Friday, January 4, 2013

"The Ian Schwartz Class for Kids Who Want to Exercise and Do Other Things Good Too..."

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday around 11:40am Teacher Ian takes off his TGC name tag, hangs up his collared shirt and puts away his white board markers.  What happens next is the wonderful transformation of Teacher Ian to Marine Drill Sargent Schwartz. And just like that, physical education class is ready to begin...

Allow me to rewind for a minute.

A few months ago our founder and director, Judy Wheeler (who is an absolutely incredible person) visited TGC for one of her numerous yearly visits.  She decided to get all the teacher's together to talk about some of the issues that our students were having.  While going around the room one thing came very apparent:  our students spend an incredible amount of time sitting in the exact same seat, in the exact same room, over and over again.  This has not only led to some attention issues but there is also a clear deficiency in out students energy levels.  The solution for me was clear.  We need to get our students moving around and exercising regularly.  Not only would it help with energy levels but many other benefits would result from such activity. Fortunately, the rest of the staff, and Judy, agreed.  This was the birth of the TGC Physical Education program.

So, I got what I wished for. But, where do I go from here?  I am not a licensed physical education instructor.  I have never actively led a physical education class.  I haven't even been in a organized gym setting in almost five years.  Uh oh...

I searched my brain to try and figure out what to do.  Usually in these situations (like learning how to teach English for the first time) I just think back to people who taught me...

Dave Gumbus is the type of person who gains your respect by giving you respect. He is a Physical Education teacher at West Hollow Middle School and also coaches Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track at Half Hollow Hills High School East.  I attended both of these schools and had Gumbus (as we call him) for gym three years in a row.  I also ran competitively under his guidance for four years of high school.  He also taught and coached my brother.

For 7+ years this man was a part of my life.  That is 1/3 of my current existence.  Before today, I never really thought about all that he taught me.  First and foremost, Gumbus was real with his students.  In an age where America was turning soft (the everyone is a winner notion that society feeds off today) Gumbus was tough.  Not everyone was a winner.  Winners were people who worked hard and preformed the best.  Whether it was European handball or a track meet, Gumbus reminded us to give it our all.  Besides his old school attitude he also always made sure to keep his students on their toes.  If you traveled in basketball he would blow the whistle and scream "That's a travel, next time take the bus."  Read that and tell me that if you were a middle school student competing in gym class you wouldn't stop for a second and try to process what just happened.

Dave Gumbus and his style would be the first part of my physical education class.

Mark Tjaden works hard and plays harder.  He is the staff recruiter and outdoor adventure director (to say the least) at Indian Head Camp. He is also a bad-ass rock climber, nasty mountain biker, and solid outdoors enthusiast. He is solely responsible for all the more dangerous things I do as he taught me to rock climb, mountain bike, camp, hike and work to be a better person.   Most importantly, he is my role model and mentor. 

Mark has a ton of experience in the business of changing lives.  Coincidentally, he does most of it through challenging people to step outside their comfort zone.  Some of this he does through climbing expeditions or canoeing trips.  Other times he simply just puts you through the ringer of challenging games that spit you and your friends out on the other side as stronger communicators and teammates.  I've seen these games in action and have even played the role of coordinator to many of them.  Mark is a knowledge sharer and I have been lucky enough to receive  a lot of his knowledge. Mark is also a doer.  He will never make you do anything that he hasn't done or won't do himself.  If he asks you to jump off a cliff (literally, we go cliff jumping) he will do it first.  If he wants you to tackle a bouldering problem on the climbing wall he'll do it first, make it look easy and then encourage you while you struggle.

Mark Tjaden: the second piece to my physical education puzzle.

By perfectly combining what I have learned from these two wonderful people I have been able to scratch together a physical education program.  Here are the backbone concepts to my class:

1.  Be Real: Keep the kids informed about what they should be accomplishing.  If someone does something good, acknowledge them.  If someone does something bad, explain why.

2. Keep things exciting: Change it up.  Call on different people.  Surprise them with new activities.  Make them randomly do push-ups, sit-ups or wall sits (to my frat bros out there reading, I will teach them how to rest later January).

3.  Work together: TGC, above all, is a family.  Focus on building stronger relationships between my students.

4. Challenge People: Push my students to be the best they can be by challenging them to do something they may not typically do.

5.  Be a doer: Join in. If they do push ups, I do push ups.  If they run, I run.

As it approaches high noon in Cambodia and I stand in Union College athletic shorts and a cut off "frat" shirt in a concrete courtyard in front of the Wood House. This is my gymnasium.  My students line up  in three organized lines which are spaced out in a perfect grid formation.  Three older students stand at the front, ready to begin.  They are given the go signal and  the warm up begins:

  • 1 set of 40 jumping jacks
  • 1 set of 10 push-ups 
  • 1 set of 10 sit-ups
  • 1 set of 10 lunges (5 on each leg) 
  • 1 set of 10 squats

At first, I had to walk everyone through these exercises. For some reason the jumping jacks were the hardest motion for my students.  They could not seem to coordinate their feet with their arms.  Now, I don't even have to do anything.  I just let my students start the warm up and simply fall in to the grid and participate.

After the warm up comes the core part of the class.  This comes in the form of a game or exercise circuit.  I briefly explain the objectives and rules while demonstrating how the activity works.  Thus far I have done the following activities:

  • Running Bases 
  • Circuit Training
  • SPUD
  • Relay Races
  • Team Building Exercises 
  • Simon Says: workout edition
Of course, I participate in all of these activities as a ball thrower, relay runner, facilitator and my personal favorite--Simon. To keep things exciting I change up rules, stop students in the middle of games, and, of course, if anyone travels I tell them to "take the bus".  Students who seem nervous or reluctant to participate are challenged to join in and eventually find themselves not wanting to stop playing! 

When the activity is over the class enters its final phase: cool-down/reflection.  After stretching for a few minutes I give my students 2 minutes of silent, personal time.  As they sit quietly I encourage them to clear their minds and just relax.  I slowly call different groups to lunch (all those wearing pink, anyone with a TGC shirt on, etc.). The class may only last for 30 minutes, but it is a productive and important time of the day. 

Watching my students interact with one another while participating in activities that get their hearts beating and sweat flowing has been a great edition to my week. The results speak for themselves as our students are showing signs of higher energy  and greater focus. Even more importantly they are learning some extremely powerful lessons to use in life.  In fact, I now truly understand what Dave Gumbus and Mark Tjaden have been doing all these years.  Their classes and instructions weren't about winning a game of flag football or climbing that next section of rock. No, they were about winning at life; about climbing over that challenge and succeeding.  

Physical Education is, of course, about staying active and exercising.  However, if I can mange to pass on what someone once taught me to make me a better person, well, than I guess that's what they call winning. 

And if all else fails I can always just make them do push-ups.  

Be real.  Keep things exciting. Work Together with others. Challenge Yourself.  Be a doer.


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