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An Open Letter To My Kid's Gym Teacher


gym class.jpg

Dear Coach,

We love you. We do. You're a great gym teacher. Our kid loves the games you organize and the fun things you've done in the name of physical education. However, something's been troubling me for a while now, so I have to get this off of my chest.

About a year and a half ago, our daughter announced to her father and me that she wanted to do a pull up. I don't know what inspired her, but she often comes up with random goals or things she wants to do that she currently is unable to. We went through this with blowing a bubble with her gum, or getting 5 hops in a row with a jump rope. Here was her latest, in mid-second grade: a pull up.

Let me digress for a second here, our kid is stubborn and headstrong. She's also impatient. She gets an idea that she's going to do something a certain way, and her frustration comes out when it doesn't happen as imagined both easily and instantly. We spend a lot of time talking about controlling our anger and frustration when things don't go our way. She decides she's going to do something, she decides how she's going to go about it, and then the heck with the rest of you yahoos trying to help because she doesn't need your help.

Being parents who want to encourage our kid to set goals and then make a plan to reach said goal, we set up the pull up bar over the door to the spare room. We set a chair under the bar for her to stand up on to reach the bar, and her dad spent a while trying to explain to her how one might do assisted pull ups in order to build up to doing one solo. Unsurprisingly, she rejected her dad's suggestion regarding the assisted pull ups. What she really wanted to do was to start in the already up position, come down and then pull her self back up. It was a miserable failure. See above re: headstrong and impatient.

Here's something else you should know: my kid is awesome, she's active, she can do most of the things she wants to do like run and jump and swim and (now) ride a bike, but she's overweight. I'm not saying this to make her self conscious or even to berate myself for teaching my kid bad eating habits (which I already do mentally all the time anyway). I'm saying it because it makes doing a pull up exceptionally difficult when you have to pull up extra weight. By the way, no, I'm not putting my kid "on a diet" because that's dooming her to a life of self conscious food choices. We're all making an effort to eat better, cut back on our sugar, include more vegetables in our diets and to move more. I want her to have a healthy body and to love her body, regardless. I don't want her focused on her weight, I want her focused on her health.

Anyway, my point for you, Coach, is this. After about a week of her trying to do a pull up every day after school, I finally said, "hey! Ask Coach B if she can maybe help you come up with a plan to build up to doing a pull up." I saw it as an opportunity for another adult my kid admires and respects to encourage her toward more physical activity.

The next day after school, I asked her if she had asked you, Coach, if you had helped her make a plan for doing that pull up. Her response, "Yeah, Coach B just told me to 'just keep exercising.'" I tried to hide my disappointment, but I'm sure the kid saw and heard it. She's sharp, and let's face it, I'm a heart on my sleeve kind of girl.

Coach, when an overweight girl, no wait, when ANY girl, or boy, asks you to help develop a specific fitness goal, "just keep exercising" is probably the worst advice you can give. Even if you don't believe she can do that pull up, make a plan with her. It can be simple, like "do 10 push ups and 10 sit ups every day to help build your strength." Or, if you want to really invest, it can be more interactive: "meet me after school and we'll run some laps and work on exercises to build your upper body strength."

Don't sell the kid short with, "Just keep exercising." What the heck does that mean, anyway? Do you know what she's already done? Because up until now she was just trying to pull herself up and then yelling at how stupid and dumb it was and why can't she do it and then feeling bad about herself. Give her some specific goals, give her some specific tasks. She respects and admires you: you're a woman who loves sports and exercise. She thinks you're pretty keen. She thinks you're keen enough to approach outside of her regular P.E. time and ask for advice. Don't blow it off. I'm not asking you to take her running every night at your house and work out in the gym with her Rocky training montage style, though that would be awesome.

I'm asking you--no, SHE is asking you for guidance. Isn't that your role?

When she was struggling with the format for the reading and writing testing style this year, her teacher told us specifically what could help her: to read at least 1 or 2 short stories per week and use the story wheel to retell us, hitting the high points. It was a specific, guided activity to help her develop her strengths and succeed.

You're her P.E. teacher. She asked you for guidance in your area of expertise. Don't take the easy way out. Write down some exercises that are appropriate for an 8 year old so she can learn to be strong, learn to love to exercise and move, and learn that you're invested in her health and growth as a student and a person. "Just keep exercising" would have been the equivalent of her teacher telling her to "just keep reading" when she was struggling with her written responses.

Ultimately, Coach, don't be that gym teacher. You know that one that all the comedy movies portray: the meathead jock who only cares about the other jocks in class to the detriment of the less athletic dweebs. Be the one who encourages your students, regardless of athletic inclination, to make fitness goals and then help make a plan to reach them. Don't just be a good teacher, be a great one. My kid already thinks you are, prove it to her.

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