A Conversation with Lower School PE Teacher Tyler Stevens

Tyler Stevens discusses his approach to teaching and the importance of learning to live a healthy lifestyle.
On a sleepy Friday morning in May, 30 minutes before his next class, Lower School PE teacher Tyler Stevens is looking for the best equipment students can use to practice hand-eye coordination. He digs through the supply closet, finds some foam dodgeballs. Envisioning all the fun the students are about to have, he bounces the ball on the parquet floor in the West Gym. The students, in a creative blend of tennis and soccer, will kick and pass these balls back and forth over a net. A three-season coach and inveterate teacher, Stevens, who just finished his first year of teaching at Collegiate, is always looking for methods to teaching the fundamentals in ways that are applicable to all sports. “PE is a great place to learn how to be active and healthy in a
way that is fun,” he says. “The common misconception about fitness is that it is always grounded
in some sport. Instead, it’s about getting in shape overall, moving correctly, learning basic
skills and then turning all of that into a fun game.” Stevens sat down with Spark to discuss the
joys of teaching at Collegiate, his approach to teaching and the importance of learning to live
a healthy lifestyle.

What makes teaching at Collegiate so special? 
The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the community and the pride everyone here takes in their work. It just feels nice to have a community around you where everyone is working together. The mindset here at Collegiate is that we are all really trying to get the best out of everyone — whether that’s the students, the faculty or the staff. I feel motivated to try to be the best teacher I can. I’ve gotten that feeling here — that sense of pride.

As you finish up your first year at Collegiate, what are you most proud of? 
Before coming to Collegiate, I was teaching middle and high schoolers. What’s been great about this year is that, teaching Lower Schoolers, I was able to return to teaching more to the skill and more to the basics. With my track and field background, I have always been used to teaching the fundamentals, and this year I was really able to help instill those fundamentals in students. Working with Lower Schoolers is a way to teach how to be active in a fun way.

Talk about the importance of mental health in physical education.  
So, of course we concentrate on fitness in our class, but of equal importance is our concentration on mental health and mindfulness. We work on different activities that involve stretching — like yoga — that encourage students to make connections with their mind and body in a healthy way.

Another way to do this is to invite students to make connections with fitness and everyday activities. So, for example, walking up a flight of stairs could be thought of as a slow-paced high knees exercise. Thinking about movement in spaces other than the gym opens students up to a healthier lifestyle.

What is your approach to teaching? 
Say, for example, we’re working on a basketball unit. We talk about how, when we shoot a basketball, we need to remain balanced. Then, when we work on gymnastics, I like to bring up that the same kind of balance required for shooting a ball can be applied to moving on a balance beam. I’m always trying to teach students that what they can do for fitness and what they can do for their body transcends any single sport. Skills like hand-eye coordination and flexibility are useful everywhere. And going back to mindfulness: I try getting students to think about what they do before they do it. Every movement begins with thinking, so I try integrating thinking and strategy with movement as well.

As the school year comes to an end, what are some of the teaching moments that stand out to you?
From Kindergarteners all the way to 4th Graders, seeing the joy in students has been really special. That’s been the highlight of the year. Coming to work and knowing that the kids were going to be excited to be there and learn has been energizing. The students absolutely love PE. They come in here and use this space as an activity to get their energy out.