Reflections (2024)

I usually write these up at the school year’s end.  But with nine weeks left in the semester, it seems pertinent to bring to light some things I have realized and have been chewing on for some time.  (If you click on the “physical education” square under blog tab, these past summations will sort and pop up.)  The first is that the class is a reflection of the teacher.  The second is that the system will do whatever it deems necessary.  The only thing you can control is how you react to it.

The many looks and layers of the Physical Education classes I have lead over the past twenty-one years is a direct result of my own growth and interests as a person.  Who determines the what and how.  In the beginning, when I was still playing competitive sports, I competed with kids to earn their respect.  I played rugby and had the chance to develop a three-hour class, and so I taught them the game.  All I had to do was tackle ‘Big Ray’ once and that group of guys (and a lady or two trying to build/ prove their toughness) never tried to talk over me again.

When rugby ended I sought out and offered anything but sports, BUT I had an art school population that was equally disenchanted with traditional PE, so we built an alternative together.  We played movement games and dove into roughhousing.  We mobilized and relaxed.  We even had the old weight room re-made into a space for rest and calming anxious minds.  As a broken athlete trying to rebuild herself, I wanted to give them all the options I never knew existed outside ‘fitness’.  I wanted them to love and respect their bodies for reasons outside of ‘performance’.

The shift from a large, comprehensive high school to four smaller schools let students (and teachers) group themselves according to their identity.  It took multiple years to develop and celebrate these distinct cultures of chosen belonging.  We took risks.  We went too far.  We found our medial baseline and wrapped it in safety and comfort.  We switched back to a large comprehensive high school due to funding and equity issues in 2021 — right in the middle of the pandemic.  There was no process or planning.  Nobody knew who they were any more, and the random confluence of students into ‘classes’ made reaching them (and teaching them) difficult.

Even though there is no use of the word ‘Sports’ in the class I teach (Games & Practice), I still get a slew of kids wanting and expecting to play them.  I also get a large group wanting to settle into the cooperative, slower, need-more-time-to-develop side.  To accommodate the spectrum of skills and interests present each period, I basically run two different classes at the same time.  They are typically gendered (the boys wanting to play and compete and the girls wanting more to try and get pieces right) and most broadly categorized as those who can play and those who need support to play.


Sport has returned as the main theme but students have very different experiences and interactions under said sport.


This is the best I can do for now under student-friendly ‘unit’ structure.  A really key piece that is proving to be quite enlightening is ‘giveback Fridays’.  At the end of each week, students organize themselves into high energy or low energy.  The high energy will get whatever balls/ equipment they want.  The low energy will get Uno or Jenga to bridge them.  Please note that this is very different than arbitrary ‘open gym’.   It is where their skills of socialization and organization are assessed and reflected, and where applications of practice take realistic shape.  It also de-stigmas the manufactured sin of being tired.  There is a space for you, where you don’t have to pretend…

The quiet room has been taken by others.  It’s only a matter of time before the pullup bars are removed and the mats get torn up.  As much as you might consider yourself a caretaker, the space is never yours.  It is an allowance from a larger beast that runs things.  The task of building community from an ever changing group of strangers is a daunting one, but one I find a strange pleasure in trying for.  I tell the kids all the time I don’t care about sports, I care about people and bodies.  How do you get each and everyone placed before you what they need?  By watching what they naturally do, allowing them to exist in that state, and only stepping in to assist when it becomes clear they aren’t sure what to do on their own.



[Feature Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger via pexels .] 

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