“He’s a gym teacher. There’s no upward mobility.”

At the gym this morning, I was thinking about my gym teachers.

I hated them, obviously. Well, not Mr. Stamos so much — he was married to my fourth grade teacher and she was super nice, so he was sort of okay. Besides, it was elementary school — I’d only had a few years of being fat, uncoordinated, and generally miserable in any context involving physical activity. And there were a few isolated moments where I felt less hopeless — weirdly, most of them during the Presidential Physical Fitness test. The bent arm hang, I could do. (At recess, I was a demon on the monkey bars.) The broad jump, yeah. Otherwise, no. Gym was the part of school where it didn’t matter how fast I read, where there was no chance I could suck up to the teacher — which I nearly always did, since I nearly always liked the teacher better than most of the other kids.

By junior high, and I’m sure this surprises no one, gym had become purest hell. The changing room. Showering. Dodgeball. I was grateful when I got hit in the head so I could go to the nurse. My contempt for the teacher was cemented when he managed to misspell three words on my hall pass. But for a few days, we played field hockey, and for some reason, I was good at it. I even thought about trying out for the team. But you know, sports were for popular girls.

The only gym class I took in high school was called “Lifetime Sports,” and I see on my school’s website that it’s still offered: “Instruction and experience in a variety of lifetime leisure sports. Sports may include: frisbee, pickleball, bocce, tennis, golf, archery, badminton, table tennis, volleyball and bowling.” AKA slacker gym. A lot of smokers (of all varieties) took this. And I still tried to get out of it. If I’d had cramps as often as I said I did, scientists would have been studying my anomalous cycle.

I really can’t explain how I turned into someone who works out voluntarily — paying for the privilege, even — except for the dumb yet profound reason that at some point, I figured out that when I did, I felt better.

What do/did you guys think of your gym teachers, and gym in general?

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  • invertedreptile
    January 11, 2006 at 5:59 am

    i for some reason was also good at field hockey when i was terrible at everything else. weird.

    my gym teachers almost always looked like escapees from the seventies, at least as far as hair was concerned.

    i had one really bizzare PE class that was all girls with this really laid back guy teacher. i think it was ‘recreational sports’. one of these ‘sports’ turned out to be blackberry picking. that was pretty sweet.

  • sarazarr
    January 11, 2006 at 6:07 am

    First of all, what the hell is pickleball?

    My experience with gym pretty much mirrors yours, except one year we had a cool student teacher who did stuff like self-defense, modern dance, floor hockey (which I, also, was surprisingly good at), and softball. Self-defense was awesome.

    The worst was swimming, when some girls in PE referred to my nascent breasts as “sta-puff marshmellows.” Sigh. At least no one was throwing tampons at me in the shower and yelling, “PLUG IT UP!” (TM Stephen King)

  • estarial
    January 11, 2006 at 7:01 am

    As an [extremely] overweight highschooler, I always waffled between trying not to make a fool of myself by participating/trying {I would usually give a half-assed attempt at everything and then crack a joke at my expense} vs. trying not to look like the fat kid who refuses to do any exercise. I remember in seventh grade I was one of two fat kids in tennis {I always took the sports that I thought would involve the least amount of running}. One day, the tennis instructor told us we were going to run laps around the gym {a huge complex of four tennis courts} and that we could run ten, eight, or six laps, at our own discression. It was quite obvious to me that I would prefer to run six laps, but I made a conscious decision to run eight laps so that I wouldn’t look like a fat slacker. I also remember feeling scorn for the other overweight kid who chose to only run six and hide behind a pillar for several of the laps {there was a place you could hide on the courts from where the teacher stood, and thus avoid running}. In my experience, gym teachers either really love me or really dislike me {I don’t blame them, :)}.

  • anonymous
    January 11, 2006 at 7:33 am

    Ahhhhh, lifetime sports. I remember it well. The bowling field trip was the best. Nothing like getting out of a few hours of school to go bowling.

    Pickleball was actually the closest to a real sport that we played. It was like badminton but with paddles and a rubber ball. I don’t remember playing bocce though, I think that’s new.

    Oh yeah, I actually got in a fight during lifetime sports!

    I remember 9th grade gym class…doing whatever I could to get out of the swimming unit. I was also almost kept off of the all A honor roll because I got a B+ in gym. When I actualy got the courage to talk to the teacher about it, he said, “Oh, I didn’t know it would keep you off the honor roll. I gave you that grade because I thought you might slack off in the next quarter.” Then he changed it to an A. One of many times where I learned grades were B.S.

    Good thing I became a teacher.

    -Jeff C.

  • moriath
    January 11, 2006 at 7:59 am

    I always hated gym class. Not because I’m unathletic or anything, but it’s a combination of bad teachers and just feeling some things were stupid. Like the aforementioned presidential fitness test. Am I really a pathetic loser if I can’t do the flexed arm hang to save my life? Or that silly thing where you had to lean forward and measure how far you could stretch? The only things I could do to qualify were the mile run (short but fast and determined to kick the obnoxious boys’ asses) and sit ups.

    I never had to shower in gym or play dodgeball – thank goodness. I just remember stupid things like aerobics and jump roping. Oh, and amazing everyone with my mad reading-while-on-the-treadmill skills. I think when I impressed everyone with that, it was the only time I nearly enjoyed gym.

  • librarian
    January 11, 2006 at 8:21 am

    I couldn’t do the flexed arm hang or push-ups in gym and I still remember it! Once I was in high school I had a ready crew of fellow slackers to hang out with, so gym wasn’t so wretched, though I did get made fun of for being skinny, weird, whatever.

  • maeve66
    January 11, 2006 at 9:36 am

    I loathed most of my gym teachers. I was overweight, but I don’t think I minded gym until middle school and puberty and the hell that is early adolescence hit, and I just happened to have a sadistic gym teacher during those three crucial years. Mr. Crain. He was creepy. I have various memories of him, including the sensation that he was somewhat skeevily sex-obsessed — he gave the boys lectures on protecting their “family jewels” when the whole class was seated together, all of the girls giggling madly, or embarrassedly silent. The moment I remember most clearly with him was when we were supposed to be learning the headstand — the top of your head is touching the mat, as well as your hands, thus, not a handstand. Kind of a tripod like arrangement. But I sucked at it. So he took a hand.

    He’d clearly been watching my efforts for a while, because he chose me to demonstrate, intentionally. He pulled my legs up while I had my head and hands in the correct position and then stood there, explaining to the class how to do this maneuver. He explained it for a long time, while I was there, upside down. Why? Because I had not thought about tucking in my gym shirt, so it was slowly coming down. Once I realized this, I was traumatized. He used my terror, as it got lower and lower, closer to my bra, as an illustration for a lesson and long, drawn out lecture on remembering to tuck in your shirt. Then, just as I was on the edge of tears, and my shirt was at the bottom of my bra, he let my feet go and I tumbled to the floor. Why didn’t I complain? Kids often don’t feel empowered to. It didn’t even occur to me to do so. But the next year, when a high school boy who’d hated him slashed his tires, I was happy.

    I have other memories of gym that were also horrible and unhappy. Strangely, in high school, I did get to take one sort of “wheel” of different non-normal sports (what sounds like that Lifetime thing) and one part of it appealed to me a lot — the weight room and Nautilus machines. The idea of focusing on getting stronger, instead of doing lots of aerobic work to lose weight, was really enjoyable. But even on machines, I tucked my shirt in.

  • dirtylibrarian
    January 11, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    My high school had a pool, so I got to take some swimmy classes, which is all I remember as a positive.

    I was a small time geek-jock in junior high…running crosscountry and long-distance track. Then I grew boobs.

  • ms_anthropy
    January 11, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    At my school it was required. I had thing to take it every. Single. Day. From 7th grade onward.

    First off, gym has nothing whatsoever to do with *education* or academics or indeed anything school was supposed to be for. It was just another block of time stolen from my life each and every day, for no purpose I could ever detect, and I deeply resented it. I still do. I think it’s absurd that my taxes pay for it and it’s yet another reason my kid is being homeschooled – not a major one when there are so many, but it *is* on the list.

    Second, gym teachers are, in my experience, sadistic by definition as well as being so used to being bombarded with desperate attempts to escape their clutches for one more day that a) they treat all non-jocks like whiny criminals and b) refuse to believe anyone who actually does have a problem.

    I once threw up on my gym teacher and then passed out cold. Next time I told her I was getting heat stroke (2-mile run, no walking allowed, 102 in the shade, plus did I mention no functional knee cartilage to speak of, even then?) the bitch damn well believed me.

    The really ironic part is that I liked sports and was pretty good at some of them until I hit the age where the females were forced (in those pre-groundbreaking-lawsuit days) to step aside to make way for the boyz, who, after all, might get a scholarship out of it. After I understood that yes, they were serious, I decided the entire concept of sports could pretty much pucker up and kiss my arse. The irony becomes even more ironic when you realize I hit 6 feet before I was out of the ninth grade, and this dippy woman simply could not believe she didn’t have some kind of basketball prodigy on her hands. First, do you know what happens when you grow that much that quickly? Exactly – absolutely no coordination to speak of. Second, the sports I was really good at as a sprout, football and baseball, apparently required that one have a penis, for reasons that have never been fully explained to me. So the reason I was now *supposed* to care is…what, exactly?

    Let’s see – verbal abuse passing as “toughening up,” creepy lewd staring/touching in the locker room, regularly reducing the weaker students to tears…

    God, it’s amazing how angry I can *still* get at all that, 20+ years later. How absurd. But gym was the very worst of a very bad time and place.

    PS There’s a definite pattern here. Field hockey was, in fact, Da Bomb. We did it in gym and I turned out to have a real flair for it. That’s a sport I would have gladly played, except of course we didn’t have teams for it. BTW, the gym teacher I puked on? The one who made my life a living hell? I hit a wild ball right to her kneecap and managed to give her a limp that lasted the rest of the year. And to this day I’m glad, do you hear me, glad, bwahahahah!

  • sarazarr
    January 11, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    oh my god, that story is terrifying!

  • anonymous
    January 12, 2006 at 1:16 am

    Based on my experiences at many of the elementary and middle school I have worked at the past 12 years or so, things are changing, at least in the Midwest and at the lower school level.

    I have observed many fantastic P.E. teachers who emphasize the Physical Education. I see competition being deemphsized. Most games are structured now so that even when you are “out” you are doing something. Strategy, teamwork, and goal setting are being stressed more. Winning and trying to reach arbitrary levels are deemphasized- continual improvement is teh goal. A student is compared against their previous efforts, rather than other students.

    -Jeff C.

  • vj_pdx
    January 12, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Okay, I feel like a freak, but I have to come out and say, I liked gym. Not all of it. Team sports that involved eye-hand coordination were pretty unpleasant. I was always the last picked for those. And like every preteen/teenage girl, I felt fat and was taunted as fat even though I was pretty average (what I wouldn’t give to be that size now!). But especially in high school, I took gym every term. I even took a term of swimming (which is quite a hoot, given what an awful swimmer I am). I would have actually played sports too if my mom would have paid for the always-required physicals.

    That said, I don’t remember any gym teachers by name or face. Other teachers yes. I do remember being in elementary school and having a gym teacher make fun of me in front of the class. I came home and told my dad, who looked the guy up in the phone book and called him. The next day in class, the teacher threatened me. I don’t think I told my dad about that.

  • thinkofaname
    January 12, 2006 at 2:18 am

    I actually loved my gym teacher in elementary school, but that’s only because my elementary school itself was examplary. I go back to visit sometimes and she always gives me a hug :) My middle school gym teacher is just neurotic about everything and wears her pants too high, but we didn’t really have problems with her. Her health class was hilarious. High school, where I am now, my Gym teacher is weird. I’m in Italy, so she’s forever trying to speak to me in English when i understand her perfectly well. she over criticizes me especially and is just as neurotic as any gym teacher is expected to be. but all in all my experience isnt so bad. and no fiascos in the changing rooms so far.. heh.

  • logan_san
    January 29, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Gym was okay. I liked most sport, and until I went to a special nerdy high school, going to public school in San Francisco meant we didn’t play anything that need too much equipment or good breeding to play. There was no fancy stuff like lacrosse or field hockey…and there certainly was no bowling. We played volleyball and basketball and soccer and baseball and we ran a lot. The only part that I thought sucked was when you had to do those torture exercises like climbing huge ropes or scaling walls using only dowels.

    Every one of my gym teachers was certifiably maleficent.

    The most choice were the ones at my middle school…

    I had one who wore a neck brace (seemingly as a fashion accessory because she was able to turn her head just fine when startled) that made many activity demonstrations look like the dancing from Scooby Doo cartoons. She lectured us DAILY about the “social error of body odor” and found it intolerable when a person would point at another– a rudeness apparently reserved only for mothers. She gave us the rule of thumb about pointing: “If the person didn’t slip out of your vagina, you should indicate with your ENTIRE hand.” I was perennially grossed out that year.

    We also had a teacher, Mr. Brush, who made just the girls in the class do jumping jacks for 5 minutes every day while he and the boys sat and watched. Besides being completely humiliating and infuriating for all the girls, it was disastrous for one particular girl who had very large breasts and needed to get special bras made. She would beg to be excused because her special bras would tear, and they were expensive to mend or replace. He never relented. We got partial vengeance, however, because he happened to be especially ignorant about the menstruation. In order to get out of class for the day you just had to START to say that you had your period and he would stagger back in horror and revulsion and allow you to do anything you wanted as long as you went away quickly. I always wondered if he thought it was catching, or if he had a wife or sister or mother who weaved 7th-circle-of-hell stories about what it was like.

    I had one last doozy at that school, a man who threatened to hit you if you talked back – no matter the legal consequences. “Oh you just try and sue me… instead they’ll give me a medal for suffering you so long.” I never saw him hit a student, but every single one of us believed he would.


  • anonymous
    February 5, 2006 at 8:50 pm

    I have to laugh, because honestly, your early phys. ed. experiences are totally mine! I only managed to gain some success in gym class when I ended up with the gym teacher as my grade 8 teacher (and yes, he was a jerk, but he had his moments). When he realized I was funny and had a brain (i.e. not just uncoordinated little smart girl), we got along.

    Did you use to bunt the ball in baseball so you didn’t have to run around the bases? I did. Did you once fall in kindergarten while simply running around the gym, and had a big ugly kid run over your hand and break it? I did. (Beginning to get the picture?) I still think the reason I am such an artsy is due to gym…The only way you could avoid taking high school gym was if you wanted to take both music and visual arts. This seemed like a no-brainer to me, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Yes, we pay to work out now…but I think this is more about looking good in Mexico on March Break than anything else. If they’d bribed me with booze and tropical temperatures back in elementary school, I’d likely be an athlete now!

    M. Martin
    Out of shape teacher-librarian and physical education extraordinaire from Ontario, Canada!

  • anonymous
    February 17, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    Mahaha. I hated it. Gym was so annoying. But Ya, Hockey was fun. I’m good at it to, even though I suck at everything else.
    I’ve only had 2 gym teachers. One was an old fart that didn’t know what she was doing half the time, and the other was a 30 year old woman who was nice to my friend and I. She gave us her husbands old Panthera and Black Sabbath CD’s.
    Aaahh, eight grade…. the good old days.

    -Girl Anachronsim