Bullying in the Gymnasium: Why Some Kids Hate PE

As I reflect in October around National Bullying Prevention Month, I thought I’d be brave and tell you a story. (I’m the “moral courage president” — right?) When I was in middle school, I was bullied by another girl in my sixth-grade PE class. She constantly whispered with her friends about me and even stole my PE shorts off my locker room bench while I wasn’t looking.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first and only time I was not prepared for PE. The sting of it has never left me to this day. Why didn’t she like me? Why was she so mean? She doesn’t even know me.

As physical educators, we can often get so excited about what we are doing and teaching in our PE classes that we sometimes forget to be mindful of engaging in looking and listening. We teach kids first. Then we teach PE.

The experiences that our students are having from the moment they step into our world each day until the moment they leave can have a lasting impact on how they feel about physical activity, particularly if they are being bullied. We must not forget that our academic subject requires children to be “on display” to some degree and risking failure and embarrassment can cause long-lasting negative attitudes around movement for kids.

One of the most prevalent educational initiatives around our approach to all students in 2018 is social-emotional learning (SEL). While I don’t think that simply teaching and modeling appropriate behaviors such as caring and kindness alone can solve all of the issues that occur among our students, it certainly reminds us that physical education plays an appropriate and integral role in bringing these concepts into our daily lessons, regardless of the unit we teach.

Reinforcing cooperation, teamwork, sportsmanship and respect by both modeling and teaching these elements can position us in the gym so PE is a class where students want to come during the school day. Throughout October, I ask you to reinforce caring and kindness, let students know when you’ve caught them doing something right, and keep your eyes and ears open. You make the difference. Oh and by the way, when I discovered my shorts were stolen and I couldn’t get dressed out that day in 1980, I went to my PE teacher, Ms. Bottger, with tears in my eyes. She reassured me, cared about me and was kind. I’ll never forget her.

Thanks Ms. Bottger.

Additional Resources

Judy LoBianco

President of SHAPE America from 2018-2019.