Thursday, September 10, 2009

Swim Suits, Self Esteem, and the Sixth Grade

The boy's last class of the day is gym. For the first month and a half of school, gym class is spent at the community pool that's conveniently located right next to the middle school. My son loves swimming so this is, of course, the highlight of his day. If I were eleven and in his class, I would be completely mortified. I don't feel as if I have many self esteem issues (no more than the average woman anyway), but I don't like being seen in a swimsuit now. I can't even wrap my brain around the idea of a pre teen me wearing one in front of the entire gym class.

Tuesday I was running ahead of schedule and arrived at the school early, there was still 25 minutes before dismissal. As I sat in the car waiting, I watched the assistant gym teacher take a dozen or so kids outside and make them walk laps around the field.

Once school was dismissed and the boy got in the car I asked him what was up...why did those kids have to run laps? I really didn't need to wait to hear his answer though, I knew it was because they had "forgotten" to bring their swimsuits.

I had figured it out when I watched them do laps. A large portion of the kids were overweight, some looked as if they might not even own a swimsuit, others were just awkward. Either way, this wasn't the popular in crowd doing laps, it was the misfits. And it broke my heart.

I remember the sixth grade and I remember being the fat girl. My best friend Dawn says that I was never fat and insists that instead it was she who was the "squat" girl in our little group of dorks. I don't remember it that way, but it doesn't matter now. What matters is, at that time, for whatever reason, I hated my body and now I cannot imagine being forced to wear a swimsuit for a grade.

All of this made me wonder...what's the point? If someone doesn't want to wear a swimsuit, couldn't something suitable be found for them to do in class, something that's less like a punishment? Frankly, as far as the 'swimming' portion of class goes, it's not very organized. The kids who play around in the water or jump off of the diving board get an automatic "A." Or, providing they are in a swimsuit, they can sit on the edge and just put their feet in and earn a "B." There is no structured learning, it's basically 45 minutes of free swim.

What are the kids learning by all this? I imagine that the lesson the coaches are trying to pass on is that the rules apply to everyone and that they can't just slide by, but is that really what the kids are taking away from this? And if so, at what price? Because the way I see it, the school is helping to ostracize the kids that are already being ostracized.

The whole thing really makes me sad. I'll be 33 next month and I still remember what it was like to be a kid. I wish some gym teachers could remember as well.


veronica said...

i'm slightly irked by some of the assignments my daughter is getting. This week we had to look for 3 blogs she would be interested in following. She is also supposed to write a blog. While i am a fan of the blog, i really don't know what this is supposed to teach my daughter.

She also has this on going assignment of where she has to log onto a website and learn how to type via website. I would really like for her to learn to type, as it frustrates me to no end watching her type, but still, this assignment irks me because the TEACHER is not teaching this nor did the teacher develop this website. It is something I could have taught her or told her to do and it makes me feel that the teacher is being lazy.

And then she has this math assignment where she has to use Excel to do the graph. While excel is a great program that I use regularly, this assignment bothers me as well because i feel that it doesn't really teach math since the computer is doing it for her. All she has to know is which cells to select and make the graph look pretty and voila, the calcs are done! This assignment counts as a test.

As with 5th grade, I am slightly annoyed with 6th grade! Me or the husband will be going to open house tonight to discuss.

My comment is slightly off topic from yours, but your grievances with gym reminded me of my irritations with 6th grade thus far.

Daphne said...

I hated the swim time as well, but mostly for a different reason: your hair got all messed up. Mine gym was like at 11 am. When you were a 12 year old girl in the 80s, you had BANGS. I don't care who you were, you had big bangs. And water wrecked them. And then you had to have curling irons and hair spray and all that... and they never looked the same again. And there went your chances of Mike Logan (or whoever) ever looking at you like he did that one day EVER AGAIN.

(not that I'm bitter or anything)

Daphne said...

"Mine gym was like at 11 am."

Clearly this topic has ruffled me so much that I can't form a coherent sentence anymore.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

My goodness this entry saddened me to the core. You are right the children running laps already are the ones who get picked on and are on the fringe looking in.

My first thought was how could this so called "teacher" do this to the kids and not see what is really going on here?

6th Grade is hard enough - hell all of school is hard enough. Why must they do this to them? Are they really learning anything except that they will have to do laps each time they don't have to wear a suit?

I have a feeling someone knew what they were doing when I didn't get to have children. I would be in that school office giving them my thoughts on this matter and I am sure that I would be "that mother"

I hate injustice in all forms but this breaks my heart when it's kids because we've all been there at some point within some topic you know?

Maria Rose said...

I was definitely one of the kids sitting out of swimming (hello some of those young girls develop lady bits that they just aren't confident with at that age) and I remember how awful it felt to have the teacher draw attention to the fact that I had "forgotten" my swimsuit.

Oh and dodge ball was torture. Do they still do that?

Barefoot_Mommy said...

we never had "swim" time in gym, just the usual torturous playground dodge ball, kick ball, and other games involving balls being thrown, kicked, and/or launched at high vilocities towards my face. I was a "geeky" kid: puny and awkward with glasses. Somehow, the ball always made a b-line for my face. I agree... those poor kids... I would have DIED before wearing a swim suit in front of my peers at that age.

Nowheymama said...

Oh, this hurts.

Tammie said...

veronica: a lot of what you are dealing with would piss me off too. honestly, im not a fan of a lot of home based computer/internet assignments as i think it puts certain kids at a disadvantage which i think is completely unfair.
while i get that there has to be homework of all kinds, i think that the circumstances need to be the same for all the kids, and that just isnt the case with computer based assignments. plus, it does seem as if you're dealing with a lot of lazy teaching.

most of the boys teachers are pretty good. there is one that has some strange requirements and leaves me scratching my head times, but ultimately shes a tough teacher and i like her. (so far)

daphne: one year in high school, i had gym first period. first period!!! i was ugly that whole semester. and dont worry, school has ruffled me in ways i dont think i'll ever recover from.

peg: i love what you said about the gym teacher, because i thought the same thing. as i watched those kids do laps, my hatred for the man grew and i found myself silently cursing him. i dont want to lump all gym teachers together (i had a couple of pretty awesome ones in high school), but as a whole they don't seem to be the most understanding bunch and they seem to get off on making kids miserable.

and i think you'd have ever right to be "that mother". if my kid was uncomfortable with the whole thing, you can bet id be at the school. strangely though, both of my children have almost abnormally positive views of their own bodies. i hope it stays that way.

this form of injustice really gets to me as well. in my heart i truly felt like the teacher was making life hard for kids that already have it pretty fucking hard.

maria rose: i know! and this is probably too much info, but come on...menstruation! as if getting your first few periods isnt emotionally debilitating and mind blowing enough, then you have to factor in the possibility of dealing with a swimsuit. ugh.

i dont think they do dodgeball anymore. none of my sons schools ever did it. thankfully.

barefoot: i never had swim either, but i was an ungraceful clutz, so yeah, generally an easy target.

nowhey: doesnt it though? :(

Karen said...

This class sounds like a nightmare. Gym class is such a pointless exercise in how it's acceptable to be cruel to the less fit, less popular kids.

It's also amazing to me how it's okay to require middle school kids to use computers to do homework (as per veronica's comment). Is it against school rules to be to too poor to have a computer?

And let's not even get started on how being able to swim is the privilege of the middle classes.

Dani said...

I had to swim. My gym teacher was a man. I "had my period" for the entire unit. He never questioned me.

Frankly I don't think swimming should be part of the regular physical education curriculum for the exact reasons you mentioned. After school activity, fine. Then it's a choice. But not the regular school day. Kids are cruel. Even if you have no body issues you could easily develop one just by some off-handed comment.

I had a crush on a boy. Quite a bit older. He told me one day that I had weird knees and short legs. I doubt he meant to hurt me...but I was crushed. Granted my legs are short, but I have been paranoid about my knees ever since. And that's just my knees. It's not like he said I was a lard-ass or anything.

DysFUNctional Mom said...

It's teaching them that they're not good enough. And that's horrible.
When I was in middle school, the school actually had a pool and we had swimming as PE for our last semester each year. Oddly, even though I was overweight, I remember loving it. I think we were allowed to wear shorts over our suits, though.

Carla said...

Oh I hear you on this one!

Mari said...

I hated swimming in middle school. I felt fat, the indoor pool area was freezing, the boys sucked, and I had it second period so I had crappy looking hair for the rest of the day.

kraftykash said...

I would have been the one taking laps, for sure. Kids nowadays are meaner than ever! I remind Kalen every day that I will embarass the holy hell out of him at school if I ever hear anything about him mistreating others or making then feel like crap. He is hanging out with the FB players, so its my duty to remind. :)

Layrayski said...

I hate PE. I may play sports so I have some coordination but I hate being graded for it. Yeah, I get you.

Betts said...

We didn't have swimming at school, but it was bad enough going to a pool party in 6th grade when some boy pointed out that I was getting hairy armpits. Maybe you should print this post and send it to the school.

Becky..AMHW said...

My PE teacher in junior high was a tough lady...who didn't care that I had a period, or was flatchested, or was horrified about the prospect of co-ed aerobics or co-ed folk dancing. She made no apologies. She was teaching what she was teaching at that was that. You got up and you participated or you failed.

However, when she called my Mom out of the blue one day to tell her I was a good student, that sure made an impression on me. It still does. She didn't have to do that.

We didn't have to go to the pool though. The teacher did have a bit of sense. There were still girls whose parents didn't allow them to shave. It's one of the reasons she allowed sweat pants instead of regulation shorty shorts on co-ed days.