Note: This blog is a result of the notes I prepared to be interviewed on The Global Physed Voxcast by Jorge Rodriguez.
Even if I hadn’t actually been interviewed, I found this reflective look into my past to be highly beneficial (and even therapeutic!).
Click any of the links below to hear the podcast!
The path I took into Education was a winding road. There weren’t definitive and chronological steps. It was more of a start and stop, hiccup kind of thing.
I can remember a day in junior high school. It was Spirit Week, and one of the days was career day. Some students dressed like professionals in the business world. Others were nurses. One friend wore his soccer uniform, as he styled himself a pro soccer player. Me? I dressed like a P.E. Teacher! If you asked me back then why I chose this outfit, it had more to do with the fact I loved playing sports and games (wearing sweats during the school day had something to do with it, too!). Yet deeper than I knew or acknowledged, I also had a love for children and working with them. My mom had a babysitting service when I was young, and it was just natural to teach and guide the little ones on a daily basis. Without knowing it, I learned my first teaching skills from her.
But choosing the garb of a P.E. teacher that day was the one of first in a line of events that eventually led me to pursuing a career as one. One that has been filled with ups and downs, positive and negative revitalization.
Upon graduating from high school, I became a bit wayward from my goal. I was put off because of the high costs of college and I honestly was suffering from an acute case of laziness. My first job out of high school was a part time chef at a Big Boy restaurant. Easily the most stressful and worst job I ever had. I worked for one week and gave my two weeks notice. I then worked for Sears. That job was good for a time, but it was clear that I just didn’t have enough initiative. I ended up getting “let go.” I was pretty disillusioned at this point. If I couldn’t keep a job stocking shelves, what was I going to do?
I don’t remember how I go the job, but I ended up working at a junk mail factory. We were the ones who send you sweepstakes and book club offers. You're welcome! I started out as a machine loader. It was a purely physical job. Keep the slots filled with whatever inserts were to be in the envelope. It was satisfying in a task oriented kind of way, and without realizing it at the time, I began to become motivated to succeed. I started having my own private competition with the other stockers. My initiative was noticed. I was promoted to machine operator. My competitions continued. I then asked if I could move on to a different position. It was granted and I continued to move “up” in the factory. Even when the amount of mail going out was low, and all of us were “demoted” from time to time, whatever job I held I did it furiously and zealously. I wanted to succeed and work my absolute hardest. I also wanted others to succeed, so I began sharing my ideas about production with them. Some couldn’t understand why I would want to do that well, it’s just a junk mail job! My infectious desire to do well, coupled with humor, helped some do better (even save their job at times).
I also desired a good reputation. Supervisors sought me out for various tasks because they saw in me someone reliable and motivated. So many people in that factory simply wanted to earn enough money to live and have some left over to spend at the bar on weekends. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be and do better and help others do the same! This fueled a passion in me to pursue a career as a teacher. This time with a better understanding of what it meant. It was more than games and wearing sweats to work!
After working there for about a year and a half, I decided it was time to pursue my career in teaching Physical Education. I was ready to launch!
I was fairly excited about getting started. I was “living on my own,” meeting new friends, and experiencing college life. I have a lot of great memories of those first weeks. One memory has stuck with me forever. My first exam was coming up. It was from my first class as a Physical Education major, “Foundations of Physical Education.” It was horrible! I thoroughly failed the exam!
I remember sitting in my room that night. I was devastated. How could this happen? I can’t do this! I can’t come here and FAIL! This is costing me too much money!
Yes, my first fear was about the money. I remember sitting at my desk, staring at the wall thinking, “This is too much money to waste! It’s MY bill!” But the longer I sat there, the more angry I got. Angry at myself for not having prepared enough. For not being prepared enough. I didn’t have the study skills. I was, at best, an indifferent student in High School. I decided to talk with my professor the next day about this.
She encouraged me and gave me some studying advice. I also sought advice from some of my dorm unit mates. She also gave me a chance to take the test again. This time, I was ready. Gladly, I aced the exam this time. And from that moment on, I vowed to never fail another exam. Granted, some were very difficult, but I took it as a personal challenge like my junk mail days!
I’m so grateful for that failure. Without it, I would not have been as motivated to succeed in school. And being in school provided many more opportunities for me to grow. I was an member and then an officer in our Physical Education Majors group. I was given the chance to work with athletic and intramural teams. I also traveled on several teams to different parts of the U.S., serving different organizations, churches, and peoples. I even had the opportunity to travel to Brazil!
If I had given up after that first failure, I would have missed out on many opportunities to grow.
"Failure is free information on what not to do next time." - Mike Kuczala
Upon graduating, however, I was unable to find a job in teaching. I ended up working construction. For a time, I struggled with disillusionment. Could I have been wrong? Did I waste my time and money? Was I doing the right thing? The construction job was another chance to sink or surf. Over time, the opportunity to learn new physical and leadership skills became exhilarating! With those new skills, I was able to help my family and friends in their homes. I gained a new confidence and also obtained a more positive perspective.
One night, I received a phone call from a college friend. He was a fellow P.E. Major as well. Someone had a job opening for a Middle and High School P.E. teacher about 40 minutes away from me. He knew he couldn’t take the job, but thought of me right away. Turns out the administrator of this school was MY high school administrator! I got the phone number and called right away. Within minutes, I had an interview scheduled. Within the week, I was hired for the fall! I was going to be a Teacher!!!
It was a small Christian school. And I mean, SMALL! What I started to learn about the “real world” of education wasn’t very exciting. In such a small school, I ended up wearing many hats. I was also the Athletic Director and Junior Varsity Volleyball coach. In addition to teaching P.E., I also taught Life Science, Business Math (I always said I had no Business teaching Math…), and a couple of different Bible courses. It was three challenging years. I was very busy preparing for classes for which I had no training. I would force myself to stop grading papers at midnight, just so I could get some sleep.
What became most frustrating was the fact I wasn’t really excelling at teaching Physical Education. I learned some things about myself as well. I learned that I REALLY wanted to teach Elementary Physical Education. I wanted to be right there at the beginning with those children. I wanted to be involved when they learned the basics and foundation blocks of their physical literacy. I started thinking long and hard about pursuing a new job.
That next summer, I learned of an elementary P.E. job. It would require a move out of state, but I was SO ready to jump on it. Within one day of hearing about it from a college friend of mine, I was on the phone with the principal. The next day, I was driving to Indiana to meet her. Inside a week, I was ready to meet the school board. Right before I left, I informed my current administrator. Miraculously, he was able to find someone to take my place (though I didn’t know until much later)! I was approved by the board and made the move to Indiana!
While I loved my new job as an Elementary Physical Educator, I struggled with parts of the job. I’ve since learned the more “hats” I wear, the less effective I am as a teacher. Over time, I grew lazy and complacent. I became the anathema to all decent P.E. teachers everywhere. I began a “roll out the ball” phase. I wish I could say it was with a purpose, allowing my students to have a voice and choice in their discover of their physical literacy. But it wasn’t. It was sheer laziness.
At one point, I had taken my students outside. I was convinced this was ok, because the High school theater program was taking place in our gym space (see my rationalization?). We had a newer administrator at the time, and his office window faced the playground. He saw me outside with my class and observed me standing still while the kids played whatever games they chose. Later that day, he asked me to come to his office. He called me to account for what he saw happening. In no uncertain terms, he said there would need to be changes. Though I felt unfairly and severely treated at the time, I knew he was right. I had lost my way and my students were the ones suffering from my choices. This was the negative and harsh beginning of my renewal. It hurt, but it was so needed.
My administrator then connected me with a couple of great P.E. teachers in the area. I was given 2 professional days to visit them. That was the positive beginning of my renewal. Seeing someone who worked hard at their craft AND cared for their students was such a powerful event in my life. I remain connected with them to this day and have expressed my gratitude many times! They literally helped save my job and create a new teacher in the process!
Along the way, I had begun investigating internet resources again. Something was different this time. I was seeing great content, but was seeing past it to the people who were sharing it. It led me to learn more about them. I would read their bios and blogs more than their content and ideas.
It was then I finally recognized Twitter as something I could utilize for my professional career. Before signing up and following anyone, I browsed & checked out a couple of hashtags. I was blown away by what I was finding. I saw people who were excited and dedicated to their teaching. I found a whole community of people with whom I wanted to connect. I decided on a Twitter handle and jumped in. I started following those whose websites I had found. I participated in my first PEChat (I was running sound for a concert with one hand while following along with the other - I don’t recommend that!)
I had also discovered the Global Physed Voxcast! It was like water to a thirsty man. Any time I spent in the car alone was time I could listen to another podcast. I got to “meet” so many great educators and hear their hearts and minds. I was so challenged by what I heard. At first, I shied away from things too difficult or what I considered “impossible.” But after a while, I realized I needed the push they gave. I might not try everything that everyone was doing, but I love how much I am stretched by what others are sharing.
One podcast in particular was a huge encouragement to me. Jorge interviewed Matt Bassett from California. Matt had just won the SHAPE Elementary teacher of the year. Elements of his story resonated with mine. He had similar struggles. I couldn’t believe it. I remember listening to him share his weaknesses and how he overcame them by surrounding himself with excellent educators. I paused the podcast and immediately tweeted a message to Matt, thanking him for sharing transparently and showing what someone could do. Matt has been so gracious! We are in regular contact now and it has been such a blessing!
At some point, I also connected with Mike Graham. I had found his website and loved how strongly he advocates for Physical Education! He graciously allowed me to come visit his class. That physical and personal connection was another catalyst of change in me. I went, initially thinking about what knowledge I could gain about teaching. What I came home with though, was a view into the person & life of Mike Graham, not just the teacher. And through him, I’ve been introduced (via Voxer) to other great people!
A NEW DIRECTION
Since connecting professionally with other teachers via Social Media, Podcasts, and Personal meetings, I’ve grown and changed immensely. I’m just over 50 years old, and I’ve never been more excited about teaching. And while I’m in this new phase of teaching, I want to make it my best.
One of the areas I’ve made changes in is how I relate to my students. It has also impacted how I strive to parent my children. I was introduced to Positive Discipline by Jorge on his podcast. After listening to him interview Joy Marchese, a Positive Discipline co-author, I realized I could do so much better relating with my students. The phrase “Connection before Correction” often comes to my mind when dealing with new discipline issues. My students are infinitely more valuable than any physical skill or concept I have to teach. I’m a part of a team of people who are preparing this little one for their life, NOT just the next phase of their education.
I also now teach with an “endgame” in mind. I’ve written in a previous blog how the concept of Community has become the driving force of my program. I’ve become so convinced of its power and relevance, it permeates every lesson and unit I now teach. I believe we were made to be in Community with one another. And whatever we decide to do while we are here, most things we will likely do with others. Physical Education is the best place for our students to learn and practice social skills. Every skill we teach can and will likely be used in social settings. Let’s take this opportunity and guide them toward becoming great community members.
Each class has input into what kind of community they will build. And that includes what rules will structure and guide us throughout the year. Since they are a part of the whole creation process, they have more buy-in. They will likely be more apt to follow, since they helped create them. More on this to come!
Thank you, Jorge, for the opportunity to share my heart and mind (as well as a few fun stories). I strongly encourage anyone who hears or reads this to take the time and reflect on what brought you to the place you are now.
Please read Jorge's excellent blog post on The Metamorphosis of a Teacher on his site. It is a great visual of how we can allow challenges to change us for the better!
I'm Cliff, an elementary Physical Educator to a ton of awesome students! Here is where you will see my thoughts and activities regarding #physed here at Blackhawk Christian School. Some will be what we're doing at school, and others will be thoughts from my wandering brain.