This will be a post of a different nature. You’ll find none of the kindness I haughtily claim to foster in my writing, only a nasty attack on every PE teacher I’ve had, from first grade to high school. Most of them were nice people, and in my adult mind, I don’t blame them for anything. But the self-centered child part of me does, and he’s been silent about it for too long. So I’m letting him guest write today. Sorry about the obscenities – he doesn’t really understand what they mean!
TO ALL MY OLD GYM TEACHERS
Fuck you. Fuck all ten of you. You made two fifths of school absolute hell for me, for ten years.
You can’t imagine the anxiety of the night before a “PE day”. I’d bang my head against my bedroom wall, wailing, scaring my parents half to death. Nor can you imagine the clump of agony filling my chest on the bus ride the following morning. Nor the building panic as I staggered out of the dank locker room. Nor the death wish I uttered under my breath as my eyes adjusted to the cold brightness of the dreaded school gym.
Yeah, I hated PE. I was terrible at every sport, and worse, everyone could see me be terrible. It’s not that I was bullied for it; most of my classmates were nice enough to not bring attention to my clumsiness. But I felt so humiliated regardless. How could I uphold a shred of dignity among my peers, after they had all seen me fail the same high jump five times in a row? How could I feel good about myself, when I had to parade that ineptitude twice a week?
If I dared to mention my PE problem to one of you teachers, however, you’d sternly affirm that I had no choice. I had to pass the class like every other student, whether I liked it or not. I shouldn’t try to weasel out of everything I don’t enjoy. Well, you know what? I agree! Part of growing up is realizing that there are certain things you can’t weasel out of. They may suck, but they’re necessary. I’m sure that’s the sobering lesson you believed you were teaching me as you sent me back to botch yet another high jump. But guess what: PE was never necessary. You tortured me for nothing. You taught me nothing. In the ten years that I endured physical “education,” not once did I hear something like:
- “This is how you kick a football.”
- “This is how you dribble a basketball.”
- “This is how you twist your body to perform a high jump.”
There was never any direction. No techniques demonstrated. Rarely any rules explained. You assumed that we had every sport figured out already. That if you just supplied the right equipment, shouted the name of the game, and blew your whistle commandingly enough, us kids would know exactly what to do. Many did, sure, but they were the kids who were already interested in sports, the kids for whom recess and soccer were synonyms. (The kind of kid that you probably were yourselves, and thus had your empathy limited to.) But the unathletic minority, the ones who actually needed you, were left utterly unguided. And terrified. We were pleading with time to move faster. We were constantly calculating how to avoid attention and keep the humiliation to a minimum. When humiliation inevitably did occur, we wanted to sink through the linoleum floor. Tell me, what were we supposed to learn from that?
If there had been any semblance of education conducted within your subject, I would still have disliked it, but at least I would have seen the point of it. If PE had been a school subject like any other, where you were taught things, I would have been ok with struggling in it. I was strong in other subjects, like English, or art, where many of my athletic mates were middling. It would have felt like a fair trade-off. But because you made PE out to be something one was supposed to automatically excel at, I felt as if though something was wrong with me. I was a defective child. I couldn’t learn.
In short, you failed me.
Were you just pedagogically incompetent? Maybe lazy? Or bitter that your star athlete dreams fell through? Regardless, teaching was your fucking job, and you botched it. You somehow thought you could bypass its most basic principle: to pass skills and knowledge on to those who lack them. All you ever did was indulge the kids who were already good at sports and put those who weren’t through weekly agony. Where was the education? Where was the necessity? Why did I have to suffer it? Thank the stars I’m an adult now, and won’t have to deal with any of you ever again. I still feel robbed of a good chunk of my rightful education, though. I would have liked to know how to kick a football, how to dribble a basketball, and how to do a high jump. But I don’t. And the fear with which I still associate all sports keeps me from learning them even now. Because of your utter failure as teachers, I’m stuck with an embarrassing gap in my skill set.
Or rather, there would be a gap, if it weren’t filled with the decade’s worth of self-loathing you crippled me with. Idiots.