By Kate Irwin
The physical education department at Grinnell College offers a wide range of interesting classes that most students may not know about. From four credit classes to one credit activity courses, there is something for every student.
At the College, the workload of faculty-coaches is treated in the same manner as a professor. Professors teach up to five classes. Faculty-coaches are required to coach two sports, each sport counting as two classes. For the four remaining credits, faculty coaches have the option to pick between teaching activity courses, graded classes or a combination.
“Some people in our department feel more adept at teaching activity classes, some feel more comfortable doing a combination of activity classes and theory classes,” said Andy Hamilton ’85, director of athletics and recreation and chair of the physical education department, who is currently teaching a tutorial, “The Black Athlete: Changing 20th Century Society.”
Activity courses range from beginning to advanced sports, with offerings from bowling to pickleball. Whether one wants to improve technique, start a new sport or simply improve their personal fitness, there is an option for every student.
“My engagement with students who aren’t in the athletic program is one of my greatest enjoyments,” Hamilton said. “Typically, in my sports sociology class, we have [a varied number] of scientists who are really looking for something different. And yet, because of their understanding of the scientific method, and how that relates to sociology, they really bring a lot to the course.”
Paige Madara, the head coach for the men’s and women’s tennis teams, teaches beginning and advanced levels of tennis along with a Leadership section of Organization and Administration of Athletics this fall.
“Teaching [tennis] is a great way for me to think about the way that I instruct to different learning styles and ability levels. … In the classroom, it allows me to get to know more students on this campus and have a better understanding of what make Grinnell such a special place to work,” Madara wrote in an email to The S&B.
Erin Hurley, head coach for the men’s and women’s swim and dive teams, teaches beginning swimming and triathlon training, activities which she believes are lifelong activities.
“I’ve had swim team members, but also student athletes in other sports, but I’ve also had students come in with no background in either of those areas, and I think that’s challenging but that also keeps me focused on different ways to teach people, different ways to explain something, and also reminds me that people are coming from different backgrounds,” she said.
Participation has remained relatively consistent for activity courses and has increased for theory courses, in part due to three factors: physical education courses count as social studies credit; there are around 400 student athletes on campus who are interested in learning about sports; the structure of these courses is different than most courses offered at the College.
Having coaches who teach shows their commitment to both athletics and the values of a liberal arts education.
“The net result, or the benefit is, that we know the curriculum better, we know the College better, we know the students better because we have this opportunity to teach them, not just to coach them,” Hamilton said.
The department is even planning to offer a seminar in the future.
The department has something for every student, and it’s even possible to request that a class be offered.
“I think [the physical education department] is a valuable asset. … I think sometimes students who are at their credit maximum and seem to be very academically stressed, one of the best things for them for their general health and wellbeing is to take a P.E. class with some instruction and guidance, and hopefully they can utilize that,” Hurley said.