Back to School: Kellen Russell & Craig Forys
Kellen Russell

Sept. 23, 2011

Like the rest of the University of Michigan student body, fifth-year seniors Kellen Russell, an NCAA champion wrestler, and Craig Forys, an All-Big Ten cross country and track athlete, are back in school this fall semester. But unlike most of the Michigan student body, the duo is spending the bulk of their days with eight and nine year olds, working as physical education student teachers at local Ann Arbor elementary schools.

With the first month of the school year coming to a close, Kellen and Craig touch on their September adjustment period, some of the biggest challenges they face and how they transition between the elementary school setting and afternoon workouts.

Kellen Russell

It was a little overwhelming at first. There are just a lot of kids and a lot of classes, especially in an elementary school where you have eight classes a day. It's one class after another, and you are on your feet all day. Kids are yelling and screaming, especially that first week of school when they were all so excited to be back with their friends. It can be hard to control.

We just finished going over rules and getting along with each other, so we have to play games like that. Today we played a game called Monsters Inc. It's like musical chairs with hula hoops and nobody gets out so when you stop the music. Everyone had to fit in the hula hoops, and you go until there are only three hula hoops left. They had to work together without pushing and shoving or pulling each others hair.

Communication is especially challenging. First graders, for example, will literally do whatever you say, which sometimes isn't the greatest thing when you're a new teacher and you aren't totally sure how you're coming across to kids. The kindergarteners are the toughest to communicate with, because they don't know who you are and they're not used to the school environment. So, with them, you really just have to physically put them where they are supposed to be. The other challenge is remembering all the names. You always remember the trouble makers, but everybody else is hard to remember.

You realize pretty quickly into student teaching that you have to pull out every little thing that you've ever learned in your education classes, because not everything is going to work for every class or every kid. They lose interest extremely quickly, especially with a young teacher. It took me a week or two to get used to that, but it's starting to get easier to hold their interest -- when you figure out what grabs their attention and what doesn't.

It's hard to transition to wrestling practice in the afternoon. Sometimes I think I'm starting to lose my mind a little bit. I'm talking to little kids all day with my little kid voice then I'll find myself in the middle of practice talking all gentle, while I'm trying to explain a move to a teammate. But I'm starting to get better at switching back and forth.

Craig Forys

Craig Forys

I think I came into the school year pretty prepared. This past summer, I worked at KidSport Camps at the University of Michigan, which is run by one of our physical education teachers, Kerry Winkelseth. That gave me a good taste for student teaching, because I was basically teaching physical education classes -- with maybe a little more emphasis on having fun than learning. I was still dealing with the same age group and trying to keep them entertained while keeping it somewhat educational. So, while it's a little different working with this age group and these students in a school setting, I think it's been a more gradual adjustment for me than a lot of other student teachers.

The biggest challenge is class management. You'll go in there with a plan of how everything is going to go. But then you're a couple pieces of equipment short or there are a different number of kids in the class or someone isn't participating and making it hard for the other students. You just can't prepare as much as you'd like to, because things happen that you don't expect. You really have to be good at thinking on the fly. Because if you miss a beat, they'll find ways to exploit it, and if you don't know how to stop the class, bring them in and refocus, they'll keep building off it and take control. You just have to be ready for it.

The first graders have been the best group to work with so far. They seem to look at the teachers as their heroes. They'll say hello when they walk through the doors in the morning, and they always are so excited to come into class. They're a fun group. They're pretty rowdy, but I'd rather have them that way than lazy and uninterested.

Some of the biggest adjustments have been physical. My legs would just throb at the end of the first couple weeks, but I'm starting to adapt to being on my feet all day. I have to head straight to practice when I get out of school in the afternoon. I wish could have a little time to lie down and relax in between, because it's stressful imagining whatever workout [Alex] Gibby has thought when I've been running around all day. But I'm starting to feel a lot better going from one to the other. My body is definitely getting used to it, and I think my nerves are calming a little bit. So, as time is passing, it's getting better and more enjoyable for me.