Before you read any further, know that this is part of an educational rant and part training journal. The two go together even though the ranting is about Physical Education and the journal is about training for my ridiculous marathon plan.
Still here? Good.
Some background: I have been a teacher for 23-years. I started in elementary school, moved to middle school, and currently teach high school. For a few years, I was also an adjunct to a well-respected teacher preparation college. My subjects are Health and Physical Education. I teach people. I’m opinionated about my profession and believe that my opinion is subject to criticism. Take this as you will…
The delivery of a sound educational program is grounded in some sort of theory. From that theory, programs are developed. The programs must be assessed against outcomes. I cannot cite the article that I learned that from, but please know that this is the foundation for many of the decisions that I make in my job as a GYM teacher. (Those of you in the profession who are offended by “GYM teacher,” I make no apologies. “We are what we are and what we are is an illusion…” Le Cage Au Folles, I believe…). For those of you not in the profession, PE/Gym teachers spend a great deal of time trying to improve the image of what they do. We have a professional organization with a cute name, “SHAPE,” (Society of Health and Physical Education) that works as an advocate for all things health and physical education. State departments of education have created standards, cultivated by physical educators, that stand on a buffet of themes that include, team sports, individual sports, dance, science, decision making, problem- solving, and fitness. All of the standards are meant to show the money brokers that physical education matters in an educational context. It’s as if the profession cannot stand on its own, so it took a shotgun planning approach to say, “Look at all the ways we matter.”
And still, the profession struggles for respectability. There are too many reasons to go into, but the major things that seem to keep people from liking PE are: that people see no reason for a gym class, that people do not want to sweat, or PE is not fun. The “PE Council of Higher Education” will say that the problems stem from a lack of coherent instruction or poorly designed programs. Practitioners will say that the schedules are messed up and that there is a disconnect between what professor types think should be happening in schools and what the constraints of PE in the real world are all about.
“Chris, what does all of this have to do with your marathon training? I don’t need an essay on education. Heck, I went to school. Duh…”
“I hear you. I’m also with you. Remember, I am ranting.”
Learning is a highly complex and messy process. My theory is that the messier the process the better, so I teach, I am purposefully vague with instructions or I place barriers up for students to work around. A member of fictitious PE Council of Higher Education asked me today if that meant, “handing kids a racquet and shuttlecock and sending them out to play badminton without any prior instruction.” My answer, “Why not?” was not received well. Here is my reasoning, people need to learn how to think and make choices. I see badminton as a tool to help my students think and as a means to have them moving around. Through all of that, I want them to have fun. Experience, learning, and research have shown me a few things about how people learn. First, people are capable of more than we believe, so we have to remove ourselves and allow them to grow. I am not suggesting that PE teachers leave a class to chaos, but I am saying to PE teachers that their students will find the answers and develop skills if we give them both the chance and time. We are not coaching a team, so our approach does not need to be limited by skill development, game strategy, or herding students into a large group game. We are facilitating learning experiences, so it’s okay to concentrate on outcomes beyond the physical. How about developing self-efficacy, decision-making, resilience, or sweat equity (I just made that up…)?
Second, the most powerful person in any class is every student. If they don’t buy into what is happening in class, the program will suffer and the profession will stay second class in the minds of the people bringing the next consumers of our product to life. Allowing and expecting that students find a way to understand the importance of physical activity (on their terms) is a very important aspect of what we do. Doing so allows students to participate in a self-directed and personally meaningful experience that has a real opportunity to tap into real life skills and social constructs like self-efficacy, resilience, or joy. Let the program be more than a bunch of rules or “official” looking sports. Allow the program to be flexible and in tune with the individual needs of the students. That individuality is how adults exercise. There is value in team sports, but the edge of the cliff for team sports participation rapidly approaches by high school.
Finally, all of what happens in PE can be around a culture of fun. Dodgeball is fun. Dance is fun. Team sports are fun. Experiencing all of those may not be fun for all students, but finding the types of things that students like should be something that PE teachers strive for. Fun makes everything else easier, more enjoyable, and I believe more meaningful.
“Okay, Chris, do you have data to support your theory and program?”
“Why yes, smarty pants, I do.” (Insert proper emoji)
The quick report on a study I did last year was to measure the general self-efficacy (belief a student can create success) through participation in a strength and conditioning class. Without all the educational research mumbo jumbo (doctoral terms!), the students’ self-efficacy scores rose from the pretest at the beginning of the year to the posttest at the end of the year. Think about this, though, I didn’t make a big deal about standards. I wasn’t cranky about perfect form. I didn’t even ask them to tell me about the scientific appropriateness of plyometrics training on the regeneration of muscle tissue. (I guess that’s a thing…). Strangely, though, students who were unable to sign up for the class again this year talk about how great that class was and how they are still exercising. There you have it…
I know that this rant about physical education teachers is exhausting, but too much of what we do in the gym (and in education in general) forgets that we teach people. We do not teach subjects. “Education through the physical” is my mantra. “Education of the physical” is a side dish for me. Getting students to feel good about themselves because they realize that they can create success (whatever their metric is) is my goal. The rest of this stuff, standards, scripted learning, public versus charter versus private is just BS…
“Marathon journal, yo?…”
“Here it is and thank you for staying with me.”
Take this marathon I’m running…it’s one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever had. I’m running a marathon on an indoor track. Who does such a thing? Better than that, I’m only halfway training. I could care less about my time. There won’t be a crew, nobody will be getting paid overtime, and there won’t be any litter to pick up after I’m done.
It’s going to be great!
I started out on this journey simply wanting to prove that at my advanced age and level of ignored fitness that I could complete a marathon. My long run right now is about six miles. I’m running in about a month and should have a long run closer to twenty miles, but I don’t really care. I’ve got all day to go the distance. I’m not worried about a standard, pace, or a mileage/skill progression. I’m running for the fun of it. I’ll benefit from the exercise, but I’ll savor the accomplishment.
So in the name of denying essential content, as a protest against something with a #, and in the spirit of anyone who remembers a great day of dodgeball in gym class, I RUN!
Not really, I’m just doing this to see if I can. I believe it so.
Thanks to my PE teachers who understood what was important…