As some of y’all might know, I’m a physical education teacher at a Catholic elementary/middle school. However, with me being plus sized, this comes as a huge surprise to many people. (No pun intended.) So when someone asks me what I do for work, I become a bit hesitant to mention that I’m a teacher because it follows up with, “Oh, wow. What do you teach?”
I love teaching
Now, don’t get me wrong. I really love my job and motivating children to reach their highest potential in physical fitness. It satisfies me to encourage children to love themselves as they go through the process instead of waiting until they reach their goal. I love showing children that being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean having bulging muscles or zero percent body fat. But most of all, I love teaching children that being healthy and positive starts with your mindset.
I wasn’t always plus sized
How did I become a P.E. teacher? Well, I used to be a multi-sport athlete before becoming plus sized, playing on Guam’s national teams for basketball and volleyball, and having extensive experience with First Aid. That was up until I dislocated my left kneecap in my early 20s – making both of my knees go bad (I tore my right ACL and lateral meniscus when I was 16). It was then that I figured it was time to hang up the towel and focus on just coaching. It’s with this same school that I started coaching boys’ basketball since my junior year of high school to the present. Two years ago, they offered me a P.E. teaching position and the rest was history.
Today, I am nowhere near as fit as when I used to train every day. My students know that I’m plus sized. Anyone looking at me can see that I’m plus sized. I still jog and weight train. I know proper form and technique. But despite any of that, the only thing anyone can notice is how fat I am. So you can imagine the shade I get when I mention to people that I teach P.E., especially when they don’t know my background. “Oh, really? I never would’ve guessed!” or even “How?” then gesture my physique (or lack thereof). Normally, it doesn’t bother me, but there are times where I feel defeated, which is what I’ve been feeling lately – until yesterday.
Body positivity needs to start at a young age
Growing up, I had a lot of classmates who hated P.E. because it made them feel bad about themselves or it was too hard. When I look back at it, adults play a huge role because they can either be a friend or foe in kids’ eyes. And as much as it pains me to say this, not much has changed since then. It’s not often you find a school where every kid enjoys and looks forward to P.E. I put these kids to work, but they end up having so much fun that they barely notice how hard they’re working.
My fifth-grade class had their half-mile run as an assessment of their current physical health. After, we had a sit-down and I congratulated them on keeping up with their fitness over the summer break and remembering what I taught them. Each and every one of them was able to pick up where they left off!
However, that positive moment turned sour when a new student pointed out another student for being “plus sized” (fat) for a kid. He said that he needed to lose weight to be considered healthy, despite the fact that this kid was able to keep up everyone else in the class. Once he said that, I immediately had to stop him and correct him.
Correct them early
Here’s what I said:
“(John), you need to stop right there. Firstly, what you’re saying is not nice and it’s rude. It’s very rude to point out something about a person’s physical appearance, especially in a negative tone. Secondly, being skinny isn’t the only way to be healthy. Look at (Jay)… He may be chubby, but he’s able to keep up with everyone and even run faster than some. In my opinion, he’s very healthy. I’ve been coaching kids for many, many years, John. I’ve seen really skinny kids gasping for air after just two laps of running. So next time, if you don’t have anything nice to say about your classmates, then keep it to yourself. Everyone in this class is a work in progress, and so far, everyone is improving compared to their first day under my P.E. curriculum. That’s something to be very proud of and positive about.”
Immediately after was my student (Amanda) chiming in:
“Wow, teacher. That’s so cool; the way you said it, that I can be healthy without being very skinny. I don’t have to starve myself or feel bad. That’s so, that’s so… inspiring!” (And mind you, this girl is one of my fittest students in her grade, yet, she’s still constantly told by her family that she’s too fat and needs to lose more weight.)
If you’d like to read more about how being skinny doesn’t always mean you’re healthy, there’s a great article on the topic by the Huffington Post. You can read it here.
A friendly reminder
Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that I may be plus sized and I sure don’t look the part, but every time someone shades me for being a fat P.E. teacher, I always tell them to see my students for themselves. Each and every one of them has had their health and physical fitness improve significantly since I started teaching in 2014. The school administration has acknowledged me for my efforts because they, too, can see that these kids are the fittest they’ve seen in years. Each of my students know how to pace themselves; they understand that progress doesn’t happen overnight; and they sure as hell know how to monitor their health at a young age. And if that’s not enough, they can check out my boys’ basketball team and see how fit and disciplined they are. I take pride in the fact that I can produce athletes from a school small that can now keep up with bigger competition.
Sometimes, I get so down from trying to spread body positivity because the work literally never stops. Naysayers and haters don’t take any days off. However, it’s moments like these with my students that I push myself harder to change the dialogue; to change the mindset. Isn’t it troubling to hear a fifth-grader say that she needs to starve in order to lose weight?
I believe it is.
So please, all I ask of anyone who’s reading this: Don’t judge a person based off of their appearance. You’d never know what kind of good they’re actually doing for the world.