Behind the Scenes with a Health/Physical Education Teacher

  • Health and physical education teacher Jennifer Pike stands with a CPR manikin and a skeleton model Dealing with stress better and developing a personal fitness routine sound like goals any adult might set at the start of a new year.

    They also are lifelong skills that students can explore and strengthen during health and physical education classes led by Queensbury Middle School teacher Jennifer Pike. Pike has been a part of the middle school community for eight years. Each week she teaches health to seventh-graders, physical education to sixth- and eighth-graders, and a smaller skills class for students who have special needs.

    Her subject areas are perhaps uniquely suited to providing insight into the concerns of young teens.

    “One of the big stressors for kids in health class is how many ‘likes’ they have on social media. That and if someone keeps them hanging when texting. So if you read it, and you didn’t respond, that’s a stressor for kids,” she reflected while sitting at her desk. “Another top stressor is kids not being able to get their homework done because they’re playing so many sports and traveling so much.”

    In the fall, Pike teaches her health classes about meditation as a tool for stress relief and relaxation. She also tries to allow students to have nine minutes of quiet reflection on “Meditation Mondays” throughout the year.

    “I had a parent contact me about how it helped her son. He wasn’t into sports, but it was just something that he was dealing with, the pressure of getting good grades and stuff like that,” she said.

    Health classes today cover an array of topics guided by state standards and emerging wellness issues. Some examples include CPR, home safety, online safety, diseases, disabilities, bullying prevention and mental health.

    “There are times when I learn a lot from the students themselves because things are changing on a daily basis,” she said, pointing to the troubling rise in vaping - the use of devices to inhale flavor-infused nicotine vapor - among teens locally and nationally.

    “Teaching health now, you have to be on your toes. We have to keep up with it and educate the kids as much as we can because advertisements are working against us.”

    Pike also spends a sizable portion of her day teaching students lifelong fitness skills and helping them develop and implement personalized fitness plans. Physical education today has moved away from team sports in preference for activities that empower all students to take charge of, and not be embarrassed by, their own level of fitness. For example, students now use personal heart rate monitors to monitor their activity levels during class.

    “It’s individualized when we do workouts. You’re competing against yourself. You might say, ‘Okay, last time I did this many exercises. This time, I need to up it.’ Those students who aren’t top notch athletes are still participating and getting involved in PE now,” said Pike.

    Her personal desire to be active each day brought her to teaching after a more profitable, early career in computer science.

    “I got my computer science degree and worked in the field for 10 years, but I hated it. I have to be moving around a lot, so I decided to go back to school. So, here I am,” she happily shared.

    Like most teachers, Pike said she enjoys teaching because she loves working with children. It can be a challenge to juggle all of the different personalities in a classroom, but she wouldn’t be anywhere else.

    “I like seeing the look on kids’ faces when they have that ah-ha moment, when the lightbulb clicks,” she reflected. “I just love being with them, being active with them and teaching them new things.”