Written by Catherine Himberg
The ideal outcome of physical education is a physically educated person, which includes being active and fit. I believe most physical educators, their university professors, and the public would agree with this statement, and it is expressed through the NASPE standards. The arguments start when the “how” questions are asked. How do we guide students in the process of becoming physically active and healthy for life? How do we help students develop the skills, knowledge and dispositions they need to enjoy physical activity now and when they exit our programs? How do we help students become physically educated people who have the skills, know the “stuff”, do participate regularly in physical activity, are physically fit, and value physical activity for its contributions to health, well-being, and enjoyment of life?
Hundreds of articles, books, presentations, and workshops, have answered these “HOWs” in different ways. In this editorial I present my point of view on one aspect of the “how” that I believe is crucial: being a positive role model by being physically active and fit according to health-related criteria. I present this view not only as an educator with some K-12 teaching experience, but also as a parent and advocate for quality physical education. I will end with a few ideas for how we can avoid making excuses and hold each other accountable for being physically active and fit teachers, teacher educators, and future teachers.
Being a positive role model means different things to different people, but for physical educators it must include modeling the virtues that are vital to developing and staying with a healthy, active lifestyle. Schools and teachers have a tougher job than ever helping students develop desirable human virtues because divorce and two working parents result in little time for the important details of raising children. Virtues such as honesty, integrity, commitment, diligence, dignity, enthusiasm, excellence, moderation, perseverance, reliability, respect, responsibility, self-control, sincerity, and truthfulness are not always being taught at home. Physical education is an ideal place to teach these virtues, and many of them are crucial pieces that help make up the physically-educated-person puzzle.
Before I go on, it might be a good idea that I admit to some of my biases:
It is the responsibility of all teachers, regardless of the subject they teach, to be good role models for their students.
There is NO excuse for being a physical educator who does not participate regularly in physical activity, sufficient for development of health-related fitness (modified, of course, for injuries and disabilities). Too many people focus on what they cannot do rather than what they can do. If my student who is a paraplegic can meet health-related fitness criteria and be a skilled wakeboarding athlete, I can get out and go for a brisk walk even if it rains. If my student who is morbidly obese can face this fact and start the journey toward lifelong activity and fitness, I can go to yoga when my back is tired. No excuses accepted!
Being active and fit does not automatically make you a good teacher. I know fit and active physical education teachers that I would not want to teach my children. Likewise, I know overweight, inactive teachers who teach quality, standards-based physical education. If I hadto choose, I would pick the latter over the fit and active drill sergeant-types for my children. Developmentally appropriate practices trump all, but why should we have to choose the lesser of two “evils”?
I believe it is tougher for the “boot-camp” style fitness freak to become a teacher of quality physical education than it would be for the overweight and unfit physical education teacher, who is otherwise committed to quality physical education, to become active and fit.
Fitness development is only one of six NASPE standards, and I do not believe it is the one to focus on in our classes if we want to help children become active for life. We are not personal trainers. We are educators. Our classes should be teaching students how to develop the self-management skills and supporting virtues that help them develop activity habits that last. We should build confidence in students’ abilities, and we should make sure physical education and activity are enjoyable, meaningful experiences. The hope is that lifelong physical activity habits that promote fitness will be the result. It’s a little like the “teaching the hungry how to fish instead of just feeding them fish” argument…
Too many physical education professionals focus (for themselves) on one or two components of physical fitness and leave out the rest. The definition of health-related physical fitness includes cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition. Physical education professionals should be able to find the specific age-related standards for themselves, and they should possess the knowledge to be able to modify these as needed if injuries or disabilities are present. They should be able to do this for each of the fitness components.
Now that you are aware of some of my biases you can read on with a smile, knowing that we come from the same “place”, or curiously dissect all that I have to say to formulate your argument against my point of view. As long as you read on and discuss this with at least one colleague, you will have made the hours I spent writing this editorial worthwhile.
So let me present to you my 4 reasons why physical education teachers must be active and fit: