What I've Learned: A PE Teacher Clears Up a Few Misconceptions About "Gym" Class

Educators may spend their careers preparing lessons, but often the most memorable are those they learn themselves.  With that in mind, NEA Today asked school staff –  everyone from classroom teachers and bus drivers to guidance counselors and school nurses – to share the everyday lessons they’ve picked up along the way in a series called “What I’ve Learned.”

Jen Roddel, a physical education specialist at Central Elementary School in Ferndale Wash., emphasizes that she teaches children, not “gym,” and she’s learned that it sometimes takes a bit more of an explanation for people to truly understand the difference her position makes in children’s lives.

What I’ve Learned

“You get to play all day!”

Do you consider giving 25 – 30 elementary- aged children hockey sticks “playing?” I teach the students how to be safe while they learn how to play a game or sport that will engage their brains and their bodies. I teach them how to work together. I assess their skills while monitoring their behaviors, interactions, and level of involvement. I don’t play, I teach.

Jennifer Roddel

“I could do your job.”

How much schooling have you had on the biomechanics and kinesiology of throwing a ball? Did you take pre-med classes in college? Do you know what it means to be proficient in a skill? How would you determine that? Can you keep the attention of 5-year-olds? Can you calm and improve the self-esteem of a fifth-grade girl who feels like her world is falling down around her? Can you challenge the athletes in the class while giving individualized attention to the ones who don’t know how? Can you clean up a bloody nose and a peeing accident while your boss looks over your shoulder? I can.

“I wish I could teach gym. I loved that class in elementary school!”

Well, then go find a “gym“ and teach it. I teach children. I teach them how to make decisions that impact their bodies and their lives. I teach them that winning isn’t everything and losing can be a learning experience. I teach them how to treat human beings with fairness and thoughtfulness. I teach them that not everyone gets to “win.” I teach them that competitiveness doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can create a great leader. I teach them that quiet students often have the best ideas. I teach them that it isn’t just the boys who kick butt in athletics. Just because I’m using a game to do it doesn’t mean that what I do is easy or less important.

I’ve learned that I have the best job in the world. Please don’t assume that since I play games every day that I don’t impact these kids’ lives. I have a hard job. I’m a teacher.

  • Greg Rustand

    We are so proud of you Jennifer. The article is wonderful. You are amazing, the kids you teach and work with are so lucky to have your for their Teacher. We think you should be named Teacher of the Year !!!

  • http://facebook Fred Pelley

    Please, Please rah, rah your Physical Education programs or one of your peers. We must continue to place our successes in front of our communities through board meetings, newspapers, flyers, etc.. YOU do good work!!!

  • Janet Brewer

    Well said, Jennifer! You gave a glimpse of the of the challenging but rewarding job we do, often with 50 students in a class. I too have heard the comments: “Oh, that’s an easy job.” “You must be in great shape working out all day.” The perception of old PE is still going strong. As Fred says, we need to promote our quality programs in every avenue possible. Thank you both for making a difference in the lives of children and the physical education profession!

  • Michele Kornegay

    This is a wonderful article. Special area teachers are so often treated as “a planning period” for “real” teachers. But we are a little acknowledged commodity in a child’s life. As an elementary school PE teacher, I have students for six years of their formative years. I know when something is wrong , when the student seems unwell, upset or out of sorts. I know a behavior is out of character for year to year. I also see the wonderful growth from a sweet little kindergarten student to the “I’m too grown for emlementary school” 5 th grader. We love them and grow them and when we see them in public, they hug us. We ARE rock stars in the cafeteria.
    Yes, we play games and do activities but there is ALWAYS an underlying goal, be it psychomotor, locomotor or affective. They love us…..and we love them.

  • Andrea

    I really enjoyed this! I can honestly say I have never thought much of the challenges a PE teacher faces, and if asked I probably would have thought it is an easy job. Thank you for putting it in perspective, and even more thanks for what you do everyday!

  • http://www.google.com Nathan

    The best PE teachers don’t need to say anything about how much work goes into teaching the correct ways to participate in a variety of sports, training proper social skills during competition, constantly watching everywhere at once for safety, and successfully teaching a child lifelong skills that will enhance their health. Also, within the same amount of time as the classroom teachers PE teachers have to provide warms/stretching, organize teams, describe rules for the day, and direct all students at the same time to practice a skill, while catching individual mistakes to correct before the next turn. Then everything has to be put away in an organized fashion. Envy causes a lot of problems…. diminishing another’s responsibilities compared to their own is a popular one

  • Mrs M

    While I appreciate the content of this article, the attitude leaves a butter taste in my opinion. The negative, defensive, superior tone is not endearing at all.

  • Mrs M

    Sorry. “bitter taste”.

  • John Peterson

    I admire you Jennifer for being a great teacher.

  • Matt

    Perhaps one should ask why she feels the need to say this. It’s an important article.