As I approach my 51st birthday, I’ve been a bit reflective. I have spent 45 years in school, either as a student or a teacher: Twelve years of public school, another four years at Adelphi University for a B.S. in Physical Education, two more at Oregon State University for my Masters and research, and now I’m well into my 27th year of teaching and coaching in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley.
My joints are beginning to feel a bit “creaky,” and those extra pounds are difficult to lose. I no longer buy PE shoes because they look fashionable, but because they support my arches. Let’s face it, teaching physical education to primary students is definitely a physical pursuit, and it gets a bit tougher as the years go by. At the end of each day, my students and their parents (my former students) give me high-fives as they exit the gym at pick-up. At district meetings, long-time colleagues excitedly announce their imminent retirements and ask if I’ll be joining them soon.
“Really? Aren’t you burned out? I’m counting down the days.” I’ve always lived my life according to a school calendar. New Year’s Day, with its anticipation, resolutions, and optimism, comes in August for me. Year after year, I find that I am excited to meet new students, greet returning students, and surround myself with the boisterous energy of an active, dynamic physical education classroom.
I’ve had tough years. The years without administrative support. The years when your classes are huge, and your patience is small. We all have them from time to time. So, why is it that I am still excited to teach after all these years?
Upon reflection, the answer is quite clear: Teaching PE is rewarding.
Physical education is most effective when students build on their success. When students feel successful, they develop courage and confidence. This empowers students to attempt new activities without reservation, and their skills continue to grow. It’s a positive cycle that encourages a lifetime of active engagement with a variety of sports and/or recreational activities. This confidence can flow into other areas of life, as well, from academic pursuits to social interactions. As a result, we have an opportunity to impact the lives of every student in our school in powerful, meaningful, and long-lasting ways. What a gift!
Physical education continues to evolve. When I was an elementary PE student, snowboarding didn’t exist. There was no such thing as “Spikeball,” and “Cross-Fit” was when you put your jacket on backwards. Incorporating new and innovative ways to move and play helps keep physical education fresh and exciting for our students, and for us.
Technology use in physical education is exciting. Personal devices such as heart rate monitors, pedometers, and even smartphones can add additional layers of meaning to a student’s PE experience. Projectors, iPads, and Chromebooks provide more and varied avenues for instruction, as well. From GIF’s to video-delay, from pre-recorded instruction to student-generated videos, there are so many ways to use technological resources for individualized instruction, personalized feedback, and assessment… and we’ve only just begun.
Physical education is one of the last subject areas to become “scripted.” We still have the educational freedom to be as creative as we want as we teach to the standards. We are free to incorporate many different areas of education within our lessons, including geography, science, math, language, and literature. We have the privilege to devise new and creative ways to assess student learning, while teachers of other subject areas are too often forced to issue tests that don’t align with their philosophy or intent.
Physical education colleagues inspire us. Elementary PE teachers can be isolated, as we are often the only physical educator in our schools. Surrounding yourself with colleagues who share your drive and optimism is a great way to combat this isolation. Have you joined your statewide SHAPE/AHPERD association? This is a great way to network with colleagues who are excited about, and contributing to, the profession. Social media, especially the vibrant community on Twitter, is another valuable tool to connect with, and become inspired by, some of the most dynamic PE teachers around the globe.
Teaching can be difficult. Students arrive in our classrooms with needs that are all but impossible to address. Our budgets are disappearing as more responsibilities are placed upon us. Nevertheless, our passion for physical education enables us to come to school each day and make magic happen. For so many of our students, the time they spend with us is the highlight of their day. We teach kids to move, dance, set goals, create plans to achieve those goals, lose graciously, win with humility, play fair, persevere, cooperate, compete, embrace an active life and reap the benefits.
What we do matters, and to do so passionately is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to our students!
Nancy Blake teaches in Wasilla, Alaska. She was the 2014 SHAPE Alaska Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year. Her Twitter handle is @RushNance.
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