Tuesday, April 04, 2006

PE Teachers Are Demons From Hell

No other activity inspired as much loathing and resentment for both subject and tutors as Physical Education at school.

What didn’t help was that I was a particularly clumsy child, and at that time of your life when your entire status and worth as an individual in school is based on how well you can kick, throw or catch a ball, PE teachers seemed to revel in humiliating us differently-coordinated at every possible opportunity.

It wasn’t enough that he would pick the two top players out to the front to select their teams, which always created arguments when they got to the final kid left leaning against the wall, I would swear he actually encouraged them:

“You can have him”

“Nah, it’s ok, that’ll leave you 2 players short – you have him.”

“No, look, I said, you have him.”

“Well I don’t want him. He’s crap”

“Exactly, I don’t want him either. Sir, sir, you tell him to take Kim on his side!”

“Stop this arguing right now! This isn’t the kind of sporting behaviour I expect from you two. We’ll toss a coin and the loser gets him…”

When you’re a kid, there’s no such thing as a coordinated approach, so in your average soccer team forget about positions such as “wing” and “defence”, it’s 10 strikers and a goalie. I was always shoved in goal. Big mistake – when someone kicked a ball at the net I was more likely to dive out of the way to avoid being hit. Those things could fair sting if they hit you.

When I went up to the high school, I was living in Wales where the national sport obsession is rugby (for US readers – think of American Football but with only a thin nylon shirt and shorts for protection). Our PE teacher must have been in his 60s and close to retirement; in fact, he looked like he should have attended his own funeral several years before. He would dress in a tracksuit and stand by the side of the pitch, resting his large belly on the heavy roller used for flattening the cricket green, where he would yell at us between hacking coughs with a fag hanging out of his mouth: hardly an inspiring role model.

When I was nearly 15 we moved back to England and the PE master in my new school couldn’t have been more different. He was in his 30s, tall, lean, athletic, square jawed and a more narcissistic person you would struggle to find in a room full of young conservatives. He was the kind of person who would get up 2 hours early every morning just so that he could have more time to admire himself in the mirror. More disturbing than that, though, was his insistence that every boy have a shower after PE, and he would stand there and watch.

My god how I hated the showers. As a teenager, your self consciousness about your body is bad enough at the best of times, but when you’re forced to cavort around naked in front of all your male classmates, some of whom have been shaving since they were six and have penis that would make a horse weep with envy, then my personal symbol of masculinity would shrivel up so far in embarrassment that it almost inverted. Still, at least I never got an accidental erection: one lad was beaten to a pulp for his and teased relentlessly until the day we left school.

Needless to say, I have grown up to have a pathological hatred for football, rugby, cricket, communal showers and PE teachers. So later this year, when there will be all sorts of patriotic celebrating of the 40th anniversary since England last won the World Cup, I’m sure you’ll understand why I won’t be joining in.

16 comments:

Foot Eater said...

When I was at primary school, aged 11, our class went off on the traditional 'veldtschool' week, which was a trip to the bush where we were taught camping skills, forced to trek through the blazing African heat without water, and in the evenings subject round the campfire to propaganda lectures extolling the virtues of apartheid. We were allowed to shower twice, in a communal outdoor facility, with all the teachers watching, and some of them took photos. At the time I didn't see any of this as abnormal, but rather as part of the natural misery of childhood. Looking back on this sadistic perversion, I can understand why I've always been averse to camping.

SheBah said...

I think someone should compile a book of all these childhood "issues" and make it compulsory reading for all teachers, scout captains and authority figures who deal with kids. Its not your parents that "fuck you up" (as Phillip Larkin memorably said) - its teachers et al. who seem to leave the permanent scars.

Kim Ayres said...

It's amazing how many incidences there are which you accept as perfectly normal as a child and then when you look back with adult eyes, you suddenly go "did nobody ever question that person's behaviour?"

Asher Hunter said...

Growing up, I could never understand the fascination with sports. Especially seeing since engaging in these sports usually involved a fair bit of touching of men's butts and communal showering.

Rhonda said...

Ah, I am grateful to have been spared P.E. from 9th grade forward, due to a blown-out knee.

But I do remember the cruelty that went on in the girls' junior high locker room. There was a particularly scrawny, underdeveloped girl who was horribly teased. Entering that room must have been a terror for her. I remember one day, we dresed-down and were instructed to go straight to jogging upon leaving the lockeroom. That poor girl forgot to put on her shorts and jogged into the commons in her underwear - in full view of the entire student body.

Though I didn't participate in the ensuing ridicule, I've always felt guilty for doing nothing to put a stop to it.

Charlie said...

Thanks for the link. As for my childhood after a good hard think mine was pretty good in fact almost famous five or hardy boys.

SafeTinspector said...

Kim, the sports were different, but I had many similar experiences in school.
ADHD and flabby, I couldn't keep track of what was going on and couldn't keep up in any case.
And showering with other boys...gods, I was homophobic and body-shamed. Didn't want anyone to see me naked, and didn't want anyone to think I'd seen them naked.

Foot:They really extolled the virtues of apartheid?!? I always figured apartheid was something they just did, like Jim Crow in the American south once was. Jim Crow was never really spoken about or officially educated into youths, it just was.

St Jude said...

When I was at school they still had corporal punishment. Why did the PE teachers gain so much satisfaction from the 'slipper'. I was the quiet one in the corner throughout my school years, most people didn't know that I existed. I never liked the team games, but by God I could run, medals the works. But if only they knew, I had to practise every night on the way home from school just to get there safely from the ones that had noticed me.

Attila The Mom said...

Our gym teacher in elementary school was a real sadistic bastard. Crazy-mean, and scared the heck out of everybody. For years.

Turns out he had a brain tumor. Once he had that out, he was a real pussy-cat. LOL

Charlie said...

For some reason I will never understand, we high school boys had swim class once in a week in the nude. Week after week for four years. And of course I had the same embarrassments as you and all of the commentors.

I never told my Mom about it because she would have complained to the school. Can you imagine what my life would have been like after that?

Not to make light of the girl you mention, Rhonda, but the poor thing does remind me of a movie called Carrie.

Charlie said...

So WHERE, exactly, do I purchase a set of BLUNT COGS coffee mugs???

Rhonda said...

Not to make light of the girl you mention, Rhonda, but the poor thing does remind me of a movie called Carrie.

It really was almost that bad. She was treated terribly by her classmates.

After commenting about her, I googled her name, finding a professional model/actress/swimsuit calendar girl who shares the name and, I'll be damned, looks very familiar. I'm going to have to get my school yearbook and make a comparison.

If it is her, she's living the best form of revenge.

Kim Ayres said...



Asher - I'm not too bad with all sports, it's just those that I was forced to participate in at school - soccer, rugby and cricket that I absolutely despise

Rhonda - I think it's very telling that you would rather have had a messed up knee than have to participate in PE. The people who force us as children to go through these humiliating rituals have a lot to answer for. We happily wrote notes for older children when they were at school if they didn't want to do PE, and will happily do the same for the younger ones if they want it

Charlie - I'm genuinely pleased for you. I'd like to think that my experiences were the exception rather than the rule

SafeTinspector - It is such a strange combination of "all guys in the shower together" along with macho-homophobic attitudes where everyone is terrified of getting the etiquette slightly wrong and being beaten up or teased for ever more.

St Jude - I have huge long rants which I've subjected other people to, but I can't remember whether I've mentioned on this blog yet, about how school is all about conformity and teaching you to merge into the background by creating a fear of being noticed by teachers or other pupils. I'll check back through the blog and at some point will no doubt let rip.

Atilla - there's few gym teachers in my experience that wouldn't benefit from a full frontal lobotomy

Admiral - nude swimming? I guess it's another one of those things which you put up with as a kid because everyone else is, even though part of you knows something's not right, and it's only as an adult looking back can you really begin to see that things were truly out of order.

As for Blunt Cogs paraphenalia, the big problem is that most of the characters have been created using the South Park generator, which means there could be all sorts of copyright problems for merchandising. However, if I can find someone who could create a copyright-free character generator for everyone to build their cartoons with then I wouldn't hesitate setting up a CafePress online shop.

So when are you going to start joining in with comments and scripts?

Rhonda - ah well, better a swimsuit model than a telekinetic psycho I guess.

SafeTinspector said...

Kim:I nipped the SafeT head from an old Nintendo game. Bonus points if you know which one! The rest was built in Gimp.

Stella said...

Maybe I'm weird but I enoyed PE at school? And the PE teacher was one of my favourite teachers.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - 'fraid I have no idea.

Stella - That's the thing I don't know - whether my experiences were commonplace, or unusual.