– Dear Ms. Morin

Jan Morin
Leicester High School (1979-1983)
Winslow Ave.
Leicester, MA 01524

Dear Ms. Morin,

My friend Rosemary, writing about her relationship to exercise over her lifetime, looks back on high school gym classes, where “being active meant being an athlete.” It made me think of high school gym class, and that made me think of you.

Ms. Morin, I was never a hardcore athlete and I liked gym class, and I liked it whistle1because you were a great gym teacher. I don’t know if I was aware of your greatness when I was in high school, or if this is only a realization I’ve had since becoming a writing teacher five years ago, but I always had fun in class and enjoyed talking to you. Teachers bring energy to their students, whether positive or negative, and yours was buoyant, humorous, and tough. I can still see your off-kilter smile; I remember your laugh, a whooping cackle.

Gym was one of those classes, as it is today, that was a requirement. We couldn’t get out of high school until we had taken so many P.E. hours.  That means that, unlike on sports teams, where everyone has volunteered to participate, all the students in gym were there to some degree against their own choosing.  Many, if given the choice, might have taken an extra period of art, wood shop, or study hall. Hey, it’s possible that I would have used a free period to hang out some more in the library or band room. So, required courses can be good, and administrators and policy makers are right to force them on us.

Four years of required physical education. Imagine what college students would do if they were made to take four years of composition, instead of the one or two semesters we require of them now. Oh, what they would learn. Yet they would complain loudly, and it’s likely that we complained, too, about high school gym class.

But, Ms. Morin, you were awesome! You heard our complaints, but you didn’t let us sink down into them. By the power of  your energy and organization — and that whistle, too — you got us girls to change quickly into our gym gear, get out into the gym, and shut our flap traps. While you were sympathetic to our womanly complaints (and, as the girls’ gym teacher, you heard a lot of them), no one got a free pass out of gym for menstrual cramps. In fact, you whispered to us that running around would make us feel better.

And you made running around fun, because there was so much variety in what we did in that class. Sure, in the good weather, we had to get outside and play softball and field hockey, which were your two sports, but there was also indoor volleyball, table tennis, weights, jump rope, and square dancing.

Square dancing? I loved that, and I suspect that a lot of the other kids did, too, even though we moaned and groaned as you and Mr. Nelson, the boys’ gym teacher, set up the record player and showed us the figures. We smirked ironically at each other as we bowed to our partners, but no one refused to dosey. I liked table tennis, volleyball, and even the occasional game of whiffle ball. No, I didn’t like softball, but in my adult life I have often participated on the office softball team and enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s funny how, later in life, we return to things we didn’t like much in school and then we like them.

Liking. You liked us all. That was obvious in how you treated everyone in that class the same, whether we were real athletes, like Brenda or Kelly and Kim the twins, or just eager students like me. You talked to all of us; you coached and encouraged all of us; and you gave us all equal time on the field or court or dance floor. Plus, just as we could playfully exasperate you, we could also make you laugh, for real.

More than liking simply us, you liked your work and took it seriously. You weren’t a gym babysitter; you were a physical education teacher. There was a curriculum and a plan. Our bodies in motion, and our attitudes toward our bodies in motion, developed in your class. I knew you for four years, more than any other high school or even college teacher.

Education stays with you, and I return to memories of my high school years more and more since I’ve started teaching. I reflect on what I learned from you about motivating and teaching all of one’s students, and not just the ones who show obvious talent.  And, sometimes, when I’m really tired and I just want to go into class and say to my students, “I’m tired,” I think about how a teacher brings energy into a room. I want mine to convey enthusiasm, and not fatigue, which is what you conveyed to us.

Rosemary’s post gives me a chance, too, to think about myself as an adult exerciser, an adult athlete. Yesterday I was jogging around the track at the gym, and impulsively I decided to sprint a lap.  I pretended to chase my daughter Lydia, who was with me and way ahead of me. I felt 16 years old again. Still strong. I smiled.

Gym is fun, Ms. Morin, when you make it fun.

I hope you’re well.


p.s. You were the first woman I ever addressed as “Ms.,” until I got to college. Thank you for introducing us to that, too.

10 thoughts on “– Dear Ms. Morin

  1. I don’t know where she is; I checked LHS website, and she’s no longer teaching there.

    Did I ever tell you that I saw Miss McGrail at the Auburn rink a few years ago, when I was skating there with Doreen? She was there with her husband and their daughter, who was young, and she looked great.

  2. You are so lucky to have had this kind of PE teacher. I only suffered through my PE classes with teachers that favored the athletes and had no interest in encouraging anyone else. Plus I got knocked out of the way so many times playing volleyball that I have a deep, enduring hatred for that game. Incidentally, I feel similarly about math as PE — the teachers didn’t seem interested in reaching those who weren’t already good at or interested in the topic. Which is too bad, because secretly I think I could have really been into math if it weren’t for my slowness (but not inability) in grasping the basic concepts, just as I might have enjoyed, say, basketball despite my slowness if only I had been encouraged more.

  3. I hope that wherever Ms. Morin is, she finds this and reads it, if you can’t track her down in person. Teachers like that deserve to know how much they were appreciated…and I suspect that, with her compassionate approach, she was swimming upstream all the time, and would be glad to know that her efforts were noticed.

    Poppy’s comment makes me think about what makes a good teacher a good teacher, regardless of subject–and that seems to be the ability to encourage people to find their own interest and motivation within a subject, instead of labeling students as “able” or “unable” and proceeding from that assumption.

    Love, love, love your last paragraph about chasing Lydia at the gym, and feeling 16 and “so strong” again. That’s what I’m aiming for!

  4. This is so great. This might be the best thing I’ve read in four or five months. You captured so much, even though it ostensibly wasn’t “for” me. The fairness, the energy– and so many things about high school that I haven’t thought of in a while. But it was never precious!

  5. Poppy you are right on–this is why so many children are left behind, and left out. I believe a teacher and coach’s responsibility is to not only teach a skill but to teach them about discovering their own potential- or discovering the possibility of their potential. Miss McGrail and Ms. Morin knew that, and they encouraged and coached – and coaxed.

    Jane-we can find her, I know it. I’ll bet you can just call the HS and ask.

  6. Hey there – Great post.

    Anyway, I was telling Sally how I have recently felt the need to apologize to Miss Morin. She was a really nice woman and didn’t deserve the fun poking she got, particularly from our class….and me.

    I have to add – I was always scared of square dancing day. It made me a nervous wreck.

    Anyway, again, great post.

    Charlene Arsenault

  7. To everyone who wrote and told me the correct spelling of Ms. Morin’s name (in the original post, I spelled it “Moran,” which I have since corrected): thank you!

    And thanks for reading.

  8. P.S. to Charlene…
    Funny, I was always scared of basketball! The orderliness of square dancing made it attractive to me — I always knew what was coming. Not so in basketball.

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