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Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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Re: The Phys Ed Question
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ok, full disclosure: I hate gym. I hate gym now, I hated gym in high school, and I feel confident that I will always hate gym on principle even though I'll never have to take it again. I'm bad at every sport imaginable, I was never one of those kids who went off to the park on the weekends (when my mom kicked me outside on nice days, I would sit on the front lawn and read), and I don't really see the point of running around in circles chasing a ball. I played rec soccer for most of my young life, and I have a solid, fairly intense fitness routine in my adult life, but Phys. Ed. classes were always the bane of my existence.

Though I still (clearly) have some pretty strong feelings about the class, now that I'm several years past the mandatory Phys. Ed. age, I can boil that hatred down to three causes:

1. The teachers' attitudes
2. The class content
3. The student hierarchy

Obviously my opinions are based on my own experiences, and I do know that there are many, many exceptions to the negative aspects of gym class. I certainly agree that Phys. Ed should be mandatory, at least in grade 9, because the point of grade 9 is to get a good foundation in as many subjects as possible so students can make an informed choice about what elective subjects to pursue in the future. However, the experience of Phys. Ed. would be much less painful, and the students far more likely to continue to take these classes, if a few changes were made.

1. The teachers' attitudes. I've had a couple of great gym teachers, but the majority have just been grown-up versions of those annoying jocks in high school (to clarify, not all jocks are annoying, but the annoying ones are. I'm sure you know which ones I'm referring to). In an English or Science class, when a student doesn't have an aptitude for the subject, the teacher works with them to help them improve and guides them through activities and assignments that will make the class more enjoyable and relatable. This isn't always the case, but I've never encountered a classroom teacher that showed actual contempt for the students who struggled with their material. Most of my gym teachers, on the other hand, either acted openly disdainful of non-athletic students, or gave up altogether and just ignored the weaker kids. Perhaps this is because Phys. Ed. is not considered to be a class where at least some degree of success is imperative, since half the kids are going to stop taking it as soon as they can. But let me tell you, I wouldn't have stopped taking it so early if I hadn't heard audible sighs of disappointment from my gym teacher every time I attempted the high jump. Really, kids are not stupid. They can tell when you think they're a failure.

2. The class content. You know what I hate more than gym class? Dodge ball. Dodge ball must have been invented by some sadistic, power tripping former bully, because it is one of the most torturous academic experiences for anyone ever labeled as a 'geek.' Seriously, dodge ball? Who in their right mind would ever think that allowing 14-year-olds, with all their teenaged issues and drama, to throw balls at each other as hard as they possibly can is a good or even appropriate idea?? And football? Volleyball? Track? To me, they're all either hopelessly boring or completely impossible.

3. The student hierarchy. I did take gym as an elective in grade 10, to get another French credit, and by that time it wasn't so bad. By grade 10, the bullies had learned that their middle school tactics just didn't fly in this new environment, the awkwardness of puberty was starting to balance out, and we had all had plenty of time to see that our fellow classmates were actually sort of interesting, nuanced human beings. I still didn't love sports, but going to Phys. Ed. was dreaded slightly less than in previous years. On a few occasions, I even had fun. But in grades 6-9, everything is the opposite. Kids are cruel, and in gym class they're given far too much power. There are few things more crushing than having to stand against the wall, stared at by all of your peers, praying that you get picked even second last. Ugh, that horrible pause as the team captain du jour decides which of 3 nerds would be less disastrous to have on their team-- you felt so ashamed you could vomit. I appreciated it when the teacher allowed me or some of my fellow gym-failures to pick teams, but everyone knew he or she was only doing that because we were always picked last. That humiliation, bad enough on its own, was always picked up by the bullies, who made life even worse afterwards. The very nature of Phys. Ed., with it's competitiveness and clear indication of who is skilled and who is not, takes all the awful pre-teen teasing that happens surreptitiously at desks and lockers and brings it out into the open-- even encourages it in some situations.

Alright, that little rant probably told you all as much about my own insecurities and neuroses as it did about the state of Phys. Ed., but if this is still my reaction years afterwards, that's a problem. That being said, I'm just one little nerd with my own nerd opinions, so I'd welcome the perspective of anyone who thinks I'm whiny or lazy or bitter that I'm not perfect at everything. Because yeah, I am all of those things, to a certain degree.

But here's what I think-- to really improve Phys. Ed., give the kids:

1. A supportive, encouraging teacher with a positive attitude toward all students;

2. A curriculum that teaches teamwork and healthy exercise not only through traditional Phys. Ed. sports like football and baseball, but other activities like yoga, pilates, archery, cycling, cricket, rowing, dance, weight-lifting, etc etc etc; and

3. A zero-tolerance policy with regards to bullying or student hierarchy. Pick the teams at random, for heaven's sake!

That's all they really need to make Phys. Ed. not only tolerable, but actually fun-- whether you're a jock or a nerd or somewhere in between.

Since I took a very subjective, personal approach to this topic, I would love to hear dissenting opinions. Or, you know, if you agree that dodge ball is the worst sport imaginable, or if you happen to have anecdotes about how hilariously awful you were in gym class (remember the 20 different times I hit myself on the head with the volleyball? Those were some good times), let me know in the comments.

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Courtney posted at 8:25 AM - Comments (1)

1 Comments:

I heard that they recently banned Dodge Ball in a number of school boards (I'm guessing you're happy to hear about that). I'd say the most awkward part about gym class was the dance units (I'm not sure if they make you take those in Ontario). The dance units wouldn't have been so bad if it didn't require couples dancing... A bunch of preteen to teenage year students having to dance with the opposite sex? I think that pretty much explains everything!

Sorry to hear that your Phys. Ed. teachers were so horrible...

By Blogger Ashley, at August 12, 2009 at 12:29 AM  

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