We all know that 2 + 2 will always equal 4 and A, E, I, O and U will always be vowels, but Physical Education is a subject unlike any other because there is no concrete way to teach it. There is not one clear-cut set of rules. Sure, there are best practices and generally accepted principles, but the landscape is so broad and continuously changing, it seems as if there are an infinite number of ways to educate young minds and bodies successfully.
But what if it is not that easy? What if, like every other subject, there are a predetermined set of variables that stack the deck against some of our children? Of course, I am referring to the inequity of access to resources; the proverbial “have’s vs have nots”. There have been decades of research about how schools in more affluent areas
traditionally outperform schools in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods in math, ELA and science, but how much do we know about the impact that limited resources have on a PE program?
My 10-year teaching career has been incredibly unique in that I have only taught in economically depressed areas; yet my time as a presenter
and OPEN National Trainer has given me the opportunity to travel to a wide array of schools and districts. I have been to conferences like PE Connections in Stillwater, MN which is held on a high school campus that could put many college facilities to shame. I’ve walked around school buildings with 3-4 gyms, auxiliary gyms, fitness centers, wrestling rooms, turf fields and grass fields, all the while knowing that I was going back to teaching 30+ students in a multi-purpose room or column filled cafeteria. With every conference or professional development session that I deliver, I keep coming back with the same increasingly frustrating thought: How can these resources be utilized without having the proper space, equipment or time with students? More specifically, how would I be able to use these same resources if this professional development was delivered at my school?
My first time presenting at the local level confirmed my suspicions. “This seems great, but this wouldn’t work in my school” was the recurring theme that rang throughout our NYCAHPERD conference. Naturally, this was incredibly unsettling; if a lack of resources was this prevalent in one of the largest cities in the world, what is happening across the country? How large is the discrepancy between schools/districts that have resources and those that do not?
Right around that time, I was fortunate to be named an OPEN National Trainer and realized that I was not alone in recognizing this imbalance. For those of you that are not familiar, OPEN (www.OPENPhysEd.org) is
an organization of teachers helping teachers to deliver that equity of access. This team of sensational educators from all different areas of the country realized the same thing that I was beginning to notice and be irritated by. In order for quality physical education to be delivered by every teacher, in every school, in every district, in every city, in every state, the playing field has to be leveled. The easiest and least realistic solution would be to blow up every school’s budgets and scheduling systems and redesign all their buildings to ensure that every teacher had limitless equipment, manageable class sizes, ample space and meaningful time with students. More realistically, this process starts with providing free resources to help all circumstances, meaning ANY and EVERY teacher in the country could have access to it. Sometimes, it’s that simple; we’ve all been to conferences that featured sessions on how to maximize MVPA or skill development with limited space or equipment, but if your space and/or equipment is limited, what are the odds your district had the means to send you to this conference to learn from these sessions?
I know I am preaching to the choir here, but imagine an advanced level math class being taught without pencils and calculators. Imagine a literature class being taught where only 1 in 5 students had a book. Imagine how much feedback could be given to students conducting experiments in a chemistry class when there is one teacher and 60
students. These are all laughable notions as they would never be allowed to exist. So why then, are teachers routinely asked to cram too many children into too small spaces with too little equipment and then get told they are not doing enough?
Part of the much larger problem is that in too many scenarios, the expectation is so low that “busy, happy, safe” is good enough. As long as nobody gets hurt and the kids are smiling, you’re doing a good job. How do we dispel the thought that PE is just an extension of recess? Personally, I think it starts and ends with us: the teachers! I’ve been very active over the last 2 years or so on Twitter and LOVE the connections I have made and the resources that have been shared over that time. However, I can’t help but feeling like I only see the same names and faces day in and day out. How do we connect with those who don’t know what is available to them? For many of us, the easiest way to spread best practices is not just on social media, but at the grassroots level: in your buildings, in your districts, in your areas. Again, presenting at local, state and national conferences is an incredible way to give back to your profession, but what percentage of teachers are we actually reaching? Think about your own district, how many of those teachers are attending the same conferences you are? How many of them don’t know the benefits or can’t afford the cost of attending?
Last December, I was lucky to participate in an initiative called “Pedaling 4 PE” where members of OPEN biked across rural areas in the Louisiana Bayou to hand deliver equipment and resources to teachers and
students who simply didn’t have the financial means to maximize their teaching. It was such a humbling reminder of just how many objectives could be taught using “simple” items like juggling scarves, bean bags and hula hoops. It was also a very sobering first-hand account of what it truly means to be without. I know I can never complain about the
quantity or quality of what I have in my equipment closet after visiting schools that don’t have equipment closets since all of their equipment fits in a bag. I can honestly say, I’m forever changed as an educator and as a human after taking part in this spectacular event.
I recognize opportunities like that are not available to everyone, but
people like Kevin McGrath (Springfield, VA, @AdoptAGymKM) runs his
Adopt-A-Gym program where schools can host fundraisers where 100% of the proceeds go towards helping schools in need. Just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things.
I know what you’re thinking, “What does this mean? What’s this guy asking me to do? How can I help”? My answer to you is simple: I have no clue. If I had the answers to solve this decades-old societal epidemic, I’d be making way more money than I am as a teacher. But what I do
know is that each of us can do something. If you can present at the national level, do it! If you attend a national conference, bring something back and present it at your state conference. If you attend a state conference, bring something back and present it at a district in-service. If you don’t have PE specific in-service days, share your knowledge with those in your building or department. Or better yet, if you don’t have PE specific in-service days, advocate for your department and find out why not. The only way we will continue to get better is leaning on each other, and with approximately 200,000 PE teachers across the country, our potential impact will be huge, not just for YOUR students, but for children across the country! I’m not going to pretend that it’s going to be easy and I am fully aware that there are teachers in every building, district, city and state who might not buy what you are selling. No, it’s not going to be easy…but it will be worth it!
Mike Martinez has taught multiple years at the K-4, K-8 AND High School levels before coming back to his elementary roots for his 10th year of teaching in NYC. Over those 10 years, Mike has had the opportunity to present at the NYC, NYS and National Level, as well as all over the country as an OPEN (OPENPhysed.org) National Trainer.
When not talking about all things PE, Mike loves spending time traveling and as a “foodie” with his wife, Sara and 5-year old son, Mason.
Need to get a hold of Mike?
PreK-5 PE Teacher at PS 15 Roberto Clemente School
NYC Department of Education