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Commentary: Utah students and teachers need real middle school health, PE and art

Originally published Aug. 8 in the Salt Lake Tribune.

By Tim Pettus

During an interview on KSL radio August 8, Utah State Board of Education member Linda Hansen stated, “instead of having a separate class for PE, they may integrate health/PE type issues into other classes that they have.”

Is Hansen implying that overworked classroom teachers will happily take on more work and teach a subject they did not study in college, are not qualified to teach, and most likely don’t want to teach?

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2016 photo by Rick Bowmer published in the Utah Standard-Examiner.

The high teacher burnout rate in Utah has been well documented recently. A few districts are giving substantial raises, a good first step to reverse the burnout trend, but let’s also focus on teacher workload. The math, science, and English teachers are busy enough correcting papers and planning lessons. They don’t need a health, PE, or art lesson added to their already overloaded plate.

Hansen says she spoke with many charter and public schools in her district that were in favor of the new rule change. Did she speak with administrators AND teachers? I fear this rule change is an easy opportunity for schools to cut certified physical education, health, and art teachers and replace them with non-certified, low paying, hourly rate employees — if they are replaced at all.

I am an elementary PE teacher at a school that has its own art, music, PE (and more) “specialist” classes taught by teachers highly qualified in their discipline. The benefits these subjects offer to students are well documented in many current studies (often linking art, music, and PE to increased brain function). The benefit [of these specialists] that is often overlooked is to the classroom teacher.

At the elementary school where I work, teachers walk their students to the door of the specialist classroom and then have a 30 to 40-minute opportunity to correct homework, return emails to parents, prepare the next lesson, and catch their breath so they have the required energy level to be an effective teacher.

On a daily basis, I watch students return from art, music, and PE class to see their homework corrected (with individualized feedback) and the next assignment waiting for them on their desk. The teacher has prepared the next lesson and the students (through routine and practice) are ready to learn.Some of the school board members are spinning this rule change as a good “choice” for schools. This was a bad choice by the school board that ignores the many benefits of physical education, art, and health classes. Saving money by laying off these teachers, watering down or eliminating important subjects, and increasing the workload of other teachers makes little sense.

Some of the school board members are spinning this rule change as a good “choice” for schools. This was a bad choice by the school board that ignores the many benefits of physical education, art, and health classes. Saving money by laying off these teachers, watering down or eliminating important subjects, and increasing the workload of other teachers makes little sense.

Hopefully, our schools will make the right choice and continue to hire qualified and licensed physical education, art and health teachers and require students of all ages to take these extremely beneficial subjects.

Tim Pettus holds a Master of Arts in Teaching Physical Education (Winthrop University).  He is starting his 12th year as an Elementary Physical Education Teacher at The Waterford School, Sandy, UT.

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