I just ran into one of my old gym teachers at the grocery store – and by old, I mean 35 years ago. I always liked this man, which is unusual because I absolutely hated gym class. Introverted and shy kids are just not cut out for the cruel, unsympathetic and extroverted nature of gym class, and it always angered me that kids like myself got no support in this area – except from this man who remembers me and who I am now on a first name basis with.
Shy, reserved and unpopular kids are not picked during the horrible ritual of fellow classmates choosing their team mates. I, and other sports rejects who even I perceived to be athletic losers, were always last resorts. Comments were often made along the lines of “We don’t want him on our team,” like I was some kind of leper. It was humiliating, and does not give someone who is already non-athletic any love for sports.
Why is it that students who need help in math or science can easily get it, but in gym class you are just thrown in with the wolves, unprepared, to an area where you have no skill or acumen? Perhaps it’s a good introduction to the realities of an often indifferent world, but I hated it and resented being forced to participate in something I detested. The assumption seemed to be that all kids engage in rough-and-tumble activity, and have a natural ability to climb ropes or catch a ball. Not so. If we were playing baseball, I would go to an area of the field where I was pretty sure no ball would ever come to, and this suited my teammates just fine. At least if I had had some choice of sport it might have been tolerable, but football and dodge ball and the like just made kids like me targets for bullies – literally. The equivalent would have been me making fun of some of these jocks for being intellectual morons in the classroom, but that would be unacceptable and not tolerated. So why weren’t they reprimanded for making fun of me on the sports field?
Enter my old teacher. I don’t remember the details as I have blocked much of this trauma from my mind, but I do know he made efforts to protect me and make me feel welcome and normal. I felt safe from the bullies with him around. He understood that kids like me needed some special attention. More leaders like him might have made me more comfortable with sports, and done wonders for my self-esteem. Is it any wonder I remember him with fondness, as opposed to cringe in shame when I recall any other gym teacher – some of whom were little better than the bullies who taunted me?
I’d like to think that the horrors of gym class do not still exist for introverted kids, and that teachers nowadays are more sensitive to kids who need a little help to feel included and secure. In my opinion, it’s part of their job that sure didn’t get exercised when I was growing up.
Now excuse me while I go watch the Olympic badminton finals.