You Don’t Have What It Takes To Teach Physical Education

elementary school gym indoor with volleyball net

I ran into an old acquaintance the other day – he teaches health & fitness at a local high school. This is what physical education (P.E.) is called in modern times, as far as I can tell. In my day it was called, “Teacher’s Assistant Who Plays Football And Is An Idiot Hits Freshmen with Pickleball Paddle.” 

After speaking with him (my acquaintance, not the idiot) I grew quite unsettled by the notion of working in a field entirely based on doing one’s best to create positive change for people, as this is apparently what modern-day teachers do. Hey teachers, where’s your greed, self-interest and unending quest for newer/better material things? Come on now.  

To make matters worse, a sports podcaster I follow (I will not refer you to his podcast until he pays me royalties or at least returns my calls or stops telling me to leave him alone) recently made a statement about leadership that made me quite upset. This buffoon stated, “Leadership is making sure the people you are responsible for are always taken care of.”

What? What about leading with fear and intimidation to enforce your status like the aforementioned P.E. Teacher’s Assistant who with my luck got on early at Netflix and is now worth ten million dollars? 

And what about the leadership I grew up with? You know, culling the weak and creating distrust/paranoia by pitting people against each other, thereby further cementing positions of authority? Like they do in Chinese Communist Party – or possibly in the United States Senate. Oh, and the office of the NBA Commissioner. I heard that place can be rough. 

I’m sorry, but do you think Patrick Mahomes, the de facto leader of the Kansas City Chiefs just like all quarterbacks are de facto leaders of their teams much to the chagrin of the long snapper and to a lesser degree an offensive guard, wants to make sure his fellow teammates are “…always taken care of?” No way, he…well, I mean I don’t know him actually. On the surface he appears kind of nice, like you could invite him over for dinner and he’d come and bring a really good dessert and have impressive table manners. 

And then there is that notion of offensive lineman “taking care of” the quarterback. As in, they have his back no matter what. And the Chiefs are playing on Sunday which is kind of a big deal, so something is working for them in terms of this completely-counter-intuitive-to-the-notion-of-capitalism-and-rugged-american-individualism style of leadership. 

Ok fine, perhaps leadership can be about taking care of those you’re responsible for. So this begs the question, who in their right mind would do that? My acquaintance, apparently…through teaching physical education…ah…health and fitness, that is.

Get this. Health and fitness teachers (and I imagine it applies to all subjects including band, sports, clubs, plays, musicals, etc.) basically have multiple altruistic goals that focus on meeting each student where they’re at rather than just cramming a blanket curriculum down their throat. Or hitting them with a pickleball paddle. 

For example, health and fitness teachers accommodate all spectrums of ability, so if it’s volleyball day they adjust the activities so the varsity death spiker kids get as much exercise as the kids who can’t even throw the ball to themselves. This is apparently called “differentiation.” I wish I had been differentiated in high school. I’m not kidding. I would be saving thousands on psychotherapy, or as my wife calls it, “crazy whispering.” 

Then, even though there are boxes to check to meet required national standards/curriculums, the priority for health and fitness teachers is to organize activities, games and drills that develop healthier lifestyles AND get the kids moving. I envision them sitting in the teacher’s lounge or teacher’s lounge Zoom call saying, “Screw you bureaucracy! Yeah, your box is checked, don’t worry about it.”  

They want to get the kids moving because, even prior to the pandemic, the amount of time young people spend in physical education is on the decline. It’s just not emphasized as much as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)…which is tragic, and in my opinion provides more fodder for making fun of technology and its nefarious aims in particular (i.e. right now you’re likely thinking of your Instagram feed instead of this article, which is no accident, and highly offensive.) 

I don’t have a beef with science, math or engineering, mostly because I like my bridges, buildings, etc. intact. 

(Have you ever thought about how compulsory educations was established in the early 20th century to create good workers for the growing manufacturing industry? Do you think that’s happening now with the “T” from “STEM,” to benefit the tech industry?)

And with the pandemic, these already slovenly messes (the kids) have gotten in worse shape. One mile run times are up by 15 percent from last year, and it’s not infrequent to overhear a high schooler saying, “I was in so much better shape pre-COVID…” while they’re outside in the parking lot after school wrestling with each other and talking with their masks off. 

Come on, don’t act so surprised. We’re talking 9th graders here. They can’t keep their hands off each other. And yes, I made up that 15 percent statistic, but it’s true kids get less exercise as a result of technology, educational curriculums and (now) COVID. Go ahead, do the Google. I bet those run times are up really close to 15 percent.

So health and fitness teachers recognize the importance of movement as a tool to build self-esteem in these soft monsters. So how does one do this virtually? With half the class in-person, and half the class on Zoom, how do you coordinate activities where everyone will participate while dealing with the age-old problem of varying levels of fitness, not to mention  these kids’ insecurities, peer pressure, raging hormones, and all that other teenage stuff? 

Think online workouts ala Peloton. 

Would you have thought of that? I doubt it. 

Why is this brilliant? Because everyone’s attention is on the video and not on each other. I wish I had a way to distract people from witnessing my wheezing, uncoordinated attempts at exercise in high school. Wait, I wish I had that now. 

But those crafty teachers don’t stop there. They continue to adapt to virtual fitness education by creating activities like:

Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM) – 20 minutes of exercise broken down by the minute with cameras ON, if you finish early (e.g. 40 seconds) you get 20 seconds of rest (I tried this and almost died.) 

Time Lapse – Do whatever you want (go for a walk, do pushups, etc.) but use your phone to take a time-lapse video the entire time and turn it in (I tried this and almost got arrested because I’m an adult and it thus looks suspicious.)

Would You Rather? Your answer determines your workout, i.e. would you rather eat a burger or an ice cream, then here’s the workout that burns that amount of calories (I answered honestly with “both,” and thus had to run a half marathon.)

Break Out – Form small groups with a student leader (the teacher is purposefully absent to place the onus on the kids), pick a workout, record it as a group, then turn it in (I tried to get my friends to do this and they told me, quite vehemently, there was no way they’d do this.)

These adaptations all have the same goal; get kids moving by challenging each student at their individual level, providing independence, and giving them something to focus on besides each other

Turns out those teachers are a cunning bunch right? I’d argue that caring for their students while adapting to a hyper-flued environment like COVID is possibly going above what they’re paid to do. (As previously stated, I’m dumbfounded by anything that isn’t meant to fill up coffers with gold. And I’m still struggling to understand this concept of generous, empathetic leadership.)

So do you think you could hack it as a P.E. instructor for 9th graders, especially during COVID? I don’t care if you’re an investment banker, firefighter, or (dreaded) C-level executive at a technology company, I think the answer is “no.”

Maybe Patrick Mahomes could do it though.

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About Patrick McNerthney 51 Articles
Patrick McNerthney is a former President, Titan of Industry and general Society-Improver. He owns a business called Outcasting, which purportedly offers writing services, but is most likely a front for the illegal import and distribution of vacant hermit crab shells. Patrick aspires to own an NFL team and take over his block. He’s written four books: How to Break Out of Prison*, How to Cheat on Your Taxes*, How to Steal Your Neighbor’s Roof*, and The Future Will Not Involve Underwear**. *Not written yet **Not formatted or published yet