Have you ever heard other educators use negative language when referring to physical education teachers? I have — quite a bit.
Some colleagues think our job looks easy and anyone could do it with little or no training. Others feel our subject area isn’t really important, especially if a student is already on a sports team after school.
Often, what teachers remember from their own physical education experience, see in the media, or hear from students shapes their image of our profession. And, as physical educators it often feels like we are on an island. We have our own culture and it can be easy to stick to the blacktop, fields and gym.
We may be teaching quality physical education, but it’s not always apparent to the other teachers at our school. However, there are some things we can do to show that our profession is important.
Here are 5 ways to change how other teachers view physical education:
1. Build Bonds
Build positive relationships with students. If teachers can’t or don’t come out to see what we do, the only thing they may hear is from the students we work with. If a teacher berates a student or yells at them, other teachers will hear about it and it will reinforce negative PE teacher stereotypes. If, on the other hand, a teacher truly cares about what is going on in students’ lives and takes the time to get to know them better, and is positive and patient with their classes, other teachers will hear about these positives from the kids.
2. Break Bread
It’s easy to stick to our crew. We tend to be gregarious and hang out with our herd. Physical educators are some of the coolest folks I know, so I get it … but to others it can look like a clique. Spread out. Sit with other staff members at faculty meetings and professional development events. Get to know other teachers better. Learn what classroom teachers do in their classes and share about the quality instruction we do in ours. We may even learn from each other.
3. Become an Instructional Leader
When you talk to other staff, share about how you have been planning out lessons, the learning objectives you want your students to achieve, and how you are using activities to teach specific movement skills or concepts. Talk about the assessments you are using in your classes. Some classroom teachers think we just play dodgeball or have students play games with little to no instruction. We can show them that just isn’t the case.
4. Be the Optimist
Have a positive attitude. Plenty of teachers complain about students, and according to the movies, PE teachers are the worst. Find the good in students and make sure to share with other teachers. It can be contagious, and it will show others that we are much more than the hardcore stereotype we are often portrayed as.
5. Bring Teachers to Class
Invite other teachers to come out and participate in the lessons you are teaching, so they can see you aren’t just rolling out the ball. We believe in what we do, and we should be proud to show it off. Plus, physical activity is good for everyone. Who knows … maybe that teacher will learn some new movement skills or be motivated to get more physically active.
If we want to advocate for our profession, we will need allies and other teachers at our site could be some of the best allies we have. As Carl Jung said, “If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.” If we want to promote a more positive image of physical educators, it will be up to us to show other teachers that we are much more than the “gym coaches” they see in the movies.
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Dan DeJager is a university lecturer, curriculum writer and teacher in Sacramento, CA. He has taught diverse groups of students in a variety of settings. In 2019, he was named SHAPE America National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. He can be contacted through Twitter @thepechallenge or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.