Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to be a Gym Teacher

     In the early ‘60s school systems were desperate for teachers (can you believe it?)  With no education courses in my resume, I had all the substitute work I wanted, right in our own school district.  I was the high school  business department while the teacher had a nervous breakdown --all her lesson plans were in shorthand, which posed a problem, but I did learn a lot of useful stuff about bookkeeping. 
     I taught shop; one day I was the junior high nurse; I taught Spanish and history and Shakespeare and that foolishness known as the New Math.
     And one morning the kitchen phone rang while I was giving the kids breakfast, with a frantic principal on the other end of the line.            
     “Well, I’ve never done the lower grades, and I don’t know how to be a gym teacher.”
     Anna looked up from her cereal.  “Tell them you’ll take it, and I’ll tell you what to do.”
     You’ll understand what a strong personality Anna was, even at the age of eight, when I tell you that all I said into the phone was “What time do I have to be there?”
This is not me.
     “Just put on your pleated skirt,” said Anna.  (No woman would think of wearing “slacks” to school in 1951.)  “And stockings and sneakers.  And put Avi’s boy scout whistle around  your neck.”  And do you know, as soon as I did all that, I FELT like a gym teacher.
     “When you get to the school, go to the office and ask them for the key to the closet.  And tell them to bring the kids to you” – excellent advice, so I wouldn’t have to guide kids through the halls of French Road School, where neither Anna nor I had ever been.
     “Then unlock the closet and take out a ball and put it under your arm.  And when they come in, tell them to line up on the white line.”
     “But Annie, what if there isn’t a white line?
      'There’ll BE a white line.” (and there WAS a white line.)

     “You tell them to count off by twos, point to the tallest boy, say ‘You choose the first game,' go stand in a corner and blow your whistle.”
     Worked fine all day. 
     The point of the story is that an 8-year-old, because she was so close to it, could give me better instructions in two minutes than a whole department of early childhood professors could have done in a semester over at the Normal School.  (That’s the old name for a teacher’s college, kids.)
     Amy says it shows something else – that Anna, who much later became a member of Equity, was already thinking like an actress.  In just a few minutes she’d given me costume, props, script and marks to hit.
     Only problem was that as the day wore on I got over-confident, started playing Duck Duck Goose and threw my back out.


  1. Great story, as always. Anna certainly showed great presence of mind.

    And do you have any idea why teachers' colleges were called "Normal Schools" in the first place? Normal, they ain't!

  2. What a great story, thanks Bobe.