Physical education teaches fairness and respect, not just athletics


So, after a while it gets old to hear that I teach "gym." I don't teach "gym," I teach children. My specialty is physical education. I'm going to take a second and jump up on my soapbox and let you know some of the things that frustrate me when I hear them:

"You get to play all day!" Really? Do you really consider giving 25-30 elementary-aged children hockey sticks "playing?" I teach the kids how to be safe while they learn how to play a game/sport/activity that will engage their brains and their bodies. I teach them how work together by talking to each other. I assess their skills while monitoring their behaviors, interactions and level of involvement. I don't play, I teach.

"I could do your job." Really? How much schooling have you had on the biomechanics and kinesiology of throwing a ball? Did you take pre-med classes in college? Do you know what it means to be proficient in a skill? How would you determine that? Can you keep the attention of 5-year-olds? Can you calm and improve the self-esteem of a fifth-grade girl who feels like her world is falling down around her? Can you challenge the athletes in the class while giving the ones that don't know how to hold a ball individualized attention? Can you clean up a bloody nose and a peeing accident while your boss looks over your shoulder? I can.

"I wish I could teach gym. I loved that class in elementary school!" Really? Go find a gym and teach it. I teach children. I teach them how to make decisions that impact their bodies and their lives. I teach them that winning isn't everything and losing can be a learning experience. I teach them how to treat human beings with fairness and thoughtfulness. I teach them that not everyone gets to "win." I teach them that competitiveness doesn't have to be a negative thing -- it can lead to the creation of a great leader. I teach them that the quiet students often have the best ideas. I teach them that it isn't just the boys that kick butt in athletics. Just because I'm using a game to do it, doesn't mean that what I do is easy or less important. Every teacher does this; we just all have different subjects to create our lessons in.

"You make it look easy!" This one doesn't get on my nerves. This one is an extreme compliment. This means that I am doing a good job. It means that I have taught my kids well. It means that they have helped me develop what our classroom expectations are and what will happen if someone doesn't live up to them. They have to buy-in to what we are doing in P.E. in order to want to be successful. It is up to me to hold all of those kids to the standards that they came up with. This leads to a mutual respect. Mutual respect means that I can concentrate on teaching and not inappropriate behaviors. Kids that respect each other work together and learn. They learn how to teach each other. They learn that I don't know how to do everything and they teach me how to be a better teacher.

I have the best job in the world. I do. I have the best job because I love what I do. Please don't assume that since I play games every day that I don't impact these kids' lives. Please don't assume that I get to "play" all day. If I played all day, then I wouldn't be teaching these kids a darn thing. I do just as much assessing as a classroom teacher; mine just looks different than theirs. I have a hard job. I'm a teacher.

Teaching takes a special kind of person: One that has dedicated themselves to life-long learning; one that is dedicated to making their students lives' one that they can be proud of. Teaching is a calling, one that I was happy to grab onto.


Jen Roddel is a physical education specialist at Central Elementary in Ferndale. She's a graduate of Ferndale High School, Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University. She received her master's degree from Ashford University. This is her 14th year teaching.

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