Qualifiers…….are right up there for me as one of the top three worse things to hear in conversation (hate-filled statements and lazy excuses are the two others). Although I detest qualifiers in conversations, I am used to hearing them on a regular basis, because I’m a person of color and a woman. Recently, however, I had the opportunity to hear another qualifier used in a conversation with me at work.
Other person: Shana, so we are getting around the time of the year that we talk about next year. What are your plans and ideas? Do you want to stay in your current role or do something else?
Me: I’m not sure. I enjoy educational technology and helping people use technology purposefully, but I miss working with students directly. Luckily with the Collaboratory, I get the opportunity to combine both of my interest working with kids and educational technology.
Other person: Yes, the Collaboratory is amazing. Students are engaged and really enjoying learning. You really took your idea and created an awesome space that is safe for students, they are engaging with technology and collaboratively learning. “You are such a hard worker, very smart, and the lesson planning and instructional strategies you’ve been able to incorporate across all content areas in the Collaboratory are as good if not better than some instructional coaches who work in our district. And that’s amazing because you were just a health and PE teacher.”
I physically shifted in my chair and a lump gathered in my throat. Wow. That last sentence cut so deep, that I had almost forgotten all of the previous words spoken. This person doesn’t really appreciate me or value my work if he has to use a qualifier to undercut compliments. So really, all you see me as is “just a health and PE teacher.”
I’ve been the technology coordinator in my building for almost two years now. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been successful as a member of the EdTech world during that time frame and been recognized within my district, state, and even nationally. Apparently still with an instructional technology specialist degree, awards, and EdTech certifications, this person cannot see past my two scarlet letters: PE.
I’m a passionate person, but there are two things I have been passionate about for a very long time: working with kids and health and fitness. Physical education seemed like a wonderful and natural meshing of those two deep passions. But why am I still treated like the ugly step-sister because of it? Why am I not seen as the same type of professional as a math or language arts teacher? Why is my ability to effectively educate questioned or seen as less than other educators? Why am I considered not as intelligent or bright as core content area teachers?
I believe in any content area there are bad, good, and great teachers. Yes, there are bad physical education teachers, but there are also bad math, science, and language arts teachers too. Unfortunately, physical educators seem to regularly get a bad rap. As a physical educator, I have been able to make remarkable connections with my students. I passionately remind my students during the first few days of class if they don’t know how to make their bodywork at optimal levels there is no way they can be an engineer, chef, architect, or scientist. I always believe my subject is just as important as core content because I tell students you can’t be a good mathematician if your brain and body are not fueled properly. You cannot invent the next big thing if you are in a hospital bed because of poor health choices.
In addition to the connections in the classroom, I have been able to witness and impact the maturation process and growth of girls I’ve had the opportunity to coach. There is an amazing connection between students and good coaches/physical education teachers. We are older siblings, school parents, mentors, and advocates for our students. Many good physical education teachers and coaches I feel are greatly undervalued, disrespected, and not appreciated by their colleagues and superiors. However, most are so deeply invested in assisting kids, they continue their often thankless work.
Recently, I accepted a position to return to the physical education classroom outside of my current school and district. I’m really excited to return to the classroom and blessed to have the chance to return to my two biggest passions which are fitness and health and impacting kids. I’m also excited to work at a place where my skills and abilities are valued and appreciated. I want to work where being a physical education teacher is not used as a qualifier to devalue me but instead as an amplifier to show gratitude. Although the letters PE are not always valued or respected, I proudly wear those scarlet letters on my chest into my new position.