The Last Word - October 2020
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inGRATITUDE

The Virtual P.E. Teachers of 2020

By Emily Tipping


I just got "back" from gym class. P.E. is sixth period—30 minutes starting at 12:05.

Funnily enough, I never looked forward to gym when I was actually required to attend. Unless we were playing field hockey.

(We almost never were playing field hockey.)

But now that my freshman is attending P.E. virtually every Monday through Friday, I look forward to taking that little break from my desk (OK, the "desk" is actually my dining room table), and joining in for jumping jacks, pushups and mountain climbers. Everything but the burpees.

One kid inevitably "forgets" to mute his mic, and we all giggle as he makes silly noises during the warmup breathing exercises. The instructor lets him get in a couple before stopping to say, "Alex, you need to mute yourself."

The dog attacks my hands as we do plank walk-outs, and we crack up some more.

Once a week, we take a "wellness walk." Last week's walk came with a scavenger hunt. Apparently, no one in our neighborhood has a garden gnome.

We get our heart rates up. We break a sweat. Two things that happened only on rare occasions when I was a freshman P.E. student back in the '80s.

The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) conducted a nationwide survey in May that aimed to capture the state of mind of health and physical education teachers around starting the 2020-2021 academic year. More than 2,000 K-12 health and physical education teachers responded to the survey, and not surprisingly, they weren't feeling prepared at that point.

As of May, 82% of teachers said they hadn't been given any information about what to expect in the fall. When asked to speculate about the most likely setting for teaching in their school, two-thirds (67%) said they expected a hybrid model that combines in-person and distance learning. But in spite of the stress and uncertainty, these teachers were eager to deliver positive experiences for their students.

Asked about their need for professional development, more than 60% said "best practices for teaching HPE with social distancing" and "effective low- or no-touch activities" were "extremely important."

School districts across the country have deployed a wide variety of methods for getting kids back in the classroom—virtual or brick-and-mortar—as the 2020-2021 school year kicks off. Teachers who had to pivot from in-person to virtual learning in the spring have had time to think about how to make that learning more effective in the fall. No doubt some find it easier than others, and some will be more or less effective.

This is no doubt the case for P.E. teachers too—maybe even more so, as a lot of what we do in gym class isn't easily translated into a virtual classroom.

But at the same time, it's never been more important to get it right. Kids were highly sedentary before the pandemic. Getting them moving and focusing on the health of their bodies is important work.

So this month, I want to say kudos to

all the health and physical education teachers who are out there trying to make it work, and hopefully helping at least some of their students learn to love getting a move on. RM