A Response to ‘Dear PE teachers’

Yesterday, my controversial blog post, Dear PE Teachers received 3568 views. Considering that my previous ‘Best Views Ever’ was 1018 the day before for the same post, and prior to that 340-something, this was big news.

In light of the  baffling array of responses to the blog I feel compelled to elucidate people’s understanding of the views espoused in the post, by explaining myself. I realise that such an act may be detrimental to the potency of the post’s original message, and I am not unaware of the pomposity of commenting explicitly on my own writing. Just so you know.

I will begin by giving some contextual information regarding the post, which I will follow up with a defence of the use of stereotypes and a response to the view that I present PE teachers as a mindless bunch of goons, incapable of reading and study. Finally, because I lack the maturity to ignore them, I’ll respond to specific comments made by specific individuals.

So, the blog was originally an exercise in rhetoric and little else. Having read Sam Leith’s ‘You Talkin to Me?’, I wanted to write a rhetorical speech that used a classical rhetorical structure as follows:

  1. Exordium
  2. Narratio
  3. Division
  4. Proof
  5. Refutation
  6. Peroration

Primarily, for me, the post was an exercise in speech writing. And speak it I did. Many people are keen to see the post as an act of cowardice: the pestilent peddlings of a weedy English Teacher hiding in the ‘closet warm’ of his classroom, keen to ridicule PE teachers, but too scared to look any of them in the eye and say the things he feels. These people couldn’t be further from the truth. Two days after the blog was written, at a PE Teach Meet organised by @PEClayman, I lugged my 95kg torso (I’m not weedy)  to the front of a hall containing 40 PE teachers, looked them all dead in the eye, and delivered the speech. Whilst some were sceptical of some aspects of the speech, on the whole, the response from these people was positive.

Stereotypes

In his book, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman states that, ‘some stereotypes are perniciously wrong, and hostile stereotyping can have dreadful consequences, but the psychological facts cannot be avoided: stereotypes, both correct and false, are how we think of categories.’ He also goes on to say, ‘It is useful to remember…that neglecting valid stereotypes inevitably results in suboptimal judgements.’ I concede that my blog post does exploit one stereotype: the idea that working class boys love sport. Of course, I understand that this isn’t the case. I know that not every single boy whom can be categorised, according to any number of variables, as ‘white and working class’ loves sport. I’m not an idiot. And if I did believe that students could be so easily categorised I wouldn’t be the brilliant teacher that I am.  And yet, I find it hard to believe that anybody can deny the stereotype is an established one and one that reflects some truth: Generally, lots of working class boys love PE. More so than middle-class students and more so than girls. Generally.  

Furthermore, when one considers the context of the post-the fact that it was a rhetorical speech-which of the following do you consider more effective?

You only have to walk through a school playground to realise that the thing that most working-class boys love, more than anything else, is sport

You only have to walk through a school playground to realise that the thing some working class boys love, more than anything else, is sport. In order to avoid stereotyping I will now read a list of every single boy who replied to the question ‘Are you working class and do you love sport’ in the affirmative. This will take a while. Right, starting with ‘A’: Adams, John, Berkshire; Adams, Sam, Kent. Adams, Tony, Manchester….

Another problem pertaining to stereotypes is my alleged presentation of PE teachers as a sub-class of teachers who lack the intellectual capacity that other teachers have in abundance. Here’s a selection of comments I’ve come across in response to the post:

he is ignorng PE teachers get a degree too so they read books, etc just as he does!!!!!

I teach PE and I infact love books, this article makes me fume. 

It is profoundly offensive to suggest those who teach PE don’t read

And my favourite:

I haven’t read something so discriminatory in a long time. You are making sweeping generalisations which, frankly, are an insult to me and my colleagues. Have you ever left your classroom and visited the PE faculty in your school? If you did, you would probably see our literacy boards, our boards which show what all the PE are currently reading, and if you dare look in a PE exercise book you would see that we develop writing in prose with strategies that have been developed alongside our English colleagues.

I’ve just re-read the post again, and I cannot find a single sentence in which I say PE teachers don’t read. Nor do I say PE teachers don’t have degrees. Nor do I make any reference to the quality of marking in PE teachers books. All this is a classic example of the Straw Man Fallacy in action. People are arguing a case that isn’t relevant. I think the following comment might be responsible for the misinterpretations by all the writers of the comments above:

If you don’t read yourself, start and start now. It’s never too late. 

This is what’s got people confused. They’re taking my suggestion that some PE teachers don’t read (just as I’d confidently assert that some English teachers don’t read) and reading it as: ‘PE teachers don’t read.’ My guess is that the teachers who have chosen to read it this way are actually revealing lots about their own insecurities-and unhappiness- as PE teachers in an education system where PE teachers are often seen as separate from other teachers.

Responses to Individual Comments:

Comment from ‘Rob’:

I haven’t read something so discriminatory in a long time. You are making sweeping generalisations which, frankly, are an insult to me and my colleagues. Have you ever left your classroom and visited the PE faculty in your school? If you did, you would probably see our literacy boards, our boards which show what all the PE are currently reading, and if you dare look in a PE exercise book you would see that we develop writing in prose with strategies that have been developed alongside our English colleagues….

Do you ask for effort grades from other subjects each time you put on an enrichment activity? Is your classroom adorned with images of Mo Farah or Jess Enness inspiring a nation on Super Saturday? Think about the inspirational leadership shown by David Beckham in an England shirt; or his last minute goal against Greece which sent a nation of fans into rapture. Perhaps that might never of occurred if he hadn’t been allowed to play for his team because he wasn’t very good at English?

Dear colleague, I’m sorry for insulting you. Truly. And in answer to your questions, yes, I have left my classroom and yes, I have visited the PE faculty in my school. I didn’t see any Literacy boards at my school, but I concede that I would do were I to have the pleasure of  your generous hospitality at a visit to your school. Your comment, ‘if you dare look in a PE exercise book’ has touched a nerve with me. It’s quite hostile. You should work on that.

I like your use of Epiplexis in the second paragraph. Very impressive. In answer to your questions:

  1. I don’t ask for effort grades from students every time they put on an enrichment activity, but I do ban students from attending trips if they are not behaving in other subjects.
  2. I don’t have images of Mo Farah or Jess Ennis adorning my classroom walls. This is because I am an English teacher and as such, I prefer to have posters about nouns and verbs in my classroom. That’s not to say I don’t discuss sport with my students.  I have studied extracts of Farah’s autobiography with two of my classes though. 
  3. With regards to David Beckham…now you’re talkin’ bollocks. 

 

Comment from ‘Jon Harrison.’:

The key to a student accessing any subject isnt reward and punishment. Thats how you deal with dogs. It is making subjects accessible. And the key to that is communication. If the author as an English teacher has lost sight of that then it reflects far worse on them than on any student. Stop passing the buck, stop waving a white flag, and hopefully you will be SLT in no time.

Firstly, I’d argue that reward and punishment is quite an effective way of dealing with people. In fact, most civilised countries have a systematic process of using these concepts to manage behaviour. It’s called ‘The Law.’ You should read up on it. As for me ‘passing the buck’, please, please, please can you tell me where you got this idea? Seriously. This staggers me.

I should also point out, that I’m not waving a white flag, nor am I planning to. Which, considering the grammatical errors that litter your comments, is probably for the best. 

Comment from ‘PE Teacher’:

Instead of moaning about PE teachers doing a major part of your job for you, do something about it yourself.

I do not hear PE teachers asking English and Science teachers to help with engaging the less able or willing pupils in Pe. No, we look for ways to engage them as much as possible. Might be an idea for you to try that too.

Shut up. 

 

A final Word

I want to reiterate a few points:

  • I do not advocate removing disengaged pupils from PE lessons; I advocate the removal of disengaged pupils from school sports teams

 

  • My vision for the removal of disengaged pupils is not a cold-hearted approach. I envisage a formalised process of reintegration into school teams for disengaged pupils through joint coaching by teachers from a range of subject disciplines. Imagine the following:

 

The Captain of the school football team is removed from the team because he’s been on behaviour report in English and Science and he is not making any changes to his disruptive behaviour. He is called into the PE office and told that he has been removed from the team. A discussion then takes place in which the PE teacher begins, “So, we need to come up with a plan to get you back into that team because we need you. How can I-and your English and Science teachers- help you to improve your behaviour and get you back in the team where you belong? What are you finding difficult? “

 

  • I do not hate PE teachers. I think some PE teachers are great. Just as I think some teachers are great.

 

  • I think PE teachers have more power than ever before in raising the GCSE attainment levels of working class boys.
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Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

11 thoughts on “A Response to ‘Dear PE teachers’”

  1. I am a PE teacher, and one who loved your original post. It made me appreciate the power that my unique subject can wield over certain students, particularly working class boys.

    Yes, you made some sweeping generalisations that my fiancée, a fellow PE teacher, found quite controversial, but I agree with you in that stereotypes come from somewhere, and there does tend to be some truth in them.

    Regarding your approach to school sport sanctions, this is something that made me think long and hard about my practice. Is it a coincidence that 3 of the most talented sports performers in year 7 have been suspended from school at least once in the first term? What have i done about this? Nothing? Am i still pandering to thee ego by selecting them for “the good of the team”. Something for me to think about.

    Thank you for writing, and for being controversial, and for showing your support to my subject.

    Twitter: @leea1990

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You seem to not understand that teaching is mostly about building community and helping young people turn out to be decent people. That’s why most of us in the profession don’t demean other subjects even when we really believe ours has much more to teach students. We realize that holding ourselves and our views up above our colleagues interferes with the actual goals of education. If you have not ever recognized this or have forgotten it, you should leave the profession. You seem like you are intelligent, or at least believe you are. Why not go into academia? That way you can keep your beliefs and not have to put up with your “inferiors” Seriously. students don’t need teachers who lack an appreciation of the different ways in which they can succeed in life. Move on.

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  3. Read both posts, and read them again. As a PE teacher who has also taught English, I have one recurring question that keeps playing through my head.

    We have Boy A who isn’t technically gifted with ‘academic’ subjects, yet somehow is flourishing at PE/Games. The PE staff have created an environment to inspire this child, he is motivated and engaged.

    The same child is ‘less’ inspired by his Academic subjects, whatever they may be.

    Your proposal is to curtail his PE/Games involvement, by reducing his participation for School representation.

    The question in my head – shouldn’t you look at your own teaching environment (and its failings) rather than penalise those PE teachers who are successfully creating a place for this ‘low-achieving’ child to thrive?

    We are doing our bit! Why should our wings be clipped to let ‘you’ fly?

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    1. Of course, teachers need to be accountable. However, I’d suggest that in the case where a pupil is ‘engaged’ in PE, but not so in all his academic subjects, it’s the pupil’s attitude towards academic subjects that needs adapting, not the teaching. Of course, teachers have a role to play in changing this student’s attitude, but they aren’t fully accountable. Furthermore, I must reiterate: I am not calling for the curtailment of participation in core PE lessons. Rather, I’m saying that kids who are underperforming in academic subjects due to disruptive behaviour shouldn’t be in school teams.

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  4. So would you be willing to concede that an underperforming or disengaged PE/Games performer, now not represent his school in the Primary Maths Challenge, School Play where he has a key role, remove himself from any orchestra or not enter a science challenge or Art exhibition?

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