‘It’s not called gym anymore’
Jerry Kane says he's had the three best jobs anyone could have. "I coached basketball, I was a sports reporter and now I'm a phys ed teacher," says Kane, a second-year educator at PS 38 on Staten Island. "You know the phrase, 'You've never worked a day in your life'?"
It's not that these jobs are easy. It's just that he's loved them so much.
A sports management major, Kane began working at the Staten Island Advance, his hometown newspaper, when he was a college junior, and he stayed for four years. After growing up with a basketball tucked under one arm, talking sports all the time, "to have a job writing about it was awesome."
Teaching wasn't part of Kane's game plan but the newspaper industry was shrinking and "I had to keep my options open," he says.
As an assistant high school basketball coach, most coaches he met were phys ed teachers, who sang the job's praises. So Kane jumped at the opportunity to join the city Department of Education's Pathways to PE program, designed to revitalize physical education on the elementary level. The training includes master's degree coursework and a 12-week immersion program. Kane was teaching in under a year.
He finds physical education "totally different" from what he remembers as a student. "First, it's not called gym anymore," he says. And he recalls just rolling out the ball for games. "Now, there's a curriculum, with standards. At the elementary level, we're teaching students skills so they can go to middle school and use those skills in a game setting. That way, in high school, they can play on teams."
Teaching phys ed is also very different from coaching: When you're coaching, Kane says, the kids "want to be there and they want to learn." Some of his phys ed students would "rather play video games or play on iPads."
Kane's students are pre-K through 5th grade. One minute, he's teaching 4-year-olds how to tie their shoes. The next, he's trying to figure out a 5th-grader. "It's a totally different world from when I was in 5th grade," he says.
And in every class, he says, "you're putting out fires. I read that teachers make 1,500 decisions every day. It's probably true."
Kane's goal is to instill passion for one of the 12 sports he teaches into a few students, and to get more of them simply to "put down the remote or the controller, maybe get outside, go to the park or ride a bike."
He's making inroads. One of his 4th-graders recently joined a basketball team. "He came up to me today and said, 'I scored 10 points, my career high.' He's not going to forget that," Kane says.
Kane hopes to take what he's learned through coaching and journalism and pass it on.
Soon after he was hired, he started a newspaper club — complete with notebooks, cameras and press passes. With the help of 5th-grade teacher Donna Fuchs, The Dolphin Times newspaper targets students who have scored lower on state tests, hoping to spark an interest in writing and improve their skills. Students write about what interests them, and sometimes a student who won't write in class can fill a page of the paper.
"I explained that I didn't love writing when I was their age," Kane says, "but it's important when you're texting and emailing all day." He tells students if they can talk about something, they can write about it.
They wondered why a "gym teacher is teaching them writing," says Kane, and were shocked to see his newspaper clips.
"They looked at me through another lens," he says, "and maybe respected me a little more."