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Beyond The Gym Floor Swan/LeClair

Beyond The Gym Floor—Amy Swan and Jake LeClair

Jamie O'Connor speaks with Jake LeClair and Amy Swan of Clara Peterson Elementary in Paxton, Ill.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Welcome to Beyond the Gym Floor. We've been on a little, early winter hiatus. But we are back in action today and are joined by two guests, Jake LeClair and Amy Swan both physical educators at Clara Peterson Elementary School in Paxton, Illinois. So thank you for being here. So, Amy, I hear that you're flying out to California tomorrow.

AMY SWAN: Yes. We are leaving tomorrow morning, bright and early, at 6:00 AM, hoping to miss the ice storm.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh. Just for fun, like a family trip?


JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's awesome.

AMY SWAN: Just to get a little break from everything going on here.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. You don't need to explain it. I wish I could be on a beach at this moment. So I get it.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So, Amy, where did you grow up?

AMY SWAN: I grew up in Mahomet, Illinois, and then moved to Paxton when I got my first teaching job, fourth grade. And then a couple years ago, I moved to PE. So it's been the best choice I made.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very cool. Did you grow up in Paxton, Jake?

JAKE LECLAIR: Yeah. I'm a Paxtonite born and raised.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Is that what you all call each other, "Paxonites"?

JAKE LECLAIR: Well, we've been called a lot of things. But, yeah. I'm a townie if that's what you want to call it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Excellent. And so I think it's interesting. One of the reasons why I wanted to set this interview up is-- and, Amy, you've already mentioned this-- that when you first took your teaching position in the Paxton area, it was for fourth grade. And, Jake, I know that you didn't have a traditional pathway to PE either. So then what led both of you to head toward physical education later in your career? What happened?

JAKE LECLAIR: Well, I started out about-- I think I had seven years in second grade. And my first year of teaching was in third grade. And then two years in fourth grade.

And-- then I made the jump to PE. But I've coached for like 14, 15 years. So it's always been a thing that PE was a no-brainer for me when the opportunity came about. So that was an easy choice for me. Amy tagged along.

AMY SWAN: I had to follow Jake. So I co-taught with him in fourth grade for two years. And he went to PE. So I naturally just followed along.

JAKE LECLAIR: Which is understandable. It's completely understandable that most women like to follow-- never mind. You can edit that out.

AMY SWAN: OK. Don't.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, my goodness.

AMY SWAN: So my mom was a PE teacher.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh. This is already taking a controversial turn.

AMY SWAN: I know. This is ridiculous. So my mom was a PE teacher for 28 years. And she always told me how fun it was.

But I never wanted to do it. I wanted to do all the traditional classroom things. And then honestly, I just feel like, in the classroom, you get burnt out.

So PE is different every single 25 minutes. It's so fun. I have a blast every day; new games, new kids. It's just so fun. I love my job.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And so you are, Amy, very clearly happy that you went down this path. Jake, are you happy that you made this choice?

AMY SWAN: He is. He likes working with me.

JAKE LECLAIR: It's been a great change. I've loved every minute of it. And it is. It's so much different than the classroom. And we get to see 600 students instead of my typical, whatever, 20 to 25 students that we may have had in the past in the classroom. So it's unique that you do get to see every student and watch them grow from kindergarten on to fifth grade, since this is a K-5 building here.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that part of teaching all the specialty content areas. They don't realize that's such a huge advantage that you get everyone. You get to work with all the kids and, like you said, see them progress from the age of five through 10. I love that so much.

AMY SWAN: Yes. It's so neat. And just getting to know at first when I came over here, I was like, there is no way I'm going to learn 600 kids' names. And so quickly, I did. And you learn so much about all the kids. It's just really a neat position to be in.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Well, especially, given the fact that Paxton is a small town, I bet it helps. You get to probably know families really well too.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that.

AMY SWAN: You can't go anywhere. I mean, my husband says, we can't go anywhere without kids running up to you and hugging you when we're out to dinner or in the store or anything, because it's just fun to know everybody. I mean, we know all the young kids in town.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then in a typical teaching day for the two of you-- and I know that you get to co-teach as well-- what are typically the most joyful moments of your day for you? What are the highlights of your day?

JAKE LECLAIR: Well, probably, hanging out with Amy--


JAKE LECLAIR: --would be number one. No.

AMY SWAN: We just have a good time every day. I think that's what our main goal is. We want the kids to have fun. And we know there's a lot of pressures on them at school and at home a lot too. And just with all the COVID and uncertainty going on, we just want this to be a fun time in their day.

So whether it's whatever game we're playing or we're learning about bones or this or that, we just want to make it fun. And so that's Jake and I's main goal. And, of course, we have state goals and things like that, that we hit on. But I would say Jake and I have the same mindset that we want kids to have a good time, leave PE feeling good about themselves and just ready to come back tomorrow and do it all again.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. And I think, honestly, we're going to have some listeners who are going to feel quite jealous of the fact that this is a rare thing to have someone that you get to work with in elementary physical education. Usually, it is one specialist in the building. And there's a little bit of loneliness that can kick in when you're the only one.

So the fact that you two have each other, I can imagine that, that makes it much more enjoyable just to have a colleague to bounce ideas off of, to have another adult to joke around with. I mean, Jake, you seem a little bit like a clown. So I feel like this would be fun.

JAKE LECLAIR: Yeah. We get asked a lot if we are married--


JAKE LECLAIR: --by many, many kids. And we usually have to remind them that our last names are not the same.


JAKE LECLAIR: But it is unique. It's very fun. I mean, we do have about 40, sometimes 45 students in the class at one time. But it's nice to be able to-- there might be a day where we can split and go boys and girls.

There might be a day where we can just say, you're going to take this class. And I'm going to take a class and go do a thing. Or most of the time, we try to do a whole-group lesson and go and play and have fun. And it's just 25 minutes. And let go.

AMY SWAN: And it's really--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh. Go ahead, Amy. Go ahead.

AMY SWAN: I was just going to say it's really nice too to have two people because I am very organized and schedules and stuff like that. And so I like to keep Jake on track. But he is very good at keeping it light and fun for the kids. So we play off each other's strengths, which is a good thing.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's wonderful.

JAKE LECLAIR: I call it the good cop-bad cop thing.

AMY SWAN: I'm the good cop.

JAKE LECLAIR: Yeah. Right, right, right.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then I realize that you all have so many students that you teach every week. And I know it's a little bit more rare for elementary kids to push back against what you're trying to do in PE. Typically, elementary kids love physical education. But for the ones that are not feeling it, how do you both-- what are your connection strategies that you have to try to bring them on board?

JAKE LECLAIR: Well, it's nice, like we were saying before, having the two of us because there might be a kid that Amy may connect with a little bit better than I might be able to. Or maybe it's a female thing that maybe she just wants to talk to Amy. Maybe it's a male that wants to talk to me.

So it's unique that we have that opportunity to pick and choose like, hey, what? Do you want to go deal with this issue? Or do you want me to? And a lot of times, we can have one or the other go and deal with the issue and usually come out pretty successful with the kid feeling well by the end of the 25 minutes.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's great. And, Amy, do you want to expand on that at all? Would you agree with that?

AMY SWAN: I agree with what he said. It's just nice. And, I mean, like you said, most kids in elementary school love PE. So it's not hard. I mean, we do have a few fifth graders that are getting too cool for school. And they don't want to participate. But for the most part, everybody likes everything that we do.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then given the fact that you two had very different trajectories into PE both starting off in the classroom, if you had to give advice to our current group-- you're currently working with the University of Illinois undergraduate student. But what advice would you give her whole cohort? If I could go back to college and study physical education for a career, this is what I would want you to know.

AMY SWAN: Have fun. Life is too short. And I really wish I would have gotten into this earlier because, seriously, I love my job every day.

And PE is just so fun. And you should embrace it every day. And that's what I tell the young teacher that I'm working with right now. She wants to do everything right and everything is perfect. And I love that. But also, just have fun. And the kids are happy just to be there. And if you mess up one class, you have the next class to make it better. So just have fun with every class because they're excited just to be there.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. I love that, just to remember why we got into this to begin with. And tap into that joy.

AMY SWAN: Right, yeah. Just be excited. And I think Jake, I mean, honestly he does just-- he's just fun every day. And it reminds me to have fun every day.

JAKE LECLAIR: I always tell everybody that we're here to change lives. That's what I tell everybody. Sometimes, for the better and sometimes for the worse. But--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, That's amazing.

JAKE LECLAIR: --we're always changing, you know?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. That's good. No. I love that. And I think that is a wonderful piece of advice that I will share with the group that I'm working with is just to remember the joy. So as educational heroes, people do need to know a few extra things about you both. So, Jake, I'll start with you. If you could have one superpower for the day, what would it be?

JAKE LECLAIR: Oh, boy. Maybe to be--

AMY SWAN: Have hair?

JAKE LECLAIR: Well, that would be nice.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That was mean, Amy. That was mean.

JAKE LECLAIR: That was very-- it's not the first person that said that, though.

AMY SWAN: You should hear what he says about me when I'm gone.


AMY SWAN: Yeah. All the kids think I am an elf because you said I went to the doctor to get my elf ears shaved off.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, my goodness.

AMY SWAN: I've had a wooden leg.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, wow. You two. You two.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So superpower for the day.

AMY SWAN: OK, superpower.

JAKE LECLAIR: Superpower of the day, maybe to be invisible.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK, invisibility so that you can torment Amy even more than you already do.

JAKE LECLAIR: Yeah. I think that would be really fun to be able to just be unseen, go under the radar and snoop around, I guess. I don't know. I don't know.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: This has taken a creepy turn. Amy, do you have one?

AMY SWAN: I would love to fly. I think that would be super fun.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's much more normal. So thank you for that answer.

AMY SWAN: Yes. I know. I'm sorry. Anywhere I go, I apologize for him before we walk in somewhere.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yes. Do you have a favorite book? And it doesn't have to be your all-time favorite but just one that you've read recently that you really enjoy.

AMY SWAN: So we just started reading this one. It's called Your 168. It's about-- you have 168 hours in your week and how you fill them up. And Jake and I have really honestly been talking about this like you have life buckets.

So you have a career bucket, a family bucket, this bucket. And what do you put your hours into? So Jake and I have been talking about, do we put more time into our career or family or play or whatever?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And you've enjoyed it so far?


JAMIE O’CONNOR: You're enjoying that book so far, 168?

AMY SWAN: Yeah. It's really good. And we are discussing it. We get Tuesday early-outs at 2:20. And, I mean, the teachers always have stuff to do. So this is our thing to do. And we're just trying to-- it's about a value-based life. So just how do you use your time? Are you using it wisely? Things like that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. Excellent. That's a really--

AMY SWAN: Yeah. I'm trying to help Jake be a better person.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Well, good luck with your mission. So then do you two have either a celebrity crush or someone that you really admire? So just someone that you just think is really funny or just seems like a awesome person that you would like to meet.

JAKE LECLAIR: I would have to say probably Will Ferrell.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. He's hilarious.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: I would agree with that. What about you, Amy?

AMY SWAN: I would like to meet The Rock or Rizzo. I mean, either one of those.

JAKE LECLAIR: Oh, Anthony.

AMY SWAN: Anthony is my favorite. He's right here. Let me show you. I know you can't see this. But here's a picture of him.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. Excellent poster.

AMY SWAN: Yes. I know.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. Very, very good.

AMY SWAN: So I get stare at that every day.


AMY SWAN: It's nice.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then do you have a least competent sport or activity? So when you have to teach a certain unit, you're like, oh, this one is going to be difficult for me to demonstrate.

JAKE LECLAIR: A least favorite or at least competent.

AMY SWAN: I would say I'm not the best at soccer.


AMY SWAN: Soccer gets me. And I can't stand frisbees.


AMY SWAN: Jake always wants to do frisbees.

JAKE LECLAIR: I can't stand our dance unit. We do--

AMY SWAN: It's so fun.

JAKE LECLAIR: I like the Zumba and the Tabata stuff that we do. But with the actual dance stuff, I can't. Not that I don't know how to dance because I can cut a rug or two. But--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: It's just not enjoyable to you.

JAKE LECLAIR: Yeah. I don't look forward to it.

AMY SWAN: You don't enjoy it?

JAKE LECLAIR: Well, I mean, no.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: The truth comes out. The truth comes out. OK. So last one, so fill in the blank.

Amy, we'll start with you. "My friend just asked me to spend the day doing blank with him or her. And I immediately start thinking of excuses." So what's an activity where a friend asks you to spend the day doing--

AMY SWAN: And you don't want to do it?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You don't want to do it.

AMY SWAN: I don't know. I can't think of anything.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Seriously? Think about it. And I'll come back to you. Jake, do you have one in mind?

JAKE LECLAIR: No. I usually go abide by the yes rule. You remember that movie?


JAKE LECLAIR: You say yes to everything.


JAKE LECLAIR: Yeah. That's me in a nutshell. I usually don't say no to anything.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So if your pal's asking you to do something, there isn't one thing where you're like, oh, I would rather not.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's great. Well, you two are very accommodating.

AMY SWAN: We just like to have fun.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: It sounds like it.

JAKE LECLAIR: I'm open to try anything at least once, you know?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK. Hey, I appreciate

AMY SWAN: OK. We have to think about this. I want to think of something they would ask me to do that I wouldn't like.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And if you can't think of one, you can always just send me a follow-up email. And I will then share it with the Beyond the Gym Floor community so that they know that there is, in fact, something that you don't like to do. I will follow up because we have, again, thousands of listeners that are tuning in each month.

AMY SWAN: We can't wait to be famous.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yes. And you two, I really do, I thank you very much for being guests on Beyond the Gym Floor. But I do think that a lot of people are going to feel, again, a little bit of jealousy that you two get to have so much fun every day together. So thank you for being guests.

AMY SWAN: Well, yeah. We're excited. And we don't want anybody to feel jealous. Just get into PE. And you can come visit us any time.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: All right. And they teach at Clara Peterson Elementary in Paxton, Illinois. And thank you again. And take care.

JAKE LECLAIR: Thank you for having us.

AMY SWAN: Thanks.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No worries. Thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. And if you would like to be a guest or simply have a comment or a question, you can reach me, Jamie O’Connor, at Encourage your friends to listen and subscribe to the show either through iTunes, iHeartRadio or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

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