Back to School #3: Kellen Russell & Craig Forys

Dec. 20, 2011

As the University of Michigan fall semester wraps up, fifth-year seniors Kellen Russell, an NCAA champion wrestler, and Craig Forys, an All-Big Ten cross country and track athlete, similarly wrap up their student-teaching assignments in physical education. After starting at the elementary-school level, both Wolverines spent the second half of the semester at local Ann Arbor high schools -- to their great relief.

With the holiday break thankfully looming near on the horizon, Kellen and Craig touch on their high school classes, the differences between the elementary school and high school settings and the lessons from the semester experience.

Kellen Russell

My last day at Pioneer High School was Friday. The high school experience was a lot of fun. My cooperating teacher was really into playing the games with the kids. So most of the day, I'd go in and teach for 20 minutes and then spend the rest of the class playing games. Most of the classes I taught were elective, so there were a lot of juniors and seniors, and there were some pretty athletic and competitive kids in those classes. Some of those games would get pretty intense.

I had five total classes and four different subjects -- two lifetime activities classes, a team sport class, a lifetime fitness class and an adapted class with special needs kids.

The adapted class was a completely new and great experience for me -- a big difference from what I'm used to running camps and clinics and other classes that I've taught. It was fun to work with those kids, and it was the highlight of their day. You could see their faces light up every day when they came into the room. We didn't play a ton of games, but we got them moving around. Some kids couldn't walk, so we had to incorporate them into the lesson somehow. We had about 12-13 special needs kids and 12-13 student aids, which were seniors chosen to work with us in that class. I developed a pretty good relationship with them, because we worked closely together to create these lessons and help these kids.

For the lifetime fitness class, I just put the kids through different cardio workouts. I also had to be in the classroom for that one, which was pretty nerve wracking. I had to create a 50-minute lesson and stand in front of the class, talk to them and facilitate discussions.

The first few weeks were pretty brutal. The high school kids are a little wearier of you than the elementary school kids, so they don't interact with you as much in the beginning. But once they saw that I could do all the stuff I was talking about, they started opened up. It's so much easier to relate with the older kids. There are fewer things you have to worry about, like tying shoes and wiping noses, and you can actually talk to them. That helps build a better relationship between teacher and student.

So, I definitely felt more comfortable in the high school setting. Once you're able to establish yourself and get to know the kids, you can relax and have a little more fun. In elementary school, it's more about management, organizing everything and getting the kids from here to there. I felt I was constantly on edge, getting spitfired 100 questions every hour. In high school, it's more laid back, and as long as they respect you, they'll kind of manage themselves.

More than anything this experience taught me to appreciate teachers a lot more. I'm exhausted after this whole semester. My dad teaches a full day of middle school physical education then he'd drive an hour, when I was in high school, to go to our wrestling practice. I only had to drive five minutes to get to practice, and I was struggling. It's a much longer day when you're the teacher than when you're the student. You don't think about that when you're the student.

Craig Forys

I have just another couple days at Fr. Gabriel Richard High School. I have definitely enjoyed the high school experience more. There's a little less stress involved with it. I don't know if people naturally are made for one place or the other, but I definitely felt more at home and natural speaking with high schoolers. I never felt like I could use my whole knowledge when I was in the elementary school.

The biggest difference is just having normal conversations with people all day -- people who are developed, witty and smart. I really enjoy that aspect of it. The instructions you give can be slightly less specific, because they can fill in the blanks. In elementary school, you cannot miss any little detail, because your whole plan will go to shambles. You have to keep them motivated and directed 100 percent of the time, while in high school, you have to be motivating, but there's a certain point that you have to rely on them to pick it up and take it from there.

We also have a five-minute break between classes. That's huge, because it gives you time to regroup. In elementary school, there wasn't even a second between classes. One group went out and another came in. I feel more involved in the high school. I know more teachers and feel more comfortable. Maybe that's because it's the second round of student teaching.

I have five total classes within high school physical education -- two hours for sports and recreation and three hours of conditioning. Each class is one hour, and each is totally different kids.

The sports and rec class consists of two-week units of speedball, soccer, volleyball, etc. We're about to start the tournament of champions, so we'll go through each unit and do that for one day. It's kind of a recap of what they learned, what they remember and what they can show us. It's a lot of fun, a lot of game time and skill practice when we can fit it in. I didn't get to actually play with them as much as I would have liked. I was typically the official and had to watch over the walking wounded, whether they came in sick or with a hurt arm or leg, and trying to keep them active.

The conditioning class was a requirement for the freshmen. We typically do 2-3 days of weight training, a cardiovascular day, where adapt a fun game and they don't realize they're running but they are, and the other days are allocated for health issues.

My cooperating teacher kind of stayed out of the picture, so I was front and center and got a fair amount of leadership. He gave me good guidance as to what his calendar looks like and things he wanted me to cover. He still has to run the show after I leave, so he needed me to get them prepared to post test in the weight lifting. I was free to tell them what lifts I wanted them to do and give them bonus points for things and give my own touch to his plan.

It was similar for the sports and rec classes. He told me what units he wanted us to do, but it was up to me to figure out how to teach them the skills, how long I wanted to spend on the skills and when to move into actual game play. I quickly learned what I needed to do compared to what he does. I think the students felt comfortable telling me the things the liked and didn't like and wanted to see different. I didn't mind incorporating some of their input; compromises go a long way in getting more out of them.

This semester was a great experience. I definitely had never run on empty for an extended period of time like that. I'm just exhausted and a little burnt out. When I get home for break, I'm probably going to sleep for three straight days. Every day brought new challenges. You screw up so often, sometimes you don't even feel good about yourself or what you're doing. You have to take the little battles that you win and focus on those. I had already dealt with time management issues with school and track, but this took that to a whole new level. Organization was something I really learned.

I expect to end up in a high school. I don't know if there are other things I need to take care of first -- either in athletics or education -- so it probably won't happen right away. But at some point, I'm going to look to be in a high school teaching and coaching.

Part 2 of the Feature (Oct. 28) | Part 1 of the Feature (Sept. 23)