I am a PE teacher, or a Phys Ed teacher. Sometimes people call me a Gym teacher. I am not a big fan of that description. I feel like it refers to the location of the class, rather than an appropriate description of my particular subject. I try not to get too offended!
I am a female PE teacher. The distinction made between male and female is often important in PE. It is more ideal if students are able to have influence from both male and female PE teachers. Particularly the female students, as often sports and fitness role models are male so a female influence is good. I don’t like that there has to be such a distinction between male and female in this regard but it seems to be unavoidable.
Today in my grade 9 PE class, the students played basketball. In order to encourage participation by everyone, I make small teams of 3-4 players each. There are two half-court games happening at one time. In this way, it makes it more likely that more players will be involved if there are fewer players per team. The students played the first game. After the first game, we paused and “discussed” how they should create space on the court to get open and make shots. After a short discussion, the students went on to their second game. In this game, I noticed that there were two teams playing where 2 girls on one team and one girl on the other team were hardly moving during the game. They stood towards the outside of the court and waited for an occasional pass from their teammates. The teammates were running around the court and were always getting the ball. After watching for awhile, I decided that their teams were too big because they weren’t working well together. I also added a rule into the game that both teams must pass to ALL fellow team members before they can take a shot on the basket. This seemed to work a little bit to get the teams to work better together but it was still not going well. Eventually, I had to stop the games and allow the girls to play against each other on one side of the gym and the boys to play against each other on the other side of the gym. In these games, almost everyone was participating and involved.
There are a variety of methods that I use to ensure all students in every class can participate. One method is to play small games. If there are teams of 3 then all the members of the team are required to play or it won’t work. If there are teams of 6 or more, it is easy for a team member to stay on the outside of the play and never be involved. Another method I use is modification of games. For example, no dribbling in basketball, only passing, or 2-3 passes are required in volleyball or the team cannot score a point. The students will often groan and complain when I explain the rules for a game because they are forced to modify it but it does ensure that more students are involved.
Another way that all students will hopefully feel included is through the use of appropriate language. The students will often ask about “girl” pushups. I try not to entertain the distinction between “girl” and “boy” pushups and refer to them as full pushup and “modified” pushups. The difference being that what the students are calling “girl” or what I call “modified” pushups are ones that are done with their knees down, a slight modification allowing those students will less upper body strength to do more pushups. I have no problem with modified pushups and I allow the students to decide which kind of pushups they would like to do but I do make the distinction in the terms used to describe it. I also do not like hearing statements, such as “throw/run/kick like a girl”, that make a general reference or stereotype of one gender or the other.
In class, I will discuss with my students that there are many differences between males and females but that we do not need to make these into stereotypes, particularly negative ones. For example, it is common knowledge that a girl and boy of the same age will have different levels of strength. Boys tend to have more muscle mass and strength due to the presence of more testosterone in their bodies than girls at the same age. This does not mean that all boys are stronger than all girls or that girls are weak. Girls and boys are different in many ways and that is okay. Whatever differences there are should be valued and respected without negative stereotypes.