A physical education teacher answers back: Things have changed for students

I feel I must respond to the opinion piece by columist Mikel Kelly in the March 22 Spokesman: "Where did society go wrong?  Gym class."

I am a physical education teacher. (Full disclosure:  my husband is also a physical education teacher).  I have taught physical education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.  

When I first started teaching at the high school level, it is true that girls and boys were in separate classes. That is no longer the case.  

Here are some of the ways I tried to make sure that no one got picked last, no one got left behind, no one knew who got chosen first or last for teams, and how I graded.

If I was doing a long unit, I would pick captains and they would sit down with a list of the students and pick the teams. No one else was there to watch who got picked when. Then, I would read the list to the class, backwards (so the people who got picked last on the list would be said first).  Another way to choose teams was to say "everyone who has a birthday in June, July, or August over here — everyone who has a birthday in October, November, December over here" OR "everyone who has white socks today is here, everyone with striped socks is over here" OR "everyone who has a first name that begins with A-F over here" etc... The absolute worst way to choose teams was to pick two captains and have them choose people from the class, while the least coordinated or least admired get chosen last.


I graded the students on effort. Those who were marvelous athletes often were able to sail through my class — just as some students sail through math class or science class or woodworking. Everyone has their gifts.

In elementary school, almost all students really enjoy physical education class (sometimes called "wellness" now).  In middle school, uniforms are often required and the class is more structured for that age group.

Middle school is not easy for many anyway, and if the student is not the most coordinated student in class, they will begin to notice that and disengage.  It is also worth noting that bodies are changing and that can be difficult (and embarrassing!) as well.  

By high school, students know who is good at what — and how to place themselves on that spectrum. Fortunately, now students can

often choose a type of physical education class (team sports, weightlifting, individual sports, etc) which makes it more interesting for them.  

If a student has a teacher who says "run two laps because you were not listening!" Or "drop and give me 10 pushups for that" then they will associate exercise with punishment.  Let us hope that does not happen anymore.

I would strongly urge Mr. Kelly and his significant other (or, as he states TOPWLAOH) to visit their local high school and check out the physical education classes for a day.  It might make him more hopeful for the future.

This is my 44th year of teaching, now substitituting. I have taught preschool through college. It has been a marvelous experience.  And — something I feel I know quite a bit about!

Linda Ingalls is a soon-to-be retired teacher in Wilsonville.

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