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.