May 21, 2013

Challenge Your Work First

I wasn’t originally going to post this, but after a few prompts from fellow teachers, I’ve decided to go ahead and share this with you.

Last week, there was a great email debate that took place within my work email’s inbox.

It’s Physical and Health Education Month here in Quebec, and there is a petition going around to see how many people believe that we should increase the minimum amount of PE minutes that our students get every week.

The petition was emailed out to the #physed teachers at my board as well as pretty much everyone else that works here (which I only found out after). The debate was focused around where these extra PE minutes would come from. Some believed that those extra minutes should be going to the Arts, since they get so few minutes in the first place (which is true). Others believed that those minutes had to go to PE, since PE is the key to making sure our students live healthy active lifestyles (which could also be true).

By the time I decided to throw my two cents in, there was already a lot of back and forth going on in the form of the dreaded “Reply All”. Here is what I had to say in response to this whole “Extra Minutes in PE” debate:

Before I get going here, let’s just all agree that Reply All is a terrible thing. Alas, here I am using it…

This petition has got me thinking.

On one hand, I feel as though increasing the number of minutes in Physical Education would be a wonderful thing. It would give my students additional time to work towards the educational outcomes I’m trying to help them reach (which, when you break it down, really isn’t all that overwhelming). Also, it would help create new/additional work for PE teachers in the province (which could help keep some serious talent here, and might even help me earn some extra money so I can buy that Roomba I want!)

On the other hand, I have to ask myself if I’m actually using the time I already have with my students as effectively as possible. Have I mapped out my curriculum so that I can touch on as many outcomes from the progressions of learning as possible? Are my lessons planned so that I am maximizing learning time in class (I say learning time instead activity time because, contrary to what the world seems to think, I am not a fitness instructor)? Am I teaching my students about adopting a healthy active lifestyle or am I shipping that competency (it really does feel like the least fun one) off to a classroom teacher (who probably doesn’t really know how to approach it either)? Am I pushing myself to find new approaches to get all of my students engaged in the learning process through thoughtful planning and innovative teaching?


Also, if they increase the time in PE, where will that time be coming from? Unless we extend the school day, we can’t add hours to PE without taking hours away from somewhere else. As PE teachers, we often complain about how nobody seems to care what it is that we are trying to achieve in our gyms, yet here we are not really caring about what other teachers are trying to achieve in their classrooms. I don’t think it would be very thoughtful of me to not take that into consideration. Sure we could work with classroom teachers to integrate their subject matter into our teaching- the ever-elusive cross-curricular approach – to compensate for their loss class time, but can’t we already be doing that now? How many of you are currently collaborating with classroom teachers to create such a project? If you are, I’d love to pick your brain, seeing that I have no idea how to get classroom teachers on board when it comes to that kind of project (then again, I’m still new here).

Adding PE time would be amazing, but are we really the saviours the public’s health has been waiting for? Will two hours of PE be enough to really, truly create an impact on Quebec’s increasing health issues related to sedentary lifestyles? Would we have a better chance at doing that by writing up proposals for comprehensive school health programs, where the entire school is dedicated to helping our students adopt and value healthy, active lifestyles? Do we need an increase in PE minutes to get that done?

I feel like I have a lot of soul searching to do before signing this petition. I need to make sure that I am actually doing the very best job I could possibly be doing with the minutes I currently have with my students before I go and ask for more. If I’m going to be honest here, I know I’m not. I could be doing more.

However, if I’m going to be really honest here, I already knew I wouldn’t sign this petition based on that last point (“CONSIDERING THAT very little time is allocated to the physical education of our students compared to those of other nations in the world”) being perhaps the whiniest thing I have ever heard (and I teach elementary PE.) We don’t teach the young people of other nations, we teach Quebec’s young people. Let’s focus on our improving our brand of PE before we go oooohing and aaaahing over others’.

I have very little faith in petitions. We might as well have a Facebook photo going around and asking for a million “likes” (please tell me there’s not a photo going around).

In the business world, when someone wants change, they don’t go getting everyone in the office to sign a petition and then bring it to their boss. That would probably just get them fired. No, the smart people, the ones who lead change, create a proposal, show their boss exactly what they would like to do, why it would benefit the company (or in our case, society and/or our school boards), and outline the action steps that would need to be completed to see the proposal through. That, and only that, might catch their boss’ attention (which isn’t all that much). But at least then the ball is rolling. A petition just says “We’re all angry, here’s proof, you do something about it”. Real professionals don’t complain about the flood, they build arks.

Regardless of what society currently thinks of teachers (and especially Physical Education teachers), we are professionals. And judging by how many people have already signed that petition, there are a (explicit word) ton of us. Imagine what we could do if we worked together on a plan that would a) make adding extra minutes of PE feasible, and b) showed exactly what we would do with those minutes when we got them.

Again, I apologize for the Reply All (especially to the music teachers – how’d you get in here?) I also apologize if I offended anyone: it’s not easy having the quality of your work challenged, which is why I always challenge my own first. I know I don’t know very many of you, and many of you don’t know me. I’m usually hidden away: I spend most of my time trying to have a positive impact on the lives that I somehow was entrusted to influence and I spend the rest of my time trying to lead the international physical education community (I’ve got a newsletter, podcast, blog, and everything! Golly!)

However, if any of you are truly offended, please don’t hit Reply All again. Send me an email. We can set a time to go grab a beer and talk about how we can change the world (well, at least the Quebec Physical Education world) together.

Have a great long weekend everyone!

Joey Feith

After I clicked “Send” and started receiving (mostly encouraging) emails from people who were not PE teachers, I realized that I had accidentally sent that message to close to 2000 people who work at my board (yikes!) As embarrassing as that may be, it’s time we let people know that today’s Physical Education teachers are not just here to roll out the ball. We’re here to teach, reflect on our teaching, and improve our teaching. We’re here to bring learning back to #physed (I swear that’s the last shirt plug! Edit: WE MADE IT TO 50!!! THE SHIRTS WILL SHIP!!!)

I know that the PE minutes debate is not one that is isolated to Quebec. It’s one that teachers all over the world are having on a daily basis. What did you think of my response? Did you like it? Did you think it was rubbish? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
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