No Subject for Old Teachers


I was a PE Teacher when I was twenty-two. Hard to believe. Sister was a teacher. Uncle too. Me and him were teachers at the same time, him in Larnaca and me here. I think he was pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the old-time PE Teachers never even raised their voice. A lot of folks find that hard to believe. Robert Lewis never raised his. JV wouldn’t ever raised his, apart from in excitement when watching school sport. Noel just about had respect from everyone he ever taught, but he was a hard man. Down in the West Country. I always liked to hear about the old-timers. Never missed a chance to do so. Todd over in County of Somerset knowed how to teach every activity under the sun. Mason brought me to a place I didn’t think existed.  You can’t help but compare yourself against the old timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would’ve operated these times.

The old timers stayed in the classroom. They stayed because they wanted to teach and make a difference. To master their craft and they were respected. Lauded for it too. Spending time in Robert Lewis’ company was a lesson itself. Just being around him, I became a better teacher. A better person. Some like Noel and JV stayed in the classroom too long. They pushed their chips forward and died in the job, but they knew what they were doing. They would have said, okay, I’ll be part of this world. I was at their funerals. You couldn’t get into the church because of the throng of past pupils. They touched a lot of lives. For the better. Today it seems the role of the leader is more privileged than that of the teacher. Move on up out of teaching. Out of the gym and out of the fields. Out of the sun, and the rain, and the hail and the wind. Move to the comfort of the office. To manage and to lead. To oversee and to organise. I bought into that message too. I believed PE teaching was a young teachers the game. A stepping stone to something bigger and more important. I forgot the old timers. What they said, what they did.

I’ve been at a crossroads for a number of years. Now I’ve picked a path. I told my Head about it. Told him that I wanted to stay in the classroom. He said I lacked ambition. He said I lacked motivation. I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t. Your worth you see now, it’s hard to even take it’s measure. I’m not afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to make sacrifices in this job. Not to be glorious. You preach movement to these youngsters. Talk about the benefits of movement. Where are the old timers who live and breathe more than these words with actions? Wickham, Prince, Manley as well. There used to be many, but now it seems they’ve all gone. Replaced with teachers on a different path. A fast path out of the classroom to leadership or beyond. How can a youngster trust your words, if they don’t see an old timer showing them what movement can bring to their lives? Where are the old PE teachers who have embraced the richness that movement brings, living their words?

Had dreams recently… Two of ’em. Both had Noel in. It’s peculiar. Anyway, the first one I don’t remember too well but, it was about meetin’ him in a house somewheres and he was on his death bed. He couldn’t move. He could hardly talk. I had come back from abroad to see him and when his wife was out the room he whispered to me. I leaned over and put my ear to his mouth so I could hear what he said. He told me not to lose my way. I think I lost it. The second one, it was like we was both back in my first year of teaching, we were on the playing fields. There were children around us playing. It was getting dark and the wind was picking up something bad, but they didn’t care. They were lost in the moment. Lost in movement. Behind us was the office, with its warmth and light. I asked him if we should go back in? He walked past, towards the children. And in the dream I knew he was goin’on ahead and he was fixin’ to stay with those children out there on the fields in all the dark and cold, till they had enough. And I knew that whenever I got there, he’d be there. And then I woke up.

12 thoughts on “No Subject for Old Teachers

  1. I really like this and it brought two thoughts into my head. Around 33 years ago I had to make a decision. I had spent my last two years at school aiming to become a PE teacher. My cousin was 3 years into that journey and I looked up to him and wanted to follow in his footsteps. However when it came time to leave school, I had the requisite qualifications but decided to take the route into industry instead. I was offered a 4 year management programme which furthered my education and also paid very well at a time when there weren’t many jobs going (1983). I often think back and wonder what would have happened if I took the teacher training route?

    Also in terms of your dilemma of moving out of ‘being in the field’ to a leadership position. This also fascinates me. That same management programme led me into being an engineer and supervisor ‘in the field’ This was very hands-on and it is where I did most of my real life learning. Having now climbed the greasy pole and been a director where you are away from the front;line and take on that strategic leadership role. I very seldom get back on to ‘the field’ but when I do it is always the most enjoyable time speaking and understanding what the problems are.

    My grassroots coaching allows me to dip into that hands-on teaching role therefore without doubt there is still a side of me that hankers for ‘the field’ It is where teaching and learning are at their most acute!


    1. Hi David. Thanks for your comments. There seems to be a dominant narrative around leadership and being a leader at the moment in education. This seems to have some destructive outcomes, such as people viewing teaching as a stepping stone to school leadership, in the way people treat each other to achieve that, how people treat you when you want to stay in the classroom to practice your craft. The role of the leader it seems is more privilege in English education that the role of the teacher. I think this is something we have got backwards and need to change before education in this country moves forward.


  2. Have passed this on to Todd, Mason and Manley. Although unfortunately I am fairly certain that none of them will have a Twitter account to read it on, please do send me a copy of the article and I will forward on to them.


    1. Hi Hayley. Thanks for the comment. Todd, Mason, Manley and Wickham had a huge impact on me as a child and are the reason why I do what I do (so did Chats and Hoggy but that is a completely different story). Give them my best.


  3. Totally relate to this. I got an admin degree recently to make a move towards leadership and when I got done decided I couldn’t leave my passion (teaching) and didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to be active with kids every day and hopefully have a posititive impact on their lives. Not saying I’ll never pursue school leadership – honestly the degree gave me a better respect for my admin because now I have a better understanding of the crap they have to deal with daily, but as long as my heart is beating for Phys Ed they won’t take me out of the gym.


    1. Hi Ben. It seems like in both the US and the UK their is no clear route for Teachers who want to stay in the classroom for their career. Therefore to feel like you’re progressing you need to move into leadership. I feel this is a flawed ideal and perhaps a reason why we lose a lot of great teachers from the profession each year. Is their anything in your state that allows you to feel you are progressing as a classroom teacher that isn;t you taking responsibility into your own hands?


  4. Interesting read. Particularly when I have retrained to become a PE teacher. I will be going into my first full time PE teacher job aged 38 and I truly believe I will be a much better teacher because of it. I come with life experience both personally and professionally. I am a mum and I know I have so much to offer. Perhaps it’s different for me as a trailing expat spouse. I m so appreciative of the opportunity to retrain and to escape coffee mornings and handbag chat and the opportunity to work again. I don’t have the same career aspirations of others. I am going to be doing what I love and that is making a difference in helping others become more active. Interestingly one of my favourite teachers from my own childhood is my A-level PE teacher. A male in his 60’s who I had the upmost respect for. He was brilliant in the classroom and even better performing hand-springs in the gym!!!


    1. Hi Anna. Thanks for your comment. It’s taken a long time for me to come to terms that I want to stay in the classroom for the rest of my career and for it not to feel like that is a failure. However now I’ve made it, it seems so simple. It is what gives me the greatest joy in my job. Welcome to the profession, it is both rewarding and frustrating in equal measures. I look forward to hearing how things go for you in the future. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A really interesting read – particularly as the last chapter of my PhD focused upon how old(er) PE teachers embody effectiveness as constructed within a neoliberal performative background. One life history narrative focused upon Mark who was in his fifties – he prided himself upon his body and what it could do. Little body fat, and an ability to demonstrate to the pupils what it was he was looking them to do. He didn’t like asking them to do things he wasn’t prepared to do himself. Yet he sustained a serious knee injury, and his body couldn’t do what he wanted it to do. The ageing injured body breaking down was not conducive to teaching PE. As younger teachers came into the department, he was invariably comparing his body (capabilities) to theirs. As he perceived his effectiveness to be fading, he dropped out of games first, and then gym and dance. He moved into Maths. His PE body became a stigma (Goffman, 1963) and it wasn’t something he felt he could actively disguise with passing strategies. Under the performative regime that places emphasis upon observable measureable behaviours, Mark believed he had little to contribute – it impacted upon him emotionally, and while he strived to become a Senior Leader (moving from a middle leader pastoral position), he was continually overlooked. His embodied constructions of effective teaching (and his identity) were superseded by his stigma, and he ended up taking early retirement.

    I say this as while it can be admirable for the older teacher in PE to be there and pass on his/her considerable experience and wisdom, yet when their identity is tied up in what the body can/cannot do, it is necessary to take into account the context in which that identity has been constructed. This links to the life history of the teacher, the local context of the school, and the wider societal beliefs about physical education and the young(er) person’s body. If young people’s bodies are seen to be healthy, fit and productive, the older body may be perceived to be slow, frail and past it. For someone that has enjoyed previous success in sports, this can be difficult to deal with.

    Hope my musings makes some sort of sense – there is an exceptional auto-ethnographic paper on stigma and the PE teaching body by Jennifer Fisette. I would highly recommend it.


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