Dear [Redacted]: A Letter to a PE Teacher
I don’t know if you remember me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. After all, it’s not every pupil that calls you evil to your face, is it?
I both do and don’t remember what happened that day.
I remember that we were doing cross-country. I remember that, as usual, I was the last person to finish, even though the boys did an extra two laps. I’ve never been built for speed or for running and you and your colleagues never taught us how to do it properly.
You didn’t teach us how to build up stamina. You didn’t teach us how to breathe. You didn’t teach us how to work small, accomplish milestone goals and get to where we want to be. You threw us on a field and told us to run around in circles.
I didn’t know how to run. Walking? I could do that for miles. Running? I got out of breath after one length of the field and went back to walking. I was trying my best. I knew I was trying my best. But you seemed to think that I was being lazy.
Or that’s what I believed at the time. I can’t know what you were actually thinking and nor will I ever.
What I know is that one of your colleagues told me to get breathing hard when I was already gasping hard enough that every inhalation tasted like metal and I got angry. I was furious. So when everybody else had finished and went inside and I was the only person left going around the field with over a lap to go, is it any wonder I gave up and left?
I was embarrassed by my inability to do what everybody else seemed to find easy. I was angry and ashamed and upset. That’s why I walked back to the changing rooms. That’s why I ignored you and your colleagues.
What you did next, though? That was inexcusable.
I don’t know what your motivations or thoughts were, and quite frankly, I don’t care. There is no universe in which it’s acceptable to pin a clearly distraught teenager against a wall and shout in her face from literally inches away.
I was in the middle of a full-blown meltdown. I was crying and inconsolable. You should have left me alone until I was calmer and more reasonable. I don’t care that you were an authority figure and that I disrespected you. You were the grown adult and you should have known better.
Was it any wonder that I blurted out that you were evil? It felt that way to me. You were standing over me, shouting in my face and intimidating me. You were using all the power you had over me as a weapon.
You were bullying me. Plain and simple.
Now, I don’t know why you behaved the way you did, and it doesn’t matter. I can’t ever know. But I do know that, whatever I did to provoke you, it was your job as the responsible adult to respond in a manner that fitted the situation and you didn’t. Your behaviour was abhorrent and wounding to me.
I will never forget that day. I will always appreciate my mother for writing letters excusing me from your lessons because she saw how much psychological damage PE did to me. And I will always carry the emotional scars that PE lessons and cross-country inflicted on me as a fat girl who couldn’t run.
I will always remember the embarrassment, the anger, the sadness and the shame.
But at the same time, I’m not going to let you and your actions control me forever.
Your behaviour and your lessons made exercise my enemy, but I will not let you spoil our relationship. I have a treadmill now, and I’m working on a “Baby Steps to 5K” programme that will end with me being able to run that distance. I’m developing a friendship with walking, running and moving. I’m becoming fit. And I’m doing my way: slowly, sensibly, and in a manner that makes me happy.
Your sins were greater than mine that day, and you’ll have to live with that. I hope it’s on your conscience because from now? It won’t be on mine.
I’m doing health my way. And it’s nothing to do with you any more.
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