Monday, June 9, 2008

"In perfect harmony"

Bear with me, former PE students. I'm supertired, but I promised Elizabeth a PE report, one that has some odd turns.

My early PE days were fun and uneventful and not particularly memorable and PE often ended up on the playground. Life was pretty happy on the playground, even though I cracked my kneecap when I went flying off the pod-shaped alien climber that everyone else jumped off of regularly and had to play chase holding my broken rib. I learned not to jump off the last few steps of the slide like everyone else since I ended up with injured teeth and a mouth full of blood and dirt. We had jump rope, races, and dance activities, often combined with music. Nothing could beat our Field Day. The music teacher, who sometimes taught in the gym or with the gym teacher, was a real hippie with long blond stringy hippie hair and a hippie autoharp, and who liked to sing "Kumbaya" and Kermit songs. I liked to pretend that she was in the "I'd like to buy the world a Coke commercial." As a matter of fact, I think she sang something similar. She taught us the word "cooperation" and emphasized the word "love." Outside, we had tricycles, balls, a whirly-go round thing that spun me until my vision was as blurry as my lovely but uneventful memories. Uneventful days except for Penny's wrap skirt falling off her once.

Then life changed. We moved to a different city and a new school. For PE I got Ms. Woodcock, otherwise known as Ms. E. Just out of college, Ms. E. loved to line up kids and make them choose sides. The first lesson I learned in Ms. E's class was, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Ironic. Remember this detail. Unlike Ms. Hippie, Ms. E. was not about "cooperation" or "love" but about "competition." Competition, Ms. E. taught us, was a good thing. It was what would make you a "winner." Ms. E. took an immediate dislike to me because I could not move as fast as she demanded during vital, world-changing activities such as square dancing and springboard. She took all her favorite kids out and played softball with them, while relegating us misfits to the back play areas.

There was a nicer assistant teacher, whose son was (is?) a well-known professional athlete. I think she was a lesbian, and she had cool Adidas sneakers. She was both nice and a PE teacher, which suddenly confused me. I liked her a lot (talk amongst yourselves). But her attempts at niceness couldn't work so well when Ms. E. was yelling directions at people. Two years later, Ms. E., my nemesis who loved to hate me, the two black girls, and R., the really obese kid, made a bad decision. She decided she would run relays one day, but she decided to run it a different way, so that multiple kids were sometimes in the same path at the same time (kids finishing and kids starting). An example of very bad decision making. The end result was that B., a friend upon whom I had a serious mutual crush, smacked into me with force. I dislocated and broke my ankle, leaving a large egg shaped lump on the side of my leg where the bone had moved. Ms. E., not to be deterred by a turn of events that would make others queasy, made me walk on the ankle back to our classroom and dismissed my "whining," that people couldn't go to the clinic for every little thing. It was a long and difficult hallway, and of course I had to walk all the way back to the front of the building later to return to the clinic. Not ready to give up her illusion that I was just a wimp or her illusion of power, Ms. E. continued the same activity all morning. Not her best decision since other students were similarly injured. B., in contrast to Ms. E., was wracked with guilt. In recompense, I told him that his little brother was really so cute and adorable and that he looked exactly like him (draw your own conclusions).

Ms. E's contract, for some reason, wasn't renewed the next year, and she eventually opened a local dance academy. Since Ms. E. had her children in her 40s and I had mine much earlier, we were in the same group of preschool mothers for a while (the initial look on her face: priceless). B. moved after 5th grade, I never heard where. The internet tells me he has a promising career and has published several books. And I got to return to wearing skirts or dresses and cute shoes every day, verboten on PE days. (Skirts are easier with casts; too bad for the guys.) I still rebel against her by wearing skirts or dresses as often as I can. My regret with PT is I can't. That's one aspect of ballet I miss, exercise in a skirt. Sometimes swim skirts work.

People always wonder why I don't send my kids to Ms. E's dance academy.

I had a few more PE experiences, but was mostly excused from PE because of greater injury that kept me out of school for a while. I was able to take some dance classes later on (not Ms. E's.) My sister's experiences were similar, as were our friends'. Her middle school teacher wouldn't allow treatment of a dislocated wrist. She also yelled at my sister for not allowing her pet student to bounce basketballs off her head and when pet student broke my sister's glasses.

***Plot Spoiler Ahead.*** In the movie Mr. Woodcock, the grown protagonist/writer returns to his hometown and must confront his nemesis--his former PE teacher, who is now, umm, "dating" his mother (no Oedipal complex there, no sirree). Sorry to say, our protagonist/writer doesn't stick with his conclusions that Mr. Woodcock is a cruel person, but in the end decides that the cruelty was important in shaping his own life and character. He doesn't deny Mr. Woodcock's actions, but he does deny his earlier emotions, the middle-school self who is humiliated and belittled and dreads every day with Mr. W. While this comedy is over-the-top and someone such as Mr. Woodcock would be fired faster than you can say "dislocated ankle," it does reinforce the idea that bullying is okay and that physical fitness is at odds with kindness.

Me? I prefer Ms. Hippie's cooperation and love, and I'd still like to buy her a Coke.

3 comments:

Donimo said...

And we wonder why we tend to push ourselves too hard as adults and have a hard time "admitting" physical limits. I had my own version of Ms. E and he taught me--in Grade 7--that speaking up about pain is a weak and pointless thing. I remember continuing to play goal in soccer--in Grade 12--when I had a broken rib. Ah, school daze! The things you learn.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thank you for the story, I kind of wish I found out what happened with the assistant coach (who ended up with her?). And B turned out to be a guy (major disappointment on this end, as I am always rooting for a bit of bisexuality). Your class has a fair share of injuries, though I do remember a few in mine, two to me (involving one being taken in an ambulance, but another where the nurse encouraged walking on a leg until it swelled so much it had to be cut loose. I do remember the "you are just a whiner" thing, why do these people end up in charge of kids. Along with one boy who ended up misunderstanding the nature of being a catcher and took a baseball bat swing to the head, with much blood - probably the most blood I have ever seen, as well as seeing his skull.

When our PE teachers got angry (I am thinking of one particular one) we had to run suicides until 2/3rds of the class vomited - what is strange is, you would hear this from the 8:00 am class, the 9 am class, the 10:00, and at 2:00 in my class we were still running suicides until people puked - how pissed off can one teacher BE?

FridaWrites said...

Donimo: Good thing you didn't get a punctured lung! Yes, I definitely have trouble admitting physical limits, even now. My PT is constantly lecturing me to slow down.

Elizabeth: I'm not sure what happened to the assistant coach since I went to middle school the next year. I can't imagine she'd have been fired since she was so nice to people. If there were any justice, she'd have been the main PE teacher the next year. Don't get too disappointed, Elizabeth; my crushes were/are as often female as male.

School was brutal, wasn't it? My own children's PE teacher is so sweet it continually surprises me, and what surprised me more is when my children have received awards in PE (including for the entire grade level in kindergarten).