A Different P.E. Time

Yesterday I was the guest teacher for our middle school’s physical education teacher. It was…different!

It’s not that I had never been the substitute for physical education. About three years ago I filled in for the teacher so many times I left him a welcome letter with instructions one day. Since I was teaching a language arts class the whole time last year, this was my first P.E. class in two years. All that being said, it was still different. There is a different vibe going on with many of the students.

For clarification, I had two classes each of each middle school grade level, 6th, 7th, and 8th. In each class there seem to be more outliers, students whose main objective was to be noticed in some way. For a number of them, outward appearance is how they distinguish themselves: hair color(s), clothing, facial indifference, voice volume, a style of shoe that would only look in-place at an army boot camp, jewelry from the beyond, and…one Apple AirPod.

When I announced to each class that we were going outside to play a variation of the game of Kickball, there were whines and groans from a number of them. It had been a cold week until yesterday, temperatures mostly in the 30s and 40s, but yesterday the sun was shining and most of the classes enjoyed 60’s and low 70s. The groans were an indication that many of them have become sedentary creatures, more comfortable playing video games and doing social media than physical exercise. Of course, I also have to attribute some of the groans to middle school students’ reactions to a direction given by the teacher. It’s on the same level of reaction as Americans who are told that there’s a new tax in town that they will be “participating in.”

So there were appearance outliers, allergic to outdoor physical exercise…and then there was the dumbfounding realization that a number of them had never played kickball, or even knew how to play. Seriously! I’m not exaggerating! They had no clue. I’m sure they could tell me how to be categorized as awesome and amazing on Minecraft, but what to do as a rolling ball comes toward them…confusion! Obviously, none of them live in the Colorado Springs neighborhood close to the center of town that has a weekly kickball game where whole families gather to kick and run and laugh and bond. You know, the one that was shutdown by law enforcement for a while out of concern for someone getting hurt, since they played in the middle of the street. (The middle of the street used to be where most of our games of football and whiffleball happened in my growing up years!)

Finally, every class had several students who had no interest in learning. It wasn’t a lack of interest in learning a new game, but rather a lack of interest in learning. Since they didn’t have a laptop in front of them to do classroom assignments and sneak in a few minutes of playing a video game, their attention was on their class friends and perfecting their ability to stand around and do nothing. The idea of being a part of a team in a game for a few moments was something they had no desire to commit to. Kinda like those students in the classroom who contribute nothing to a group project that involves two or three others. There was no sense of responsibility and desire to be a part of a team effort.

All that being said, there were plenty of students who WERE with the program, who did contribute and enjoy it, and were engaged, but that category of student seems to be a diminishing part of the student population. My opinion only, I think it’s another ripple effect of the pandemic and a mostly-lost year of school socialization and in-class instruction. Many students are still searching for their place, fearful of becoming so engaged and then suddenly relegated to remote learning. They are only showing half of their faces, so how can they be identified?

Back to my first statement. I taught P.E… and it was different. It makes you long for the way things used to be, as opposed to the new norm!

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2 Comments on “A Different P.E. Time”

  1. mbmankin Says:

    Ii am so in awe of your continuing to teach middle school students, who have not yet found themselves and who present so many challenges to their teachers! Thanks for persevering!

  2. wordsfromww Says:

    Mary Beth, for some strange reason, middle school kids still energize me! When they sap my strength and energy I’ll step to the side and simply watch the emerging adolescents’ train speed by. Blessings on you and Bill!!

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