My local school district policy states that “Attire for participation in physical education activities at all grade levels should permit freedom of movement, safe participation, and will not damage equipment or facilities.” It does not state that tennis shoes are required. I certainly can understand that there are considerations to protecting floors from damage. However, there are many non-athletic shoes with rubber soles that would be perfectly safe for students to participate in most PE activities. While they may not be able to perform their best, it is a great learning opportunity to revisit standards and outcomes related to safety and responsible personal behavior.
Perhaps the largest issue centers on the social and emotional component that revolves around sitting a student out of PE because of incorrect shoes. We as physical educators are not fostering a love of activity or PE when a student’s memory of elementary PE is sitting out of class crying because they did not have the correct shoes on. I am sure there are students who spend many classes sitting rather than learning. What do you think their memory is of elementary PE as they conclude elementary school? Or their feelings towards PE and physical activity?
Penalizing a student’s grade for not having tennis shoes is tremendously flawed. A kindergarten student really has no control over what they wear to school. Some fifth graders don’t. Again, does a student get to fail math because they show up without paper and pencil? There are multiple reasons that a student may not have tennis shoes in PE. While by fifth grade more responsibility relies on the student. But each case is worth investigating to find out the cause. For example, consider the following reasons I have received in the past as a PE teacher:
- My mom and dad are divorced and I left them at my dad’s house.
- I played outside after school yesterday and my shoes are all muddy.
- My shoes are too small and my parents don’t get paid until the end of the month.
A tremendously unscientific Twitter poll yielded some interesting results. Over 90% of the 300+ responses were in favor of allowing students to participate despite no tennis shoes if the activity was safe. There were multiple posts of photos that showed closets or containers of shoes students could borrow for class, if needed. Some shared that the PTA or local shoe store incorporated a program to donate tennis shoes for students whose family could not afford them. The remaining 10% who said students must sit is the group that bothers me.
Sitting the student out of the activity (unless severe safety or facility concerns) and making grade deductions is not acceptable. Doing assessments on skills or cues, academic language, or other elements critical to standards is how grades should be assigned.
We are already past a critical juncture towards childhood obesity. There is an abundance of research available to show that physical activity helps students learn better. Thus, there is no reason to continue this archaic policy that does more harm than good.