When Primo’s teacher asked me if I would help out on Friday’s by leading PE I think we all knew I would do something soccer related. Teach what you know right? But as I thought about the kids in the blended 2nd and 3rd grade classroom I figured I would buck conventional wisdom and try something I didn’t know. That, it turns out, was a terrible mistake that would lead me to breaking up a fight, trying to keep one child from strangling another, and calmly talking a kid down from banging his head on the chain link fence. Let me start from the beginning though.
Primo and Segundo go to a Public Charter school which means the teaching style is different but there are the same public school expectations at only 55% of the funding. We didn’t know how rough the funding issue would be when we started but I am sure we would have made the same decision if we did. We love the school the boys go to, and more importantly the boys love the school they attend. So when Primo’s teacher asked if I would help I knew that this would be a great way to support a school I love while also giving her a break from the madness of teaching 20+ students all day. Primo has started a daily soccer game that has kids of all ages crowding the playground to join. When he heard I would be leading PE for the next semester he was excited for me to basically do another soccer practice chalk full of drills, games, and scrimmages. I thought it would be better to find some non-competitive ways to engage the kids in active play.
For my first class I scoured the internet for ideas, read up on Physical Education for grade schoolers, and mapped out a plan for the hour. I settled on some cooperative games with jump ropes that had the kids working in groups to solve problems together. There would be three groups with 7 kids each and they would all have a jump rope.
First they would tie the jump ropes together only using one hand each and then they would make shapes with the long jump rope. The first problem arose when I couldn’t find enough jump ropes for everyone. That was fine though since there was enough for each group to have 5 ropes they could work together to do the rest. Next was the problem of space as three classes tried to sue the same area. As we got going the kids started whipping each other with the ropes and wrapping them around their partners neck, trying to lead them around like a dog. When I got the kids organized and in their groups they found using one hand so frustrating that one kid just screamed out and ran into a fence, like full speed head first into the fence, and proceeded to bang his head against the fence over and over again. I gave the teacher a “WTF is going on” look to which she just shrugged.
Another group was actually tieing their ropes like the activity called for until the last one where conflict over how to tie a rope that didn’t have handles came up. One of the kids started yelling at another boy and trying to headbutt him because the boy kept trying to tie ropes while he was being yelled at. I had to physically put myself between the two kids and back the yeller away to keep him from hitting the other kid. I put a stop to the activity and had the kids drop their ropes and talk about what was going on. They talked about how hard it was to work together when you had different ideas and how using one hand frustrated them. This was great feedback and really part of the exercise but what I didn’t realize going in was how so many of the kids would internalize these frustrations so much. It wasn’t just that they couldn’t do the activity, it’s that it made them feel stupid to not succeed.
Walking into the school that morning I felt like I had a great plan for these kids, a little proud of myself even. Walking out I felt like I didn’t know shit about teaching, or kids, or PE, or parenting, or being a person. I did not anticipate how I would internalize these frustrations and feel like such a failure. It really threw me for a loop but I knew I had to keep going because lessons learned are the easiest ones to teach.
My plan didn’t work but I learned from it and didn’t quit. Next week I was back with a much simpler exercise on food as fuel and the benefits of trying new things. They kids ran and laughed and maybe even learned something, but either way it went much better. Friday mornings for the rest of the school year I will have more chances to fail and succeed, learn and adapt as I work with these kids. I’m sure some of my classes will be just as frustrating as the first, but I will learn from those ones too. Either that or I will start a 3rd grade fight club where kids learn how to headbutt properly.