I need help. Well, actually, you do too! Even if perhaps you don’t realize it.
Although we may not know one another, the fact you’re reading this says a lot about you. You want to teach physical education well. The impact your teaching has on the kids in your school concerns you. You like learning new things and you’re willing to try new ideas. In all likelihood, you’re a member of your state professional association. You like attending conferences, hanging out and chatting with teaching colleagues. You’ve probably presented and maybe been recognized by others as a skilled teacher.
Physical education teaching for you is not just a job. It’s a way of life. You don’t seek out ways to improve because you have to. Rather, it’s a choice you make every day. I’d be surprised if you even think much about making these choices. It’s more like a habit. Not a lot different from brushing your teeth. It’s just you. It’s who you are and what you want to be. Doing all of these things enriches your life and brings joy to your being. You are exceptional. Sadly, you are also the exception.
You see, far too few of your colleagues feel or behave the same way as you about teaching PE. They don’t do what you do. And this frankly, is a bit puzzling.
If you think about it, most of us started in this profession the same way. We learned to move and moved to learn. It was fun to play games. We loved to be physically active, learn skills, and play sports. As young adults we decided that we wanted to share this passion with children and teens. Teaching PE was an obvious career choice. College courses prepared us with the skills and knowledge to change kids’ lives. To get them as excited as we were about being physically active and making healthy lifestyle choices. Each and every one of us began our first teaching job knowing the difference between good, bad, and non-teaching. And I suspect that most of us when we graduated felt ready for the challenge. But then something inexplicable happened. I don’t know what it was but the impact was plain to see.
Instead of changing kids’ lives, it was our teaching colleagues who changed. They took a different path. Almost immediately they sought out the “easy button” and they’ve remained on the same path their entire careers. Today, they just do enough to stay employed but little more. They embarrass us. Gone is any interest in truly meeting the physical activity and health needs of their students. Sure, they go through the motions of teaching although mostly just keeping kids busy, maybe even having fun, but there’s little learning. Lesson planning is ignored and curricula decisions are mostly determined by season and weather. They not only aren’t interested in learning more, but also consciously choose to teach less. Day in day out, week after week, year after year, their teaching changes little. A career of pitiful mediocrity evidenced by a landscape of thousands of missed opportunities to make the world a better place for hundreds of kids. What a terrible waste! Of their own lives as well as a cruel injustice to the children whose trust and futures they betray.
Whatever happened? I wish I knew because “old what’s his name” is also destroying our profession. Non-performing physical education teachers are giving you and I a bad name. Just recently on SHAPE America’s Exchange a teacher asked for advice on how to respond to an administrator who didn’t value physical education teaching. I commented that the problem wasn’t the administrator’s but OURS. We are responsible and accountable for the bad impressions others have of what we do. There’s a reason people don’t respect what we do. Badly behaving PE teaching colleagues aren’t just hurting themselves or their kids, their poor performance threatens your job, my job, and our profession’s future.
What can be done? Sadly today’s schools simply aren’t set up to wean out ineffective and unmotivated teachers. Confronting these individuals may be an option but it’s not easy when we often have to work with them daily. And it’s presently unrealistic to expect school administrators to hold underperforming physical educators accountable when we’ve done such a lousy job of making our value clear. There’s much to be done and if your career in physical education still has many years ahead it’s a topic that should concern you. Personally, I’m convinced that SHAPE America’s “50 Million Strong by 2029” target (check out my previous blog post) can be the impetus to change the profession if you and I seize the opportunity it provides. But in honesty, as I started out this essay, I need help. I’m sadly confident that you know “old what’s his name.” Tell me, please, what happened to him?