Thursday, December 28, 2006

Getting physical

I have never been a beacon of excellence in the gym or on the sports field. The blame for this must largely go to school in general and to PE teachers in particular. My unenviable experiences of how Physical Education was taught under the English state-school system was enough to put me off sports for ever.

In any other subject, the function of a teacher is surely to teach. That is, to take knowledge and transfer it to the student. But this, it would appear, does not apply in the case of PE teachers. Because everyone already knows how to play football, the function of the teacher becomes that of a referee, blowing his whistle and yelling at anyone who isn't running around like some hyperactive springbok. Woe betide any student who doesn't actually know the rules of the game.

The most instructive piece of PE education I ever received was during a line-out in a rugby 'lesson'.

"Goat! You can't do that!"

"Why not, Sir?"

"Because it's in the rules. Don't you know the rules [that I haven't seen fit to explain]? Are you stupid?"

Clearly that is the answer. I'm stupid - because I don't understand the rules as taught using telepathy. And to this day, I still don't know what rule (or does rugby have laws?) I'd allegedly broken.

And similar things happened during public humiliation sessions euphemistically entitled 'hockey', 'basketball', 'cricket' and worst of all, 'athletics'. I am not built like some Kenyan beanpole, neither do I resemble Giant Haystacks. Long-jump, high-jump, shot-putt, discus, javelin? Nope. Can't do any of those. There are presumably techniques to get the projectile in question as far or as high as possible. But no-one ever chose to teach me these. It was a matter of throwing oneself over an alumininium pole or taking a running jump into a receptacle consisting of sand, fag ends and cat poo.

And the rugby pitch was similarly afflicted. It was, and still is as far as I know, invisible from the school buildings, and as such was used by the local populace to exercise their dogs. It was offputting, to say the least, when any form of rugby tackle invariably ended with the protagonists smelling like the local sewage works and the teacher protesting about the pong.

What didn't help was being excluded from the informal ball games. I'd demonstrated on the playing field that I had little ball-hand-eye co-ordination, and being the youngest and shortest kid in the year didn't help with being a runner. Who in their right mind would want me to play in their team? And who wants to be friends with the class swot anyway?

Things improved later in my school career when I was one of a few who were permitted to play badminton instead of soccer. Hooray! Something I actually enjoyed, despite the derisory and homophobic remarks made by the teacher and most of the rest of the class. Nevertheless, I've never been the right shape to play badminton well, so it was simply a means to while away the compulsory 40 minutes per week of physical activity.

Who knows? I might have been keen on something athletic if it hadn't been for the active stifling of my enthusiasm by a whole succession of teachers who were only interested in encouraging the lads who were already in the school teams.


Anonymous said...

I would have thought the only sport ggoats go in for is mountain climbing - unfortunately not taught at school.

My school PE experience was similar, the only lasting memory being chased around the gym by the PE teacher who had a bat / bollard / any other available long hard object in his hand.

My only sporting ambitions are now limited to the aforementioned rock climbing. There are thankfully plenty of mountains round here to climb should time allow.

Anonymous said...

I happened upon your blog and usually don't resond to these but here it goes. I am a physical education teacher. I am not a gym teacher. Unfortunately your experience was with the later. Not all PE teachers are like the one you had! I make it a very knowledge based class, learning about movement, fitness, lifestyle habits and in there sport have to be offered as options. Please be careful when posting put downs of peoples jobs. I take what I do seriously and much different from what your teacher did. You also need to remember that you were a kid, and your memory of that experience may not be totally correct. Some kids that I teach currently will comment that PE isn't really a subject or class. Kids don't always soak in what is in front of them. Sometimes they listen to not always true situations like yours and maybe their parents, and develop their own altered opinion. Think about what you may be spreading!

Mme Cyn said...

Anon-- Well, I'm happy to see that PE has changed, at least where you are. The only things I was actually 'taught' in PE -- that is, told the rules and given guidance to improve my performance -- were tennis and archery. This was in the US in the 70s, and my gym teacher was also the tennis coach, so she was always looking for potential to beef up her squad.

I also hated phys ed. I remember in Junior High school (when I was about 12) that we had 'public' showers and there was only one 'private' shower, which was reserved for girls who were having their monthly periods. And they had to announce it with "dot" instead of 'here' when they were called at roll call, or they were written up for using the private shower. Absolutely humiliating. 'D's in PE kept me off the honor roll in high school, too. I'm glad you're a concientious teacher, Anon, and I do hope the field has changed. With one exception, all my PE teachers were monsters to anyone who was not tough and/or a natural athlete. Thank god I got into dance instead.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask what happened to bring this on. Did someone threaten you with gym membership for christmas?

Mme Cyn said...

Ha ha, MamaDuck! Perhaps he was feeling that he overindulged at the various Groaning Boards this Christmas and was feeling out of shape? (although he'd be the first to tell you "Round IS a shape")

Gnomad said...

I can fully sympathise with GG, having had much the same experience with PE in school. I have never had any talent for, or inclination towards, physical sports. I knew nothing about the rules of the various games that everyone else seemed to know instinctively.

I struggled with the physical training in the British Army too, but that was done much more professionally than at my old school and with GOOD humoured banter: as my PTI once said to me "You know Gnomad, I regard you as one of my successes" "Really corporal?" I enquired "Yes" said he "If I can get a fat knacker like you through the Combat Fitness Test I can do it for anyone" Woohoo! Passed!

That said I also have a lot of sympathy for what Anon has to say, too. I am a teacher myself, middle-aged now and running to fat (the only running I do) but the PE teachers who are my colleagues at school are in a completely different mould to the ones who tortured me in my youth some 30 years ago.

Having asked for some advice on getting less unfit, the PE teachers spent much of their own time taking me through the operation of the various machines in the gym, working out a fitness routine for me, appropriate to my age, weight and (lack of) fitness level, giving me some sound dietary advice and generally being very helpful. I have seen them demonstrating the same care, courtesy and professionalism with our students at school.

In my experience the current style of PE teachers is a very professional, inteligent and caring bunch of people. I am happy to say that the old disgruntled, failed 'professional' sportsman reluctantly making a living by getting paid to play sports with schoolkids that we had to endure in the seventies is now very much a thing of the past.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't see the point of netball and loathed the hard sticks, freezing mud and purple thighed purgatory of hockey. Being easily muddled by lots of excited co-ordinated people hurtling around urging me to DO something may also have had something to do with my attitude!

In my third year we got a new PE teacher who was into gymnastics and dance drama. She soon had us in inter-school competitions, and participating in a national dance drama festival at the Albert Hall. Great fun! No doubt she did Games too, but I didn't, so I wouldn't know. I was very disappointed when she left,and the new PE teacher's reaction to our hopes of continuing was downright snide. Cowbag. Probably didn't know a trampette from a trombone.

Fortunately, when I got to sixth form, I found that there was a dance drama specialist running an after-school club. She was an original - Laban trained - and had us working to classical music, nursery tunes and Pink Floyd. She was still there when my youngest brother, twelve years my junior, moved up, and he just loved her. I wish I could have seen him in a show.

I also have recollections of two secondary school Maths teachers who had probably gone into teaching after the Second World War, because that was where the jobs were. One was so old, gentle, and anxiously past it that we felt sorry for him, and the other was just scary. Neither should have been allowed (or obliged) to set foot in a classroom. I also had two excellent French teachers, for whom I had enough liking and respect to do some actual work; and a third, a bone idle faker who tried to get by on being friendly and making jokes. Hell, if we have to go to school, they have to teach us something to make it up to us! Inspiring history teachers and stimulating English teachers. Pity the poor soul who had to drag me through GCSE Geography - Now, of course, I'm fascinated by weather, climate, geology, flora and fauna, the whole thing!

I sympathise with the PE teacher, but it's a fact that a good teacher can make a subject, if not fascinating, at least rewarding, and a bad one can destroy it. Some people shouldn't teach, but at our sixth form, in the late seventies, the attitude was that the cream went to university, the pretty good went to poly, and if you weren't up to those, well, there was always teaching. This from teachers. Nyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaarghghghg!

Mind you, they had no idea about careers advice anyway. Hell of a blind spot for a town sixth form college staffed with excellent teachers who prepared us to excel in - ooh... all sorts really..... if we only knew what was out there.. Times have changed!

Fortunately, there is life after we leave school, so I've discovered rocks and such, and the motivation to pursue a language to fluency, and GG's learnt to climb the rigging, swab the decks, park the boat, and swim with the fishes. (Just don't try this at home, ok?) ;)

I really must STOP!

G'night GG!

Anonymous said...

But before I go..

Chinese Medicine

A chap once got slightly hysterical
As his proportions approached hemispherical.
Doctors said, ‘First sedate him,
And then we’ll deflate him,
By means of this small valve umberical.

I have no excuse.


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