After realizing that my life was going no where, I decided to go back to school. Upon entering college I was shocked at the amount of work that I would have to do just to become a teacher. I settled on becoming a gym teacher because I liked sports and I figured that would be the one class every student wanted to go to. Besides, how hard could it be? Roll out a ball and play some games. Easy as could be.
I got shocked into the educational reality right away. Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology, theory, skills progressions, and all of the other stuff that came in droves. I was taught how to integrate writing into the gym. We learned that mathematics should be included in our lessons. The professors showed us the importance of bringing technology into the gym. This stuff was hard. All I really wanted to do was play dodgeball, but according to the professors, that ancient game of fun was the quickest ticket for physical education to find its way out of schools. They preached the gospel of respectability and the importance of being a part of the educational vision.
So on my first day I stood at the gates of a school that was going to experience the new PE and they would like it. As a construction guy I had worked some really awful jobs. Once the septic backed up into a basement we were framing. Oh, the smell. Another time we worked through the latest, hottest summer in history. Sometimes my fingers bled. My back ached. I was ready for the finer working life. Inside. Warm. Safe.
Just as I had been shocked at my professors insistence that PE was changing, so too would I be when I stood before the students and explained that they would be taking PE as an academic endeavor. Sure we would play games, but they would be responsible for analyzing the strategies behind the games, reflecting on their level of commitment, and actually changing for class. I may as well have been a vacant in Baltimore when Snoop and Chris got the 27-caliber nail gun because the boos and angst where enough to pierce whatever teacher preparation was protecting me. Of course I barked back and so set the foundation for what was to be a difficult start to the school year. We all survived and I wondered what I had done. At least with construction I did not have be personable.
The second year was a little better. I knew all of the things I had been taught to teach, lead-up games, progressions, word walls, scaffolding. I knew what the public perception of schools and PE were. And I knew that my colleagues had a very different view of the school experience than I did. They had seen the flip-flopping from year to year. They knew of the scheduling maze that sometimes led to PE classes being dumping grounds for students that were not succeeding in other areas. They were aware of school business stopping because the administrators had to deal with a parent’s complaint that her daughter had been laughed at too much during a cheerleading routine at halftime of last night’s basketball game. They had learned that whether they taught with the inspiration of a Kennedy or the sheer rugged determination of Patton that they would still just be PE teachers. So why not play dodgeball? The kids like it.
I wrestled with this logical apathy. Why had I spent all of that time in school to learn the best methods of instruction only to enter a profession that did not accept they new ways PE teachers were being trained. More and more I felt like the standards were not very high for PE unless there was an issue related to the budget. Then PE was too expensive and “what do they do in there anyway?” It was like the time I knew a the framing for a client’s powder room was off. Rather than fix the problem my boss ordered us to go ahead and put in the dry wall. When the plumbers arrived to put the sink in, it didn’t fit. The cut a hole in the drywall and left the job with kudos from the foreman. They saved some money and finished as scheduled without regard to doing what was right.
“Right on time and they’ll never know,” the foreman said.
Over the next two years things got better once I realized that I would not survive if I did not back off of the dream that professors have for physical education. I also struggled to balance my disappointment at the sell out I saw myself becoming. In one ear I could hear the trumpets of “relevance and rigor” and in the other I could hear the violins of a funeral procession. I really began to study PE and found that I could use the mission and objectives of the school to my advantage. Everything came together like that moment when a dodgeball is about to peg you and you slip it Matrix style as my principal discussed the need to improve standards across all subjects and to make achievement quantifiable. I knew this was my chance to make sure everything was measured right and I was damn sure I would make the sink fit. PE would matter because the kids would have to perform.