I had a wonderful PE teacher in the 4th grade. The year was 1977. My school was Fernbank Elementary School located outside of Atlanta, Georgia in DeKalb County. I do not remember what my teacher’s name was, so I will call him Mr. Langley. What I do remember about him was his kindness and how he wanted everyone to feel included and recognized.
It was a challenge for me back then with my disabilities to join in physical activities with my non-disabled classmates. At that time in my life, I was able to walk with a cane or a walker. I had balance problems and I was not able to run. Mr. Langley saw my physical limitations, not as an obstacle or barrier to my participation in PE, but rather as an opportunity for me and my classmates to play together. He made the effort to find ways for me to have good experiences in physical education classes alongside my classmates.
What I remember most about that time was the large, colorful cloth parachute. Children would stand all around the outside holding it up. Then they would drop the parachute and run under and out before the parachute fell to the ground. Mr. Langley would pick me up and run with me under and out with the other children. This was so much fun! I felt really included. During Dodge Ball he would help me throw the ball to get someone out. What he couldn’t help me with was recess. Duck, Duck Goose; Red Light, Green Light and Red Rover, Red Rover were active games that were difficult for me, too. If Mr. Langley had been around longer I can only imagine how he could have helped me enjoy PE and recess. Not long after the year started, my wonderful teacher was killed in a traffic accident.
Our new PE teacher was Mr. Stuart. I know Mr. Stuart tried his best to have me compete during the Little Olympics later that year. He filled ten big plastic soda bottles with sand, and I was to bowl them down with a big rubber ball. This would have been much more fun if other children had competed with me. He set me up with this activity all on my own. It was just me winning ribbons without joining my friends and classmates. The following year, in fifth grade, I was more daring. I attempted the two-legged race with a band around my leg and my friend Suzanne’s leg. We did not make it very far, but we had lots of fun trying. I often wonder what that part of my elementary school experience would have been like if imaginative Mr. Langley had not died. I hope that he knew what a difference he made in the short time he was my teacher.
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