When her parents walked in through the door, D immediately ran to her dad, who embraced her lovingly and kissed her head.  T and I both lost it and started crying.  We had hoped that her parents would be loving and compassionate but it was more than we imagined.  They were incredibly sweet, they let her know that there would be consequences for her actions but that they love her deeply.

Her father stepped with us outside to talk about the incident and he also revealed to us that perhaps D’s recent behavior was a reaction to her parents’ fighting and her sensing instability.  We agreed and encouraged him to seek help for her and the family.  I also suggested to allow D to participate in the after-school wrestling program so she can learn a productive outlet for her aggression, to which her father agreed was a great idea.  Her mom hugged us and her dad graciously embraced our hands, both of them thanking us for taking care of D and for believing in her.  When they drove away, T and I felt the weight of D on our shoulders and quickly realized how important the role of a teacher can be.

There are 2 sides to this story, there was another student involved in the fight.  She is one of my students, some one who is known around campus as a bully and is always involved in the “girl drama” at school.  I’ll refer to her as, “A”.  While talking with D, T and I realized that A was all alone and probably feeling awful having to hear us consoling D.  I went to try to talk to her, when I turned to face her, her face was stone cold and there was extreme anger in her eyes, unlike anything I had ever seen.  She wasn’t crying.  I tried to talk to her so she could explain what she was feeling, but she yelled at me and told me she did not want to talk to anyone.  I let her know that I care about her and that it was okay if she did not feel like talking, but it broke my heart that a 6th grader could have such anger and not be willing to accept help.  Also, we found out that her mom seemed to be in no hurry to come pick her up and console her.  My heart broke for A, realizing that her home life must be very different than D’s.

For T and I both, we were so grateful we were able to be at camp and be there to help D.  As PE teachers, we see every single female student that walks in the locker room.  Even if they are not on our rosters, we feel a responsibility to take care of them and be a support.  For me, I teach half of the entire 6th grade class.  I always knew I had a lot of students, but this week gave me more insight and ownership of my teaching duties.  I realized that my job is much more than teaching the PE standards and developing live lessons.  I have a responsibility to be a source of comfort and guidance for my students and that I may be the only adult in their life that they feel comfortable confiding in. However, I don’t see this as a burden, I see it as a blessing.  I am grateful that I have the potential to continue as a healer while being a teacher.  I have a new appreciation for my large class sizes, knowing that I have the potential to reach so many more students than a typical classroom teacher.

Those 2 Dreaded Words: “Pink Slip”

This year is my second year of teaching.  After my first year I felt like I had finally found what I was placed on this earth to do and that I found what I am truly great at.  And then 6 months into my second year, we were notified that due to budget cuts handed down from Gov. Jerry Brown, all temporary teachers will be getting a pink slip. Noooooooooooo!  I finally found my place and my groove and it could all be taken away in one swift pass of a piece of paper.

Getting a pink slip is the nice way of saying that your services are no longer needed, in other words, “You’re fired!”  Don’t get me wrong,  I understand that it is much more complex than that.  But take the perspective of a first or second year teacher.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that 17% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years.  Every teacher fresh out of the credential program is well aware of this statistic.  It is drilled into us that although teaching is amazingly rewarding, teaching is also very hard.  Parents are tough, kids are tough, admin is tough, testing standards are tough, and the long hours with little pay are tough.

Every year, thousands of teachers in California receive the dreaded pink slip.  I can bet you that this contributes to the amount of great teachers that leave the field due to lack of available jobs. This information is not encouraging to new teachers who are faced with the facts that there’s a good chance they will be interviewing for a job every summer.  Every Spring, they receive a pink slip and have to pack up their classroom, or in a PE teacher’s case, their locker room office, turn in their keys, and hope that their school will hire them back.  But we also have to be realistic in knowing that until you sign your contract for the upcoming school year, your job is not confirmed, which means you need to be interviewing and hoping you can land somewhere.

This year, in San Diego Unified, 137 Elementary PE teachers will be laid off.  This number sickens me.  That means 137 PE teachers will be left with a million questions and no students to teach.  The district continues to stand firm on their belief that students will not be effected by layoffs, but I can’t understand how the district finds this to be true.

Physical Education is no longer a glorified recess time.  We have state and national standards to follow.  There are more and more studies emerging confirming the direct positive correlation of Physical Education and success of students in the classroom.  It is unrealistic to expect a multiple subject teacher to also follow the standards for PE when they have so much pressure to have their students successful on testing.  There needs to be dedicated PE teachers who can help students develop motor skills, communication skills, social skills, and life skills.

And being a PE teacher at a middle or high school can be even worse.  Because we do not technically have a classroom, our class sizes are usually double those of teachers who teach Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, etc.  We have to have immaculate classroom management skills and immense creativity with large class sizes, limited facilities and small budgets for equipment.

So as a PE teacher, the idea of getting a pink slip is scary.  Thoughts go through our head like, “If I am lucky enough to keep my job, will my class sizes grow to difficult to manage numbers?”, “Will I be stepping into a new school, part of an old team, feeling like a first year teacher again?” and many other scary thoughts.

PE is often one of the first subjects to take cuts.  It is important that you are constantly advocating for your program and for the great things you are doing for your students.  Just being a great PE teacher is not enough.  Parents, PTSA, Admin, and the District all need to know what you are doing for your students.  At the end of the day, you cannot know whether or not you will have a job after receiving a pink slip, but you can make yourself valuable to your school and your district.  If you remain in your position at your school, all of your hard work will have paid off and you can continue to make a difference.  If you do lose your job, you will have some amazing skills to take with you on your interviews over the summer.

As of this moment, I am in limbo with many of my peer and colleagues.  I know I will be receiving a pink slip, but I also feel confident in my value to my school and my district.  My best advice to anyone suffering from the same stress as me is to have faith in your skills but to also make sure you are looking out for yourself.  Keep being the amazing teacher you  are every single day, and don’t let getting a pink slip every year discourage you from leaving the profession.  If you went into teaching to be a guiding light to your students, stay true to your purpose and don’t let politics get in the way of helping your kids.  It doesn’t matter which school you are at, it matters that you are in a position to teach your students to be their best selves.