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

dp45871-copyEducators 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.

“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 !!!

    • Amy

      I’m a physical education teacher and in my opinion until students are tested by the state in specialty subjects such as music, P.E., art, and computers administers and other teachers will not fully respect what we do. We aren’t part of the common core so in their opinion we are extra. P.E. teachers keep advocating for your students and your program, keep assessing your students on their motor skills and sharing your results with your administers, teachers, and parents.

      • PE Teacher 12

        I do not a state test to justify my profession or defend it. I always invite people to walk in my shoes even for just 1 period of the day! Good luck, oh and watch for the student who is hanging upside down from the Bball hoop, and don’t forget about the group of shy kids who will try and not participate. One last thing, don’t forget Ben, make sure he is not picked last and that the students don’t pick on him. Sounds easy but that was only about 10 of the 40 kids in your one class. For every 150 students classroom teachers deal with, I work with 300 but I’m a “special”. Yeah I am because it takes a special person to be able to know 300+ students names, their likes and dislikes and their abilities, all by the end of September.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • Jan

      The attitude I hear in this article is coming from someone who believes in her program, but feels like it is looked down on by others. Physical Education is so very important for the development of the “whole child”, but is the only subject not “highly qualified”, and suffers from budget cuts!

    • Me

      Butter? Maybe more education is needed

      • KB

        You’re going to call someone out on their “education level” because most likely their autocorrect wrote “butter” instead of bitter. Relax, grow up and consider someone’s opinion.

    • Mitchell

      the tone is mostly because as a PE teacher you are treated differently than a “core” subject. This treatment comes from admin and other teachers usually. However, I bet we take the most difficult course work in preparation for teaching….seriously 4 courses shy of pre med major.

  • 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.

  • koolkidkevin

    Sounds like this teacher has a problem with others outside of her field of Education. Seriously lady, how much of your training do you have in biomechanics and kinesiology of throwing a ball ? I doubt you were forced to take pre med to become a teacher, however pre med would enlighten your knowledge to injuries and correct means of identifying injuries before they turn into nightmares or death of a child in a school activity. If my tax money went to educate you on those areas, then I might expect you to work in a school for dealing with disabled children or similar children. Really doesn’t matter…or does it ? What does matter is your effect on my child with your use of what you are trained to do…teach or should I say educate. Not every person can teach, nor would I expect them to. A teacher does have a great responsibility, to educate children or young adults to become knowledgeable in the aspects of what will be before them as they progress to adulthood. Not all children go on to teach, nor do they become athletes. Some go on to fine tune their desires to help others while some become isolate and work in a factory or a small business outside the area of public intervention. Yes, you sound like a well respected teacher and I’m sure the children whom you have taught have loved being under your guidance, but knock that chip off your shoulder mam. Your importance is in another field of effectiveness to the livelihood of our human existence. As I said, not everyone can put forth the effort to teach with the patience needed for the slow learners but don’t knock the adults that are slow learners to understand where you are coming from or where you are going. We all live on the face of this earth to co-exist within an environment set forth by our predecessors, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change in any field of work. SO…if I or your community would recommend all teachers take proficiency tests to evaluate their ability to teach, do you have a problem with that ? I hope not. The real world has jobs that require testing for proficiency on a regular basis, shouldn’t yours ? I know I may have stepped on your behaviors, interactions and level of involvement, but a responsible parent doesn’t play around either, they expect you to teach or educate our children. Thank you for your input to a great school !

    • Dedicated Physical Educator

      You obviously aren’t marginalized in your field. You’ve never been told what you do is unimportant. Have you ever had your classroom taken away because of the PTO fundraiser is more “important”? Do your lesson plans have to change at the drop of a hat? Has your classroom budget been cut because the school needs other things? Do you get called a math/english/science/history geek, like some physical educators get called dumb jocks? I didn’t think so.

    • Jan

      If you had done your homework, you would know that all teachers are a starting to be evaluated based on the proficiency level of their students (regardless of their home lives). I don’t believe employees in the “real world” have to put up with that.

    • Mark

      Buddy you should really get some knowledge of what your talking about. Look at the requirements to teach PE. You do have to take biomechanics and kinesiology, and know all the muscles in the body. Do you think they take tennis 101? As an educator, and you can tell that you are not teachers have to be evaluated 6 times a year. They have to take professional development classes every year. To be recertified you have to get 10 plu’s (professional learning) every five years to get recertified. If you think you could handle teaching, and learning over 1,000 kids names, dealing with parents everyday who think they know more than you, and deal with people like you who think they have a clue what it is like to teach. Become a sub, and teach one day in an inner city school, and then let me know what you think.

    • blane

      I am a PE teacher in a middle school. I was one semester away in college from a minor in science! I took Anatomy and Physiology with PA majors, this was a year long course in which we had to get a C in. So YES we did have training in those areas. Also, biomechanics and exercise physiology! I can’t tell you how many times in PE or during the sports I coached that those things came into play. Whether someone pronated or adducted or abducted their ankle or wrist. I TOTALLY agree with her tone b/c I’ve been there and continue to be there!!! The last thing anyone has in this lifetime is their HEALTH! Not math, science, English. If you aren’t healthy then it won’t matter. Oh and I do teach Health along with Family Life, the birds and the bees to middle school students with raging hormones! But I love it and I KNOW that everyday I have an influence on many other lives! As far as being referred to as a “gym” teacher, yes it is degrading! The class is titled “Physical Education.” It is education about being physically active. We want to teach “lifetime” sports, so people can still be active into their 40’s, 50’s and beyond.

    • jms5353

      “I doubt you were forced to take pre med to become a teacher,”

      Please cite a source that states physical education teachers do not take pre-med courses. This maybe true, but please back up your claims with sources.

      The reason why this teacher sounds like (as you have put it) she has a “chip on her shoulder” is due to the fact that many people marginalize teaching in general. Many people view it as complaining. However as a teacher, I get the feeling of marginalization almost every day. I have a neighbor that tells me how easy I have it at my job, a job he has never even experienced. I don’t view this as complaining, instead we are defending or explaining our job to the people (especially) politicians who marginal what we do.

      I worked in business for 10 years and even managed an office. From my experience teaching is very undervalued and misunderstood. My days in business were a cakewalk compared to what I do today. I’m not saying I am more important or better than anyone! I am simply saying that teaching should be respected. If I would say I was busy at my old office job people would say I understand. Now people say just be lucky you have the summers off or I also get just yell at the kids. They tell me how to do my job. But I enjoy the challenge of teaching and my students. Not complaining just explaining to you.

      Also, while I understand your concern about proficient teachers but keep this in mind: the curriculum we teach and the methods of teaching we employ, are many times, designed by people who have NO teaching background. The current secretary of education of the United States has not taught in an elementary nor secondary classroom.
      Source: http://www2.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/duncan.html

      The chief architect of the new Common Core Standards (now being implemented in our schools) never taught in an elementary or secondary classroom either. He taught reading to select high school students for a bit, but not in a classroom setting.

      Very troubling in my opinion and if I were a parent, which I am not, I would want to start looking at the people at the top first before I look at the teachers.

  • Jan

    I loved reading this article. I am a certificated PE teacher in an elementary school in Anchorage, AK and find so much of the ideas mentioned here to be true not only in teaching PE, but also in teaching boys and girls in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

    • Rachel

      Hi Jan, I was reading through everyone’s comments and noticed you teach in Anchorage, AK. I currently teach in New Jersey but my husband and I may be moving to Anchorage for his job. I have some questions maybe you could answer? Do you know what extra classes or tests I may need to take? My sister in law, who currently lives there, says she thinks I may just need to take a cultural class or two. Also do you know of any potential openings in the area? Here in NJ it is very competitive and difficult to find a position.

      Thank you,

  • iteachpetoo

    For an article claiming to dispel misconceptions about a gym class, I feel that it does a good job of reinforcing them. An emphasis is placed on proving her ability to manage her classroom. Is this not a standard for all educators? She references providing differentiation for highly skilled and students who require improvement. Is this not a standard for all educators? She references taking “premed” courses, but makes no mention whether she utilizes her knowledge to facilitate her students learning. A Pe teacher who teaches isolated skills to be regurgitated in a game is the stereotype. Show me a pe teacher who teaches why it is important to be active, how to apply training principles to reduce injuries and improve performance and how to improve all five components of fitness and and I’ll show you the creation of a fleet of truly physically educated youths.

    • Who’s this “Gym” person?

      Interesting that you mention all of these wonders. I believe she does all of the others points you make as well, but if she/we as PE teachers got that in depth this article would go on forever. I am actually a PE teacher and Certified Athletic Trainer, and I do incorporate injury prevention, proper technique & warm-up, dynamic vs. static stretching, and more. When you question “isn’t this not a standard for all educators?” It sure is, except most educators have 1 class to differentiate for (5 or so if you teach high school). At the elementary level, you are responsible for differentiating for ALL students in the school. In my case 350 kids, including 3 Adapted PE class (which I’m also certified in). In terms of “utilizing her knowledge to facilitate her students learning” I too incorporate core curriculum into my movement/activities/games, I’ll venture to guess she does this as well. And we do all of this in a much shorter amount of time. Sadly I only see my classes, on average, 2 times a week for 30 minutes and there are times when I don’t get that much time due to assemblies, field trips, snow days, and so forth.

      Sorry to sound defensive, but I think she did a nice job and I think the tone comes out when we are discounted/discredited as a valuable part of a child’s learning. But I’m glad you opened up those questions because those too are important.

      • Who’s this “Gym” person?

        Sorry for errors or incoherence. I raced through my thoughts and was too tired to reevaluate. Just lazy, not all that stupid 😉

    • brian

      In 40 minutes twice a week with double classes… OK when I’m fine with that I’ll go part the red sea.

    • PE Teacher 12

      Clearly you are not a PE teacher or probably an educator at all. If you were, you would know that it is not appropriate to teach elementary students training prinicples, rather that is preserved for high school students. weight training is more suitable to their development and growth. Again if you really knew about health related fitness components, you would know that they are introduced in elementary school but reinforced and emphasized more as the child gets older and reaches high school. So…could the PE teacher from this article gone more in depth about our profession, sure but why? So people like you can criticize once again about the profession without acknowledging appropriate activities and child development.

      I could go on but I’m done!

      Sincerely, an Effective PE teacher. I’ll be highly effective this year if not next year. Not my rating but my APPR rating!

  • Emily

    NEA— Please stop calling us guidance counselors. That term so completely outdated and offensive— we are School Counselors.