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Your best ability is adaptability

A weak attempt at a gymnastics floor routine, from our recent PE specialism week.

As I mentioned in a post 2 months ago, I have been completing my first few weeks as a PGCE student at the University of Huddersfield, where I am training to be a Secondary Physical Education teacher. As it is now the beginning of half-term, meaning a week off from teaching practice and lectures, this is a great time to reflect on the last few weeks and highlight some key lessons (pun intended) I have learned in this time.

The role of a teacher

"A good teacher does not teach facts, he or she teaches enthusiasm, open-mindedness and values" - Gian-Carlo Rota: Indiscrete Thoughts.

My strength coming into the course is my background in sports science and coaching - both from a practical and education point of view, which is a huge advantage for a) teaching the theory side of PE, expecially GCSE and A-Level, and b) adapting to teach PE lessons at year 7, 8 & 9.

However, it is not enough to just put together lessons that cover the material outlined in the curriculum. What I must do is display an enthusiastic and infectious energy for PE, with the aim of inspiring students. One of the aims of a thorough physical education is to promote a lifelong involvement in sports and physical activity. On my first day in the course, I was speaking with 2 other trainees, and I mentioned that my subject was PE (their subjects were computers and drama). Their response was "I hated PE in school!" This leads me to believe that they do not have a positive relationship with physical activity, which was a great reminder as I entered the course of my ultimate goal as a PE teacher, which I also wrote about previously:

When I look at athletes - youth, amateur or professional - it is quite clear who has had a good physical education and who has not. Athletes with a greater physical literacy are more adaptable and have a wider variety of movement solutions for any task they are faced with. Looking at the general population, a large percentage of people are overweight. Having a good physical education can set people up for a lifelong involvement in sport (recreational or competitive) and physical activity, and will enable them to live a healthy and active life. This is something I am passionate about - setting people up to succeed, however that is defined for them. I aim to cultivate competitors, in whatever competition they choose to compete in, however it is defined for them.

I have observed many other teachers in a variety of subjects, and all are very knowledgable in their subjects, but above all, they display their enthusiasm in their own way.

Behaviour management strategies

"A person who cannot control his words shows that he cannot control himself, and is unworthy of respect." - Robert Greene: The 48 Laws of Power

My biggest reflection from my first week of teaching practice and observation was incredibly profound. Coming from a coaching background across a lot of team sports in particular, the coach raising their voice or expressing anger or attempting to govern by fear is (or has been) widely accepted. Not saying this is right or wrong, its just my experience. Observing a number of teachers in a variety of subjects left me initially confused but upon some deep reflection on my own experiences and on some of the things Brene Brown has wrote about in her work, I became much more clear about the kind of teacher I want to be and what I value.

Looking back on 2 different classes in particular, there were a number of students who were being disruptive - talking to others, not doing what the teacher asked etc. - but the teacher never expressed any kind of frustration, not even a sigh. Instead the teacher continued to calmly ask the students to do what they were told, and continued through the content of the lesson in an undisturbed manner, despite some students continuing to be disruptive.

Initially, I thought that the teacher did not have control of the classroom, and the students were doing as they pleased. However, on further and deeper reflection, the teachers got through all of the content they wanted to get through, and anytime they asked a question to check for understaning, there were at least 50% of the class who put their hand up, including the disruptive students, indicative of a safe environment where students have a safe space to fail. This can only occur with an empathetic teacher, Not a teacher who bullies, shames or ridicules students to get them to behave in a certain way,

A clear lesson: governing by fear through anger, intimidation or ridicule is not a good tactic to control the class. It is an awful tactic. It may work in the short-term, but it completely erodes psychological safety, and this is going to severely harm the learning environment of the class. Not getting angry is a superpower as a teacher, and this is something I am now acutely aware of. A key step in my own mind has been to refine expectations. Anger arises when their is a mismatch between expectations and reality. If I expect to have a perfectly behaved class, and the lesson runs exactly how I have planned it, then I am not living in the real world. Perfection is not a realistic aim, but progress is. Even the best lessons will have areas to improve or elements that aren't planned for, but thats the fun of it. Your best ability is adaptability. To quote one of the PE teachers in the department of the school that I've been placed in:

"Thats what we do. Adapt and Overcome."


"A small act is worth a million thoughts." - Ai Weiwei (via James Clear's newsletter, again)

It was a big decision to return to full time education having been in full time employment for 5 years and just after having completed my MSc. I am 6 weeks into my PGCE now (3 weeks university classes + 3 weeks teaching practice), and I have had no regrets so far. The teaching practice has been a lot of fun, and I have been challenging myself to use gamification at every opportunity, to ensure that students are using their mind as well as their muscles. I have been fortunate to join a great PE department with a wide range of skills, and a lot of space indoors and outdoors for a wide range of activities. The key thing for me - I am learning and getting better everyday.

I am incredibly fortunate that I was accepted onto my PGCE course, as I applied very late. The time between applying and starting the course was less than 2 months, and this is not something I would recommend others to do, but its even more reason to be grateful for my place. I have had thoughts about becoming a PE teacher for the last 3 years, but they were just that, thoughts. Until I took the action to apply for a course, and attend the interview and fill in all the paperwork, everything was a thought, or a hope, or a wish. But having taken the action, I am now exploring a new path in my own career and looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.


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