Blaine "Gene" Wohlert, 54, has spent his entire career -- 32 years -- teaching physical education to elementary students in Elgin Area School District U-46.
A resident of South Elgin, Wohlert has taught at Woodland Heights, Hanover Countryside and Otter Creek Elementary, but for the past eight years he has taught at Timber Trails Elementary in Hoffman Estates.
Wohlert received a teaching degree in physical education from the University of Northern Iowa and a master of science in education from Chicago State University.
"My senior year of college, U-46 came to Northern Iowa on a recruiting trip to start an elementary P.E. program," Wohlert recalls. "I still remember my first day of teacher orientation when they said, 'Welcome to school district U-46, where we have 30,000 students and our community speaks 54 different languages.' Born and raised in Iowa, it took me a minute to wrap my head around that statement."
Over the years, Wohlert has spent time as a coach and mentor as well.
"I coached a few years of basketball and softball at the high school level and several years at the elementary level with after-school basketball and volleyball programs," he said. "Once my wife and I started a family, all my coaching time went to coaching my own kids. I am actively involved in the Teacher/Mentor program and have been for several years."
The Daily Herald caught up with Wohlert to find out more about teaching physical education at the elementary level.
Q. How did you decide to become a physical education teacher?
Wohlert. I knew by my freshmen year of high school that I wanted to be a P.E teacher. Sports played such a crucial role in helping me make good decisions at difficult times in my life; I wanted to provide that same outlet for children.
Q. What do you enjoy about teaching P.E., or what is most rewarding?
Wohlert. I've turned into a "softy" over the years. I'm constantly trying to instill confidence in my students, especially the one-third of each class who I know is out of shape and struggling with their skill set and body image. You look for that moment to praise them in front of their peers, and that reaction is what has kept me in teaching for the last 32 years. What I appreciate most about the elementary level is the continuous excitement and passion the kids have every time they walk in the gym.
Q. What is your favorite game or sport to have the kids play?
Wohlert. I enjoy teaching the high jump. I know it may sound a little crazy at the elementary level, but all my students participate, grades K-6. I have sixth-graders that jump as high as 4'8.
Q. What is most challenging about teaching P.E.?
Wohlert. Without a doubt, it is trying to meet the needs of each student in a once a week P.E. program. U-46 elementary students need more physical education, period.
Q. How has teaching P.E. changed over the years?
Wohlert. Over the years, my focus has moved toward the one-third of students in every class who really need my attention. These P.E at-risk students are always at the forefront of my mind, and I work hard to praise them in individual ways to build their self-esteem. In U-46, elementary P.E. has moved to a standard base grading system. Due to these changes, we now have some continuity of what's being taught at each grade level throughout the district, and it all aligns with state standards. With the new grading system comes a lot of new equipment to implement the curriculum. Our program is moving forward.
Q. How do you motivate kids to get moving?
Wohlert. Kids will not continue to move unless the activity is enjoyable, challenging, new, or they understand the benefit of it. I add a twist or motivational element to almost everything I teach. For example, I always play music in my classroom, I utilize a motivational board that allows students to visually see their progress, and it's mandatory that I have the class laughing at least once a period.
Q. What is your own favorite sport to participate in and to watch?
Wohlert. I would say basketball was once my favorite sport to play, but that changed at the age of 45. Now, I love tennis with my wife. March Madness is by far my favorite sporting event to watch.