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Mrs. Stewart's Journey to Teaching and Her Thoughts on Physical Education

On October 26, 2020 the Newsroom did a personal interview with Bella Vista’s PE teacher Mrs. Stewart. During the interview, Mrs. Stewart shared many of her teacher ideologies and perceptions of the respect PE obtains. While she consists of many fresh new ideas that can efficiently benefit many of Bella Vistas students, she is not only a PE teacher but was a basketball player with much success and recognition.

What inspired you to become a PE teacher? Primarily I was inspired by coaches and teachers that I had. I’ve always had a passion for athletics and for fitness and so it just kinda fit. I always wanted to be a coach and so it kindred fit in the realm of being a coach and PE teacher but through the years I find myself as now just a PE teacher.

You said you were in basketball, right? Yes. Can you tell me more about that, your basketball experience? Yeah, well I started playing basketball as a young girl. I fell in love with the game. I liked the fast pace of the game, the strategies, and all that and I played, you know, started in elementary school and then went on to junior high played and made the junior high teams and then when I got to high school which I’m a Bella Vista graduate if you didn’t know. I played at Bella Vista so my freshman year I was on the JV Basketball team and loved it, met some great friends from it and then my sophomore, junior, and senior year I made the varsity team. Junior year we had a lot of success, we won a section title which is a big deal and went on to northern California, we ended up one of the top four teams in the state of California that year, that was my junior year and then I wasn’t sure about going to college but I had a coach who came from American River college who came in and watched me play asked what I was doing and I said I haven’t thought that far ahead and she said well I’d love for you to play basketball for me and I thought oh okay well I’ll go to college and play basketball.

So you played at American River college? Yep, played at American River college for two years and I was recruited to go play at Sonoma state, but I was in a car accident which kinda ended my playing time; and then I came back home and started coaching, and I actually coached at American College for a few years before going to coach at Bella Vista High School while I was working on my teaching credential.

What do you enjoy about teaching PE? I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the fresh air, the cool mornings. I used to enjoy the hot afternoon but not as much anymore as I get older. But, I just, I just enjoy being outside and being able to, I mean in essence play games and just and movement and being able to move and talk with kids and learn about kids and help kids with certain skills, movement skills that maybe they couldn’t do before and just you know I mean I just being a HS teacher a lot of it is just about connections I make with teenagers and trying to encourage them the importance of what fitness will be for future and that it should be a lifelong project and not just something that you're doing right now. It’s something that you’re going to do for the remainder of your life.

So that’s the message you would like you students to obtain? Absolutely, yeah, my number one message to students is that physical education is a lifelong healthy lifestyle and to have a lifelong healthy lifestyle is going to help you save money right, it's gonna help prolong your life, and you're gonna be happier and you’re gonna enjoy life so much more by having that healthy lifestyle.

If PE is so important and studies have proved it benefits you in many aspects in life why do you think PE is still undervalued? I think PE for a long time was given a bad thing because it was the you know it was only important for jocks, it was the dumb jocks that were good in PE and the rest of us weren’t, and if you weren’t a athlete you know, forget you, we’re not going to do anything with you. So I think for a period of time, there was a period of time where PE was about athletics and there are still coaches out there today who look at as you know athletes. Many of us have changed. I mean I can tell you when I first started I was very much into the athletic realm of it versus the fitness realms So even I have changed throughout the years on it but I think it's coming around. I think the importance of movement and physical activity is coming around but I think because of the fact that it was you know, the dumb jocks, it was the dumb jocks class that you know, they, people made it look bad, didn’t think it was important and you know how its not helping me, you know. All I’m doing is playing a stupid game, I’m not learning anything and so I’ve been working really hard trying to change that within my own class.

Why do you think many students have a negative connotation towards PE? Does it have anything to do with the dumb jocks thing you were talking about? I think it has to do with the whole, you know the bullying aspect too. The fact that if you’re not good enough you know in essence you quote “suck” right, how many times do we hear oh you suck you can’t shoot a basket, you can’t do that. Where I’m really big on you know I hear that, and it’s like I’m cooed and I’m talking to kids and we’re making corrections on how we can help each other, you know. My true philosophy is you’re only as good as your weakest link. So when you’re in a group of kids whoever your weakest link is on that skill that's who you need to work around. If you work around that person, you build that person up, right. If you ignore them and let them just stand to the side because they don’t like to play this sport or whatever, it doesn’t do them any good and it really doesn’t do your conduciveness of your group any good. So it's just a matter of trying to build up people. I think there's a way you can build people up through physical activity versus break 'em down. For so long people were broken down and so it really gave PE a negative connotation there.

How do you feel about PE not being defined as a core class? I have mixed feelings on it. You know there's parts of the PE class that I think are very important. I really truly feel that schools can benefit students better by taking PE and health and making it a course class together. Combining the two classes together and making them a year long class for all four years of high school. I think what you teach health wise, what you teach a freshman is very different from what you would teach a senior but activity wise movement wise having movement at least a semester out of each year so you’d have a semester of PE and a semester of health every year which would give you your two years of PE still but it would add year and a half of health to your transcript which I think would benefit students because today you know our mental health cases are astronomical for teenagers and I think having health and PE coincided together will help benefit helping teenagerscause I just don’t think you know we add more science we add more math we add you know, you guys just had those change of graduation requirements right. So now you have all these extra, you have an extra math class, you have an extra science class you have to take, you know. What does that do to you? It makes you stressed out. You know where couldn't health be considered-you know health and PE are part of science too, believe it or not you know so...I don’t know if that answered your question. That’s my whole philosophy on it! I think it should l be, I think both health and PE should be taught all four years and honest I don’t think you need a year of PE. I think a semester of PE and a semester of health and combine those would be perfect.

When you see students miss out on PE to take a test or do yearbook pictures how does that make you feel? Once in a while it really doesn’t bother me. I mean if a student needs some extra time on a test or they’re going to take a yearbook photo or whatever. I honestly it doesn't, it's a minimal amount of time that that occurs. But if it's something that is ongoing where the kid is continually missing my class because they have to make up a test or they need to you know. I mean yearbook photos happen two days out of the year that's not a big deal. But you know if it's the same kid who's always taking a test and the same teacher always saying hey I need so and so. Cause you know in my opinion is if asked, if I emailed the teacher and said hey I need this kid to take a fitness test they’re not gonna release them because they’re going to miss their math lecture or they have a math test or whatever. So I try to do my makeup time where I’m not affecting another teacher. Me it's more respect for my coworkers and where sometimes I feel my coworkers give physical education the respect. They just think we're just playing a game you know, we’re just playing basketball. You know which sometimes is the case depending on what weather does to us but I work with it on an individual basis. To say it bothers me, you know not completely but if there's someone taking advantage of it I usually, I do my best to communicate with that teacher and that student. Hope that answered it. But there are other people, just so you might want to take this note there are other people within my department who, I mean they flat out will not let a student go so I mean there are some who are just like nope you can't go, you know. Me it depends on an individual basis and it depends on the student and what's going on with the student.

So when you’re saying there are other people in the department who won't let the kid go, you’re saying that if you ask them hey I have a student who needs to take a PE class they won’t release the student? Correct or even my PE teachers, the other PE teachers within our department, within Bella Vista you know if the student comes to them and says hey I need to take a Math test can I take it during class they’re not going to let them, they’re not going to release them you know you can do that on your own time kind of thing. For me I look out on it on an individual basis, if I have a kid who I know has been absent a number of times and depending on what we're doing in class and it’s not vital that they’re in class I may let them go. Does that make sense? So, really it just depends on the scenario and with communication.

In your personal healthy lifestyle journey, I’ll call it that, what sparked the idea to begin it? My weight. I was reaching a weight that I never thought I would ever see. I was close to 200 pounds and just depressed. Had a hard time getting you know up out of bed and moving and you know being at work and being a PE teacher and not being able to demonstrate movements and different things. I just was not happy with myself and decided it was time to focus on me and I had to do something different to be able to make me a better person so I could be a better person, one for my family, for my own kids, as well for my students.

Do you have any tips for anybody on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Number one is to make sure you have an accountability group. Have a group of people whether it be you group of friends, your family members, whether you have-you know get your own health coach whatever it is but having the accountability accountability partner is the number one. Number 2 is never giving up. A healthy lifestyle is a roller coaster ride and you're gonna have good days bad days, good weeks bad weeks, good months bad months you know holidays are coming up those are always too difficult to stay on that health journey. But know that you can always come back to it. It's ongoing, to me it's a lifestyle, it's not a diet. Don’t go on diets you can use what people call diets your keto diet, whatever you want do you no carbs diet whatever it is you want to do you can use those within it but don’t call it a diet because a diet stops there’s a period of time, you diet from this time to this time and it stops. Call if a lifestyle, make it ongoing. Make it something you’re going to do for the rest of your life.

What does it truly mean to you to have a healthy lifestyle? What is it all about? It’s just about having a healthy lifestyle gives you a happy life I feel. I feel it makes you a better person, a stronger person. You have more confidence. You, your, trying to figure out the correct words here but I mean it gives you more confidence. It makes you a better a friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better brother you know whatever whoever you are it just helps with all aspects of your life and when you’re feeling good about yourself it makes it easier to pass that information on to another person and to be able to in assets either help other people or be supportive of other people when they need your support. If trying to support somebody else when you're not even happy in your own shoes is very difficult to do. So uh you have to take care of yourself number one and from there once you've taken care of yourself and you know you’re where you need to be then that's when true opportunity you have to be able to help others.

As expressed, Mrs. Stewart is not just a PE teacher she’s a phenomenal basketball player and person who has passion for physical fitness and education. With her she carries intelligent philosophies and beliefs on the importance of PE, it’s history, and how it can evolve into a core class. As a person Mrs. Stewart demonstrates resilience, strength, and respect of not only herself but her coworkers and students. She’s an inspiration that kindles her students to truly think about their health and their personal lifestyle. I know because I am one of her students and since I joined her class my perspective on the class PE has been changed forever.

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