I’m walking on my Peloton treadmill in another class by an instructor that I’ve grown to like. He is young, energetic, engaging, and very humorous. He speaks with real honesty and seems very down to earth. His expressions, and mannerisms exude such warmth making our warmup less of a warmup and more like a simple chat. I could see the instructor and I getting along if we knew each other. He has the right amount of sarcasm and lightheartedness that makes conversations go smoothly. I listen and chuckle as we begin to change the incline and speed of the walk.
We continue as songs change and our theme is revealed. Although the class description is a 2000’s music walk, he describes being a freshman in high school at that time. He states he is going to talk about stereotypes and that he is not trying to offend or trigger anyone. Talking about his high school experience during this time period would make the class enjoyable and the time pass by quickly. He does not shy away from making jokes at himself. We press on with the workout while he talks about the cliches, groups, and experiences he knew and belonged to. Although he mentions most will be what he fondly remembers, he also would be real and feels sure there may be others over the internet who feel the same way.
An openly gay man he talks about his experience of being a not yet out of the closet student at a catholic school in Rhode Island. We move from one subject and experience to another, all the while we are picking the pace up to a much more brisk hill. I follow along with him thinking about how my HS wasn’t much different than his, albeit in the late 80s early 90s. We move from the stereotypical student groups (drama club kids, to garage band misfits, to the jocks). He admits high school was a “mixed bag” and asked us participants to reflect on our school experience while we sweated along. Some of his points I found myself laughing out loud, sweat trickles into my mouth. Ew.
Then it happens. He looks into the camera while raising his hand and asks us if our least favorite class was P.E. He admits and realizes he is a professional fitness instructor, but then looks into the camera and says, “I absolutely despised physical education.” He mainly describes how inappropriate practice contributed to his overall feeling. Mainly the types of violent activities addressed to give more athletically gifted kids the opportunity to get aggression out a stress release. He finishes his diatribe by saying “Triggering… I also missed out on the honor roll one time because I forgot my gym clothes. I was so fu**ing pissed. I will never forgive my gym class teacher. I can ace a friggin biology test and you give me an A- because I didn’t dress?!”
As a twenty-five-year physical education teacher, I am annoyed and agitated. Here is a person who I have grown to enjoy taking classes from openly insulting my career. Many, MANY times have I seen my field portrayed in a bad light on t.v., in movies, and print. It is just another attempt at how I have chosen a career with a seemingly never-ending bad reputation. I swallow hard as I press on with the workout not wanting to finish early.
Do I reach out to him to express my displeasure? Do I publicly retort via social media? Do I send a complaint to Peloton (although in his defense he did admit he was not trying to insult anyone)?
I realize that the best thing for me to do is nothing. The unfortunate thing about his experience was the fact that it was his experience. He had a teacher who was every cliche in the “gym teacher” book and apparently taught like it. I also agree with the points he brought up. There should be no place for a survival of the fittest game or activity, nor having an issue with dressing for PE be weighted so heavily that it gives the appearance that dressing is the most important aspect of the class. It breaks my heart to hear this and I sympathize. I am very much aware of what this looks like. I have seen this behavior growing up, and sadly to say I have seen colleagues today do similar things.
Luckily my work environment is nothing like this. My two coworkers and I have a very different approach. We truly care for our kids. There is a passion to be as professional as possible. We all believe that physical education is for everyone. In fact, I am much more sympathetic to those who are less skilled and do not have the opportunities for sports, and a propensity toward regular physical activity. Reaching out to this fitness instructor will not change what he went through. Standing on my Twitter pulpit will not do that either. What may work however is the way we teach and groom our pre-service college students choosing to be in the profession.
If we are to truly change the notoriety of physical education, we need to continuously address what is considered best practice. Demonstrate what exceptional teaching looks like, how it can be highlighted, celebrated, and keep those to a higher expectation teaching it. I cannot change the opinions of those who may have experienced what the fitness instructor did. I can however continue to press on with our next generation of teachers.
As I dry myself off from the workout I realize that I am scheduled to get a student-teacher from my alma mater in the fall. Baby steps. I think I will start with him.
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