Welcome to Gym Class… Coach Jen remembers elementary school PE Class: Good times and Nightmares Included!

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Jen Wirth | December 11, 2018 | no comments |

Welcome to Gym Class… a walk down memory lane and other reflections, with Coach Jen.

I’ve been thinking lately about the other humans who have influenced me greatly throughout my life. The best PE teacher I ever had was my very first one, Mrs. L.

I had her for only three years: Kindergarten through second grade. I wasn’t the only one who loved her. This lady made her mark on a generation of kids in my town.

Seriously, there is a Facebook group set up for people that grew up in our town and in several threads people recount their memories of great times in Mrs. L’s gym class. This lady was creative. Her activities were imaginative, and cooperative; they helped each individual to stretch their abilities, and they were fun.

Years later, I remember the feeling of surprise as we walked into the gym and saw all sorts of gymnastics equipment set up in around the room. We did an extensive gymnastics unit. I remember doing a back bridge in her class on a set of low parallel bars… and some kind of flipping dismount off the uneven parallel bars. On a different day, the whole class played together with a giant parachute.

One time, Mrs. L set up a maze of cones all around the entire gym floor. The cones snaked around the gym floor in a path that was exactly 1/8 of a mile in length. Our job this day was to run a mile. A Mile. To make sure we did eight full laps, we had to pass Mrs. L at the starting line every lap and tell her our last name and the lap number. And she would tally them off on her clipboard, for every kid. There was a chance there would be a bottleneck at some point while everyone was running. Mrs.L pantomimed standing around versus active jogging. She told us that the kids who kept jogging in place (instead of just standing still) would get a star next to their names along with their time. In this way, Mrs. L let us decide if we wanted to just work hard, or if we wanted to take it to the next level.

To this day I still clearly recall crossing the finish line at the end of that running day, and happily saying the words, “Wirth, Eight!” I was so proud of myself for running a mile. I was seven years old and I felt so accomplished. Thanks to the wonders of social media, people like me who had this same gym teacher *years ago* have posted all sorts of memories of ourselves and the cool gym activities we remember.

Here’s one other cool thing about Mrs. L: She always had her camera on her. She took black and white photos of every kid, and when they were developed and printed she would send us home with them. Mrs. L took of her students, myself included:

I sometimes think about what the rest of elementary school would have been like for me had Mrs. L not retired and gotten replaced by Mr. P.

Mr. P. He actually had us call him that, “Mr. P.” I’m not just trying to protect his identity in the age of the internet, like I am with Mrs. L.

This guy was a meathead of a guy. He did that trick of flexing his pec muscles one at a time. … Sorry my eyes rolled back in my head for a second there. Look, aside from that being kind of a gross trick, here is a great example of a gym teacher who shows off. It’s never about what the teacher can do…. it’s about what they can get *you* to do. If their expectations are low, or if they don’t care, then their athletes aren’t going to perform. I know this in my bones.

Mrs. L was a dynamo of a lady, who worked hard to keep things fresh and fun. She wanted us to really enjoy movement and the things that our bodies could do. Her replacement was lazy and my memories of his classes are much different.

He didn’t get to know kids’ names.

Instead of cool activities, we started having the most athletic kids getting assigned team captains every time. These kids would get to pick teams and, surprise, the least athletic kids got picked last, all the time.

News alert: That’s no fun and it’s not encouraging. Mr. P didn’t spend much time building up the weaker members of the class, or making fitness fun for us.

Here’s one more personal anecdote I can clearly remember from a real bummer of a game of Dodgeball in Mr. P’s class.

I was o.k. at the ‘dodge’ part of the game, but I didn’t hit people often when I threw, and I didn’t know how to catch the ball. In our rules, if you caught a ball, then you could get the rest of your team out of the penalty box.

One time, it was just me on one side, and ten kids on the other side, throwing balls at me. They weren’t throwing lightly, I felt the wind of the balls whizzing past. I was supposed to try to catch one of these balls. I’d never done that before. And my team was on the sideline yelling at me, “Just. Catch. The. Ball!” as I jumped out of the way of one flying projectile after another. I felt singled out, terrified, and ashamed.

Mr. P, that jackelope, sat watching this happen for a couple of minutes. Then he had mercy on me, finally, and called it off. I was probably eight or nine.

You know how it goes in education when you’re a kid: Sometimes you have an awesome teacher who lghts the fire of excitement and exploration inside of you… and sometimes you have a teacher who carelessly douses the flame. It’s interesting that I had the best and worst gym teachers of my life back to back. Good examples of what I strive to be in my career vs. what I try to avoid. I need to also acknowledge the great gift I had of having a great teacher like Mrs. L for any period of time during my life. She gave me the gift of knowing what it is like to have fun moving my body. Some people only get Mr. P’s. Some people have never had a good time in gym class.

This is what has got to change. And this is why it is my mission to create a friendly place for all people to work out. Especially people who have had a tough time doing so in the past. Why? Because I’m one of those people too.

It may seem obvious, but let me say this anyway: It’s easier to do hard things when you’re having fun at the same time. It’s also easier to have fun when you feel like your Coach is on your team.

When I work with personal training clients, or when I coach a class, I try to meet my athletes where they are, and to help them to have fun moving their bodies more than anything else. As a nurse, I have come to fully understand the deep connection that exists between regular exercise and long term health. This is how I protect the health of my athletes in the future, by helping to motivate to exercise regularly Now.

This is why we spend time creating a welcoming, non-threatening environment at Wildcat, because some people out there have had nothing but Mr. P’s as gym teachers for your whole lives so far! If all your gym teachers have been Mr. Ps; Or if that dodgeball story of mine rang a bell; Or if you want to get in shape for once and really enjoy doing it; Come check out a friendly environment and have a good time for once. That is the way we roll.

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