To this day I remember heading over to the Pharmacy next to my mother’s Restaurant and borrowing comics. I read Spiderman, Iron Man and the X-men. My favorite Comic ever was DP7. To me it was a little more realistic than the others, it tended to be normal people that had powers that were not divine or mystical in origin but just minor improvements on qualities we all have. As a youth, I wanted a secret power, I didn’t know what my power would be but I knew my name would be Bluebird. I never became a superhero as I imagined but as a teacher I have had the chance to create a secret power. Faces! That is my secret power, the key to my PE persona. I remember people by their faces. The PE Persona you have will be different but it is my assertion that there is no more critical component of what you do as a teacher.
How did I get my secret power? When did I develop my PE Persona? The year was 1998 and I was walking with my father on the 700 Block of N. Broadway in Yonkers, New York, 200 miles from my home and the conversation turned to what I intended on doing professionally after completing my 8-year stint as a Security Specialist in the United States Air Force. We concurred that I had grown up with a love for sports and I had worked the previous 14 years in a variety of day care and religious education settings. The natural outcome was that I should consider combining the two passions and becoming a Physical Educator. 5 years later I was employed at a local school as an Adapted Physical Education teacher. I began in a one on one position where I could work with the student all day long and provide a variety of activities to de-escalate anger issues in the student.
It was easy to know his face, I even got to know a lot about him, his family and his home life. As the year ended I was offered a position at an Alternative High School in a two-prison town 60 miles from my home town with a promise of being provided an elementary position when the position opened. I accepted. I taught 70 students that were dealing with intense emotional and behavioral issues, many in town to be near their loved ones in one of the prisons. I decided “relationship” was vital to both their and my success, therefore my first unit every year was Hidy Ochiai’s Educational Karate Program to establish a respectful environment and to build rapport with my students. The class was designed as a daily 4-hour block that I had students so that I could integrate physical activity, technology, academics and nutrition. I took advantage of the time to get to know my students. I utilized my facial recognition abilities from my experience in the Air Force and got to know who my students were, their challenges that brought them to the Alternative High School and their likes/ dislikes to develop a respectful rapport. This secret power set me up for success while also creating an atmosphere that was based on respect. This was highlighted very well when one day I stepped into the hallway where two young ladies were shouting at one another and heading toward fisticuffs and I stepped in between (rookie mistake). Both girls stopped and one said, “Mr. A you are lucky we respect you or we would have hit you.” My desire to build relationship saved me injury that day. SECRET POWER!
In my fourth year an Elementary position opened and I moved from needing to know 70 students I saw for 4 hours a day to 400+ kids that I saw twice a week. I changed my strategy from in class facial recognition to creating a push-in Literacy Based PE course that allowed me to utilize my Masters in Literacy Education. I used my lunch, my preps and my experiences to push into classrooms and support the classroom teachers. My program, Literacy Education Activities Designed to Read (LEAD to Read), increased minutes of activity, provided me with more involvement with students and allowed me to better learn the faces of the students. I ran the program in each school I was in and learned the faces of the teachers, the aides and the students. It was a great way to let classroom teachers see how PE was supporting their curriculum while I was also learning faces, names and building relationships. This was a vital progression as my future would unfold…
5 years into my elementary teaching days our profession and professionals were victims of extreme budget cutbacks. 15 of our departments 28 Physical Educators were laid off… I was number 15. Being as proactive as I could be I applied for some jobs assuming the budget was going to go the way it projected. The budget passed and all 15 of us lost our positions, I was fortunate however to be offered a position in Vermont and accepted. I was not as much of a sage as I thought however. I did not foresee a colleague of mine (Mary Ann) in the district with the layoffs being as altruistic as she turned out to be. Upon hearing that I was the 15th layoff Mary Ann retired early to ensure that I could stay employed by the district. I will always remember her face. I now had two positions that required a decision. I maintained my employment in New York but moved to the High School.
The High School required me to learn the faces of 1200+ people. My strategy of pushing in with LEAD to Read was now defunct due to the high stakes push of standardized testing and understandably teachers not willing to give up time to other teachers to affect instruction when their evaluations depended on the results of the testing. I was lucky enough to be able to see all the students throughout their Physical Education class for 80m per class though only once every four days. I decided that the best way to use my PE Persona was to talk to the kids not just in the gym, but everywhere. In the hall, in the cafeteria, in study halls, EVERYWHERE. Each interaction unique, each interaction involved and focused. Each interaction needed to be meaningful for both me and the student.
That is where I am now. My PE persona is based on my studies of William Glasser. At all levels, I made myself a part of the students Quality World. My persona at Alternative was designed to be respectful and understanding, concepts troubled students highly value. This allowed the students to meet the power need that they need in already tumultuous lives. At the elementary level, I let the students see my face often and I filled the fun need the students had while achieving academic growth. At the High School, I have designed activities that meet academic designs while also nurturing the loving and belonging need. Each time I see the student in the hall, study hall or lunch room I sit and utilizing their names we hold sincere conversations. My PE persona is unique to my experiences and my strengths. Don’t try to be a Bluebird, forge your persona based on your experiences and strengths. The sincerity and integrity of how you come across is the biggest tool you can have as you head into the class each day.