Give me a P! Give me an E!

30th January 2015 at 00:00

My dysfunctional relationship with PE started at the age of 5, when I was asked to strip down to my vest and pants and prance around the school hall pretending to be an animal. It was cold and it smelled of sweat. I lay on the floor, twitching and pretending to be a squashed stick insect in protest. Things didn't get any better as I got older. I had a serious lack of coordination and zero interest in competitive sports.

"She's not a sporty child," the teachers told my parents. I agreed, and vowed to abstain from exercise for the rest of my life.

So, when I was asked to be PE coordinator many years later, I was not thrilled. With much cajoling, I was eventually convinced that the perks (getting my own whistle, spending much of my working life in a cosy tracksuit) were worth it and dolefully agreed.

Off I went to the training day, expecting to sit through a lot of PowerPoints. I was horrified to find that we were expected to spend the morning doing gymnastics. I was eight years old again and the only person in the class who couldn't do a forward roll. The day continued with a crash course in outdoor education, during which I got my orienteering team lost and fell into the swamp we were trying to cross using three milk crates and a rope.

Back at school, things didn't go swimmingly either. When it was time for PE, the sporty pupils punched the air with cries of "YES!" while the rest of my class trudged to the hall as if they were about to be tortured.

"Why don't you like PE?" I asked. Their replies included "I'm rubbish at it!", "What's the point?" and "I'm not a sporty person". I could identify with every answer and that's what made me determined to make over their attitudes, along with my own.

I started by asking what skills they'd like to develop. Some wanted to be able to run 500m without stopping. Others wanted to be able to do a forward roll, or the splits, or just touch their toes. It occurred to me that we tend to focus on technique in PE lessons, which is important but of no use to anyone who hasn't got the required flexibility or fitness level. So I taught my class the skills they needed to improve their stamina and flexibility and urged them to compete with me, which they found hilarious as I was easily the worst in the class.

Next, I looked for ways to make the reluctant pupils want to take part. I have never seen a class get their PE kits on as quickly as they did when I taught them commando rolls for a stealth mission to sneak a whoopee cushion on to the (longsuffering) headteacher's chair. I led limb-flailing warm-up sessions with blaring music and dodgy singing, and let the pupils make up games. There were plastic cones on our heads and beanbags flying in all directions.

By the end of the school year, everyone punched the air when it was time for PE. And me? I ran a training scheme for young sports leaders, joined the gym and took up running. I'll never care about winning, but I managed to get reluctant pupils to enjoy exercise, I can run for miles and you should see me do the splits. Who's not sporty now?

Lisa Jarmin is a supply teacher in the North West of England. @lisajarmin


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