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.



Welcome to the best PE blog around!

Welcome to Mrs. Sandsmark aka Coach Bailee’s website.  Here you will find articles about awesome lessons, experiences learned, and advice for Physical Education teachers.

I discovered a few things going through the credential program and ultimately becoming a teacher.  I have found that there is not a whole lot of resources for Physical Education teachers and that classroom teachers just don’t understand the struggle that is being a Physical Education teacher.  My hope is that this website can provide some help and hope to Physical Education teachers at all experience levels.

I truly believe that being a PE teacher is the best job in the world.  Despite the struggle with enormous class sizes, a lack of facilities, and the constant need to prove our worth, PE is the unsung hero behind our students’ success in the classroom and beyond and our work needs to be celebrated and supported.  There are some amazing PE teachers and programs doing amazing things.  I hope that you can find your place in the wonderful world of Physical Education through my writing and sharing.

Be sure to follow me on Instagram @coachbailee and twitter @coachsandsmark to follow mine and share your experiences.