When asked what year Margo Coleman, professor of physical education teacher education started at Illinois State University, she quipped, “in 1996, along with Wilma Flintstone.” Faculty in kinesiology and recreation will certainly miss Coleman and her deadpan sense of humor as she retires this spring after 21 years at Illinois State University. Coleman recently sat down with me to reflect on her career at ISU.
Coleman’s mother, also a physical education (PE) teacher, was one who could be found pitching softballs to the neighborhood kids. It was this kind of influence from her mother that demonstrated to Coleman that it was cool to be a tomboy. In high school, a PE teacher took Coleman and 2 other students to visit the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse to see what college was like. After the visit Coleman decided to earn her bachelor’s degree at La Crosse, as did her mother.
Reflecting on the changes in PE pedagogy over the years Coleman noted the “new PE” movement and its emphasis on full participation, a varied curriculum and caring teachers which is really just about good teaching has always referred to. While there is more technology for students to learn how to monitor heart rates or measure steps taken, there has also been considerable attention placed on teaching lifelong sports such as golfing, bicycling, indoor rock climbing, and personal fitness. Other changes in pedagogy center on linking classroom related activities to PE standards and accreditation for accountability purposes. College students who desire to be PE teachers must pass a basic skills test and document their student teaching performance through a subject-specific assessment and support system called edTPA. Students have also changed over the years. Coleman observes college students to be more open-minded and open to diversity than in the past. Today’s students grew up having kids with disabilities in their PE and regular classes so they understand the importance of accommodating learners with different needs. They’ve always had both girls and boys sports and seeing girls as successful athletes is completely acceptable – a far cry from the tomboy label applied in the 1970s.
When asked about PE trends that baffle Colemen, she noted a dilemma between physical activity versus physical education. Some educators seem to be focused only on physical activity to make sure kids are active and moving as opposed to educating them about proper form, rules, scoring, strategy and being a member of a team. Coleman notes, “you will be more likely to come back to a sport if you understand how to do it.”
Being a professor has its peaks and valleys. The students can both the best and the worst part of the job. Watching students progress through the program and emerge with the confidence and knowledge to teach is incredible, but there are also the students who will drive you crazy! “Grading papers was never my favorite part of my job but the freedom to teach various courses and schedule my day are certainly a plus.”
Coleman’s students are often surprised to learn that she has experience as both a coach and an athletic director. They will ask about these experiences because they have similar aspirations. They are also surprised when she beats them all in badminton. A collegiate badminton player, Coleman even played in ISU’s McCormick gym only to return years later as an assistant professor in the same building. Lastly, she is an ardent Packers fan and notes that it is not uncommon for her students to place friendly wagers with her on the Packers vs. Bears game!
At the end of each semester, Coleman tells her students to never stop learning. Even though they have graduated from college, they need to keep learning. She also said, “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Students are perceptive and they know in a hurry if you don’t like them or if you’re not fair to everyone. Coleman tries to make a connection with every student in every class.
Coleman says what she will miss most about ISU is her colleagues. “They are the best people on earth to work with. You can’t do this for 21 years if you don’t work with good people.” In her retirement she plans to rehabilitate 2 things: her newly replaced hip and their retirement home in California that she will share with her husband, Alberto Delgado who has also retired from ISU (math department). She is looking forward to bicycling, gardening, and reading for fun. She also plans to find a pickle ball league. The KNR faculty and staff will miss Coleman and wish her a wonderful retirement.