Friday, August 27, 2010

The Pull-Up as a Social Mediator (or, "A Teacher's First Days Of School")

I'm just gonna give it to you straight. There is only one reason my first days of teaching were successful: The Gold's Gym Exercise Bar.

I had decided, thanks to the off-handed suggestion of my roommate, to bring my "pull-up bar" to my first days of health class. After all, a key component of health is physical fitness, and what better way to communicate this than a chin-up routine by the teacher? It seemed like it would both be fun for the kids and, secretly, it would be a way for me to knock out those first-day jitters. And besides, it had been a huge hit so far with the other girls living in the upstairs apartments with me. What started with a casual demonstration one night has become a regular nighttime event. Every night, my roommate and I go across the hall where three other teachers live, we hook the bar over the door frame of the bathroom, put on the "Rocky" theme song, and get our work-outs on. It's become such an expectation, in fact, that if I miss a night (due perhaps to a late date-night with Barrett), I take a number of good-natured jabs from the other girls the next morning ("Where were you last night??" "We waited up for you..." "You know Jess, you've missed two nights in a row. How am I going to improve at this rate??"). I gotta say, it's been the quickest way to bond that I've encountered yet.

Therefore, I went with the idea and took the bar down to my classroom on Wednesday morning for a good old fashioned teaching prop.

Over the next two days, I had 6 different health classes: 7th-12th grade. With each class, after going over the seating chart and some general get-to-know-you chats, I asked them to tell me what they thought were components of the subject of "health." This was a good lead-in to the importance of exercise. It generally went like this: after focusing on the topic for a few moments, I sidled over to my desk, said, "To that end..." and pulled out the bar. All eyes went wide: a few with recognition; most with shock that there was such a strange-looking device in the classroom. I then explained what the object was, told them about the year's forthcoming "Chin-Up Challenge," and hooked the bar over the classroom door frame. Their surprise mounted as I told them they could get out of their seats, gather around the door, and watch. When I raised my cardigan-clad arms and began lifting myself up, excitement erupted. After doing a few of them, I got down, pointed to the bar, and said, "Who's next?"

Turns on the bar took up a good part of the rest of class (who needs to go over the entire syllabus, anyway?), and judging from the smiles, slaps on the backs, and encouragement-bordering-on-peer-pressure, I'd say they were having a good time. This was further confirmed when two different teachers said my class was a "praise" in their bible classes, and when one of my 9th graders came up to me yesterday after school and exclaimed, "That class was awesome!!" After yesterday's ultimate frisbee game, I even found myself suddenly in the middle of a circle of excited high school boys as they offered up suggestions of other activities they'd like to do during class (yes, I had said that occasionally our class would entail going outside and playing sports - we'll see if I regret this later). All in all, I'd say the first week of school has gone quite well, and at this point my main concern is whether I've set the bar too high... it were.


  1. Ah, this is classic. Perhaps I should try the bar in my own classroom? I'm having Jess-dichotomies brought together perfectly in my mind. Jess #1 - cardigan sweater, and Jess #2 - chin ups and being awesome. Fabulous. Be careful you don't get them too excited about the chin ups...

  2. That is absolutely fantastic! Way to go! :)