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.