Ms. Elliot is part of MGCI’s Physical Education Department, but she also teaches Civics.
Q: What courses do you teach at Marc Garneau?
A: I teach Phys. Ed. and I teach Civics and I’ve taught exercise science, and that’s pretty much it. And I used to be the Head of Literacy here for two years.
Q: How long have you been teaching?
A: This is my ninth year now of teaching.
Q: What made you want to be a teacher?
A: Oh, well, I think it started with teachers that I had in high school. Actually I even had a really great Phys. Ed. teacher in Grade 8, who motivated me to take a lot of Phys. Ed. classes when I was in high school. Then I did an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and I met a lot of great professors there. The principal of my high school also suggested that he thought that I would do well in education and I took his advice because I really admired him and that also kind of propelled me into the profession. I don’t think many of these individuals even knew the impact they would have later on in my life and professional career. I should tell them!
Q: What is your teaching philosophy?
A: My teaching philosophy is that every student feels included and that every student has some say in their education. In Phys. Ed., this translates into giving students the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities, and finding the one that motivates them to pursue lifelong physical activity. I also believe in infusing social justice issues in my classroom. We have such a wonderfully multicultural environment at our school, and I like to explore that with my classes.
Q: What have you learned in your time teaching?
A: What have I learned in my time teaching? I’ve learned that no two classes are the same, even when you’re teaching the same subject each year. There are challenges and there’s also amazing things that happen in each class that change every year so it’s a dynamic profession in that way. I’m always involved in what I teach, especially in civics, based on whatever is happening in the world at that time so that is really exciting for me. You learn from the students every day and it changes all the time.
Q: Why do you also teach Civics even though you studied kinesiology?
A: I have a minor in history, so typically history teachers would teach civics. I love social justice issues and I love keeping up on current events so when I do teach civics it’s really exciting for me because it’s something different than Phys. Ed., and it lets me engage with current issues that I am passionate about. It’s nice to mix it up sometimes though I love teaching Phys. Ed., too!
Q: I understand that you are currently pursuing a Ph.D. What is it on and why did you choose to do it?
A: I started doing my Ph. D. because I wanted to extend my master’s research; I just wanted to know more about what I was studying and I wanted to hear more about what the students had to say about how they experience gender in physical education. What I mean by this is students’ experiences with what it means to be a girl or what it means feminine in Phys. Ed. class and how that is influenced by the curriculum and the media. That’s two areas where kids really learn about what it means to be traditionally feminine or masculine, though most of my work is focused on speaking with girls, so I don’t have much experience with boys’ perspectives on this. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the new Phys. Ed. curriculum documents from 2015 as well as the elementary school Phys. Ed. documents that are teaching about gender identity and gender formation. It’s been very controversial, so I’m trying to unpack some of that and I’ve been listening to what the students have to say about that and it’s just very interesting as well.
Q: What is the biggest health-related issue to you and why?
A: Just based on my research, I would say that the biggest health-related issue is that there is a lot of stigma attached to obesity and the obesity epidemic and that it is heavily gendered in nature. So, girls should look a very specific way to be considered healthy or the ideal, and it’s the same for boys. A lot of people say that your generation, especially in North America as a whole, is obese and lazy and there’s this obesity epidemic that has emerged because of this. I would say that, actually, many kids don’t fit this obesity mold, though they may not be considered the ‘ideal’ body shape and size within health and media standards, which is definitely often an unattainable idea. Actually, the healthiest person, health-wise, is moderately active and has a few extra pounds of fat on them, though people don’t really talk about that. I think we live in a culture where kids feel bombarded by that. So, I think that is a big health issue we need to talk more about that, about what ‘healthy’ means to different people in positions of power, and about living a moderate lifestyle where you eat properly but don’t plug everything into your head every time you eat something because that can become an obsessive behaviour. You just enjoy your life and enjoy activity, and enjoy food in a balanced and joyful way.
Q: Do you see any problems with our current health education system, and if so, what problems do you think will be the hardest to fix?
A: I think we have to change our tune on how we deliver standardized fitness testing like the beep test and things like that. What happens here is it leads to anxiety for kids. So, kids feel anxious when they’re expected to meet a specific standard that their peers meet. Perhaps they don’t and then it produces an opposite effect than what we’re trying to do, which is promote life-long physical participation and activity, right? So, I think it’s important for kids to realize that physical activity means different things to different people and we need to meet those needs of every student. Having a prescribed way that we do that isn’t great for students so we need to offer a variety of activities and we need to have open conversations about more inclusive ways of bringing everyone into Phys. Ed. class.
Q: Do you have any memorable experiences from your high school gym classes?
A: I have many, a lot of them are probably more from sport teams that I played on and accomplishments and goals met in sport. But definitely high school Phys. Ed. class was my favourite class. I loved every day in Phys. Ed. I don’t have a specific memory other than just, it was all wonderful for me. I had a really good experience and really great teachers.
Q: What sports did you play as a kid?
A: I did track and field and I played a lot of volleyball and basketball.
Q: What do you do in your spare time that is not related to the subjects you teach?
A: I like to play outside with my daughter (she’s 2!) and husband, and we go to the beach, as we live very close to the Boardwalk. I play the guitar and I obviously study a lot; that takes up a lot of my time. When I’m not working, my family and I just like to be outside and enjoy our time together, eat, see friends, exercise; you know, all the great stuff in life!
Q: What is your pet peeve?
A: Oh, my pet peeve, I am very punctual and I really dislike when people are late. That is definitely my number one pet peeve.
Q: If you were playing hide and seek in the school, where would you hide and why?
A: Oh, this is a good one, probably the Phys. Ed. Teachers change room because it is like a bunker in there! You need two keys to get in, so I would feel like I would be very well-hidden in that place. Try to find me in there, I dare you!
Q: What is something you’ve always wanted to try, but never got a chance to do?
A: I’ve always loved to go skydiving. I think that would be sort of fun. I’m kind of a wimp but at some point in my life I’m going to try it. That, or try frog legs. I hear it’s a delicacy in certain parts of the world.
Q: If you could instill one thing in your students, what would it be?
A: “You do you!” So whoever you are, you need to be your authentic self, even if it means questioning what you’re learning in school or cultural norms that you don’t necessarily agree with; in a nice way of course! Great accomplishments can come out of challenging the status quo and standing up for what you believe in!