There's No Excuse for Getting a 'D' in Gym Class

What's asked of students today is nothing like back in the day, when there were uniforms that looked like bloomers.

It’s official, I’m old. Not only do I have to scroll for a ridiculously long time on drop down menus when I have to plug in the year I was born, but I recently found myself telling a student a “back in my day” story when I got a look at her gym grade.                                

This bright student, who is the picture of health, failed to make high honors because she got a D in P.E. It’s actually kind of impressive because getting a D in gym is difficult. All you really need to do is show up, have your gym clothes, and appear to put in a minuscule amount of effort, and you are pretty much guaranteed an A.    

When I attended Woodrow Wilson Jr. High School in Philadelphia, somewhere between the Jurassic Period and Madonna, girls had to wear gym suits. Not the shorts and T-shirt deals they wear now, these were seriously scary. They were short sleeve, blue, one-piece numbers with snaps down the front, a belt and, the absolute worst part, elastic around the tops of the thighs to give that chic bloomer look.

I believe they were made out of burlap or some other hot, stiff material. Names had to be embroidered (white, cursive) across the bust taking care not to sew the tiny pocket shut. My gym teacher, Miz Whitman, who would have made an excellent prison matron, insisted on the following to round out the ensemble:

  • No stripes on gym socks (very chic back then)
  • No jewelry
  • Hair in ponytails
  • Blue or white canvas sneakers (pre-Reebok/scrunchy sock era)
  • Paperclip attached to pocket holding white index card

Why the index card? We had to line up for inspection at the beginning of each class. If there was something amiss, such as a name necklace left on, Miz Whitman would get way up into your personal space and growl something like, “Stripes on your gym socks Missy? Three E’s...” and then rip the index card off the aforementioned tiny pocket and say, “E, E, E..” as she wrote it in red pen. E’s were the same as F’s are now and she gave us three because, well, I’m not sure, but it was very effective. It was as terrifying as it sounds. 

After we changed into our stunning gym suits, but before inspection, we had to put our pocketbooks into a rusty, metal closet which was then locked. If you didn’t get out of the closet in time, you were locked in. Yes, I was locked in there once. Now there would be an investigation and impending lawsuit. Back then my mother said, “Well, next time I guess you’ll move faster, won’t you?” 

When inspection was over the real humiliation began.  We were treated to the “Rings” speech — “These rings are made of cast iron, they could KILL you, ladies!” — at which point she slammed them together for emphasis. When the realtor showed me the house I live in now she pointed out the cast iron bath tub as a selling point. I almost didn’t buy the house.

There was also the “horse” I could never vault over and the rope I could never climb.  Since the school was in the quasi-city, we didn’t have a track, so for the one mile walk/run we had to jog around the perimeter of the school four times, including a busy street, in our gym suits. 

When students complain to me about a gym teacher taking them down a half grade for forgetting their cute gym shorts and T-shirt, I want to call the teacher and ask to make it a full grade. I would also advocate for a “Throw-Back Day.” If one was implemented, I am 100 percent certain every P.E. grade I see would be an A+. 

Sue Schaefer, M.ED., M.A.T., founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an Academic Coach, Student Advocate, and certified teacher. You may visit her website at www.academiccoachingct.com, email her at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com and follow her on Twitter @sueschaefer1

M Donna December 05, 2012 at 11:53 AM
It's actually quite a bit easier to get a low grade in phys-ed than you'd think; a lot of physical education teachers these days are incapable of identifying physical issues in students. I, for example, often got quite low grades in phys-ed because I simply was incapable of doing the extended running and such expected to participate sufficiently. It wasn't until later on that I found out I had lung issues due to being around second hand smoke as a child, and none of the gym teachers I'd had ever noticed or looked into the fact that wasn't doing the running -- they simply presumed I was lazy, and due to class sizes and lack of particular interest it never occurred to me that non-asthmatic breathing pain was something irregular I should bring up.
MisterSpuddy December 05, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Gym class was great fodder for the cliques and bullies favored by teachers back in the day. If you weren't one of those favored, you were subject to harsher treatment. Klutzy? You KNEW that some of the meanies would aim that volleyball right at you and laugh when you ducked. Afraid of heights? Well, too bad when it came to rope climbing. If someone jiggled when they ran, God help them. Etc. etc. etc. Most teachers are unconscious when it comes to bullying anyway. Or actively join in. Years later I thoroughly enjoyed going for 3+ mile runs- alone! And still won't go NEAR a volleyball game.
Michele December 06, 2012 at 06:29 PM
M Donna...sounds like your parents dropped the ball there. They should have observed your lack of ability to do physical activity and had a doctor check you out. I hated gym like everyone else, but it is necessary these days when kids are eating unhealthy and sitting on their couches more often.


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