I came across a recently published article in The Atlantic entitled “What the Fitness Industry Doesn’t Understand.” To summarize, the article is about how the fitness industry seems to miss out on connecting with the emergent fitness enthusiast due to the fact that most gyms, fitness programs, etc. cater to those who are already predisposed to being ‘fit’. The author places a large amount of blame on ‘gym’ teachers since they are the cause of a person’s negative experiences in their elementary physical education class because of being forced to do things like fitness testing. As a result, many adults don’t exercise now because of the negative self-belief they carry from their childhood.
At first, what bothered me most about this article was the general disregard for physical education class and for its teachers. By referring to us as ‘gym’ teachers rather than the proper physical education or PE teacher, it set the tone for the negative perception. Yet, as I searched for more information, this perception is rampant in how PE and we teachers have been reported and are portrayed. After reflecting further about the article, this is what has stuck with me, that no matter what I think about the author and her thoughts on physical education, this is the perception that is still held by many.
The only way to change this perception is to educate others that physical education is a class that empowers all students to be physically active for life. For one, if this isn’t the foundation of every PE class, then we have a problem. It is very likely this would be agreed upon by most, if not all physical education teachers, however, what is in conflict is the thought that all students must be taught in a particular way. It is as if we are constantly trying to hammer down different shaped objects into a particularly shaped hole – there is a lot of friction there that is lasting.
The problem is not in the topics being taught, but rather in the approach they are being taught. This is the thing with perception – sure it may not be the best recipe, but the larger problem is the cook and the lack of thought in who is the audience. So we have to think up a better recipe, consider who is going to eat it, and deliver a better experience. This isn’t to be confused with whether the students will ‘like’ what they are doing, but it does matter if they are engaged in what they are doing. Are students being challenged, amazed, enlightened, or even curious? Are all students included in the lessons, and then what are the next steps? These are more appropriate points of assessment, and will lead to greater leaps of learning.
While challenging students, at the same time we have to connect with them. We must listen to what they have to say, ask questions back rather than answer questions, and offer encouragement. Dismiss stereotypes that encourage the ‘athletic’ students and confirm gender bias, and look at all students as being capable of learning. We all like to think our classes are inclusive, but we all have to constantly audit our thinking that this isn’t as true as we think it is.
Ultimately, there are many (emphasis on many) wonderful physical education programs out there that do empower students to be physically active for a lifetime. These are already breaking the perception that ‘gym’ class is one to forget, and are changing it to the reality that physical education is one of the most important classes in a person’s time in school.
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