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Observations From Substitute Teaching

Disclaimer: The following article was produced rapidly as a means to detail at length a topic I felt worthy of publishing ASAP. Apologies for grammatical errors.

A few days ago, I tweeted out about an experience substitute teaching in a local high school PE department. I’ve since deleted the Tweet, which is a first for me, as the lack of context clearly got some people fired up and I don’t believe it was producing any beneficial dialogue or providing solutions. I’ll admit, I got a bit fired up to some of the responses because it was clear that everyone involved had some sort of nerve was struck, either good or bad. In order to keep dialogue more beneficial, and to provide more context of the situation to these things.

In short, the tweet called out the need for High School strength coaches or people with the appropriate background to run the weight rooms (for both athletes and non-athletes). Some took this as a slight to PE teachers, which is reasonable because I didn’t provide that initial context of my communication with them. Some took it as if I was trying to build my business and pointed out that some private Strength Coaches don’t get as much result as high school football coaches and teachers. Regardless, the whole point of this blog is to give full context to a need that I see in my local community.

To begin with, I started substitute teaching recently in some local schools because the demand for subs was high and the supply was low. Working with kids after school anyway, I found a way to make it work that I could help serve in my community and still get my job done afterwards. Thus far, with my background as a Strength and Conditioning Coach who is in the progress of getting a Master’s in Physical Education, the only classes I have taught have been PE or Weight Training. My experience with these classes has resulted in a lot of observations of where things could be better, both at the school and in the community.

As far as PE goes, I will admit that I am not the best at teaching PE or Health to students. The PE teachers that I sub for have far more experience and expertise in this, of which I have admitted to them. As it stands, the schools I have taught at is one of the better ones as far as weight room safety goes, with very few severe injuries happen in the weight room (a different local school had three students “blow out” knees in a single class). In these conversations, I have been told that most students in the class will not want to do the workouts because they are lazy. My experience has been different than what was predicted.

In my experience, the main resounding thought is a quote that comes from coach and author Ben Bergeron:

“It’s not the standards you talk about, it’s what you tolerate.”

In filling in for these classes, I have found that the students are not lazy, they have simply been told what to do and not been taught what to do. So they sit and wait around on their phones, which gets tolerated, and then the standard of learning is never accomplished because it was only ever talked about and not put into action. In both PE classes and weight training classes, the need for legitimate instruction is not only a remedy for laziness but also a means of keeping student’s long-term health and wellness in focus.

With this in mind, I actually started teaching the students beginning at the warmup there were less complaints and a higher willingness to do the workout. When we got done warming up, I taught a new game to the PE classes and how to lift correctly in the weight training classes. In each class the response is usually an initial complaint, followed by acceptance, and finishes in enjoyment.

Now on the topic of weight training, which is where I get myself in hot water because the weight room is my passion, I stated that kids crave good training when they finally get a taste of what good training feels like. Good training at its core must have a clearly defined goal and purpose for the exercises it employs. While it may not necessarily be the student’s job to know this, but it for sure needs to be known by the coach implementing the program. In the cases of these classes, the goal or purpose behind the program nor the exercises within could be stated.

On top of this, students had been shown the exercises but not coached in the exercises they were doing. Upon teaching students how to squat a student responded, “Wait, I’m supposed to feel this in my legs and not my back?” to which several of her peers agreed they also felt this movement being a painful exercise for their back. In a different class on a different day, I taught a student how to do a Dumbbell Row correctly, which alleviated shoulder pain. Upon fixing these things, the students then started asking questions and digging for more.

Now, this isn’t a bash of the PE teachers mind you. Too many people like to take this as so. In trying to work with the schools to provide as much help as possible, I knew some of the issues I might encounter when I went in to substitute teach. The teachers are fantastic people with great intentions, and because they aren’t 100% sure of what they need in terms of equipment or continuing education (they’ve told me their continuing education is usually geared toward K-6th grade) the school just buys stuff they think they need to replace. Could it be better? Yes. Do I have conversations with administrators about these things? Yes. Am I trying to do more than just say stuff on Twitter? Absolutely.

As Strength and Conditioning coaches, we are starting to have to treat our profession like a business. We are having to prove our value because people do not know what good training looks like or feels like. The see weights and automatically think that more is better. They see running and equate it with conditioning. While Strength and Conditioning Coaches know differently, we haven’t done a good job at communicating this to athletes or students, or their parents. But by providing value to students when possible we can get them excited or interested in proper training, which may start to turn the tide.

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