News & Features

Beyond The Gym Floor

Beyond The Gym Floor—Lindsey Conner

Jamie O'Connor, a Teaching Associate Professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, speaks with Lindsey Conner of Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So hello, listeners from around the globe. Welcome back to Beyond the Gym Floor. And I should apologize in advance. And I don't know, Lindsay, if you can hear this, but my neighbors are currently renovating their home. So there's absolutely no quiet space for me to conduct interviews. But I know that on a personal level I really love listening to incessant hammering when I've got a podcast on. So you know, just bear with me here. But I'm joined today by LINDSEY CONNER of Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana. So thank you so much for carving out some time for me this afternoon, Lindsey. So tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?

LINDSEY CONNER: I grew up actually not too far from here, from Champaign area, in a small town called Bement. And I had a graduating class of about 40 students. So a very small community.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Mm-hmm. A metropolitan.

LINDSEY CONNER: Yes, definitely. I left for a little bit to go to college down in Southern Illinois. And then I came back. And I taught in Champaign in Urbana both.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So did you attend Southern Illinois Carbondale?


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Nice. Very nice. What year did you graduate?

LINDSEY CONNER: I graduated in 2004.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: 2004. OK. Cause I knew a faculty member, but she was not there during that time. So I was just curious.

So what led you to PE?

LINDSEY CONNER: Well, I was always active and loved sports growing up. I had really motivating PE teachers as a child. And it was just something that I always enjoyed. I loved PE.

And I remember going to college and not really knowing what I wanted to do yet. I knew I loved kids, had always worked with kids. I taught swimming lessons and babysat and did a lot of things with children.

But I remember when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, I was like, hm. I know I like sports. I know I like teaching. And I know I like children. So I just kind of combined those. And when I found PE, I was like, yep, that's it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You nailed it.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: And I don't know, Lindsey, if you're aware of this, but we're in the middle of a pandemic. I don't know if you've been tracking the news lately.

But what is one online strategy that you've used that has been even semi-successful, because I know teaching elementary PE content is wildly difficult. So have you done anything that has been helpful?

LINDSEY CONNER: I would say probably the most helpful thing is just other PE teachers that are willing to share their stuff, especially just through, like, Facebook and different groups. There's all kinds of PE groups out there now with Twitter.

But just the willingness of people that do make stuff and are very savvy with internet and with technology that they are just willing to share. And so it's been really easy, I guess, in a sense to just grab stuff that people are sharing and be able to use it. The biggest thing that I had to learn was like how to make a PE Bitmoji page, how to use Google Sites, which are things I didn't do when I was in college.

So those two things we've done a lot of work with these last few months. But I would say the biggest piece of technology is just, like, how awesome PE teachers are right now in learning things and just sharing them, because there's so much cool stuff out there that other people have created. And they say, just use it. You know.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's so nice. And I know, too, it's sometimes hard. I was talking to my undergraduates about Bitmoji and interactive clickable classrooms are really cool, but also making sure that the content is still accessible and exciting to the students. I mean, that adds a whole new layer of pressure.

LINDSEY CONNER: It does. And making sure that you don't have all those ads down there. I know especially with elementary, like, we've had to learn the special-- there's a safe share website that I use a lot where you just copy everything in there. And then it makes sure that it's safe. So, yeah.

Then you got to remember to use that when you cut and paste and copy links and stuff. But, yeah. No, it's been-- it hasn't been, I would say, extremely difficult. It's just a different kind of thinking.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. And then on a personal level, how are you staying sane? You know, just yoga? Increased alcohol consumption? What's been your jam lately?

LINDSEY CONNER: All of the above. No. [LAUGHS] I used to work out a lot at the local gym, but it was closed for a while. So actually we bought a new bike. And so we've been using that a lot. And just making sure I get outside every day.

So after I've been on the computer for several hours to go out to my garden, go outside with my kids, and just make sure I enjoy the weather, too. It's been beautiful here.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No doubt about it. What would you change about the field of physical education, if you could?

LINDSEY CONNER: I think if we were in like a regular, non-pandemic world, for us it's scheduling. Like, I would just make sure that PE was the number one priority instead of math and reading blocks and everything else, and just making sure that kids got exercise and PE every day and that they got it at the most appropriate times. Like, if we could schedule PE before everyone takes a test, or we could schedule PE during the most crucial times instead of just whenever we can fit it in.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So instead of it being afterthought, it's actually at the forefront of planning.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yes. I get that. So what's the most important lesson your students have taught you over the years?

LINDSEY CONNER: Oh, that's a good one. Umm. Let me think for a second. I would say the most important lesson is-- and maybe I didn't think about this when I first started teaching-- but now that I've been in it for almost 12 years, it's probably just to enjoy it. I mean, I know what I'm doing now. You know, those first few years everything just goes so quickly you feel like you're living in a tornado.

And then now I just, it's so much smoother and easier, and just, like, sit back and just be like, you know, this is one of the best jobs in the world, and just enjoy it. And the kids have the most fun when you're enjoying it. When you're all stressed out and thinking about all the things you've got to accomplish, it's not as much fun.

So I think looking at it from a whole different perspective nowadays.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. And I remember back to my first few years of teaching and how I would agonize about every little thing. And I was so focused on management and just the flow of the lesson. And it took me a while to get back to that joy. Like, why did I sign up for this gig to begin with? And once you get back to it, it's so much better.

LINDSEY CONNER: Yeah. And it's hard to do that at the beginning, first couple of years. But then once you realize that you've got it, you know what you're doing, you've got the routines. And you know, every school is different. So you got to learn their things. But yes, definitely. They have taught me that, for sure.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love it. Any advice you would share with the current cohort of Illinois undergrads who are thinking about a career in PE?

LINDSEY CONNER: Well, first of all, they are choosing the best career. I would say that.

And I would also say, like, as many opportunities as they can get to observe or get hands-on experience is important. And when they do have those chances, just to make sure that they're getting engaged, you know.

I always love it when teachers come into the gym, and maybe they're just supposed to be observing. But they come in and they're like, what can I do? What can I help you clean up? Can I help you do this? Or what do you want me to do? What can I do to help you?

Just show eagerness, I think, is one of the best things to see when you're looking at students that are coming in. And then just being themselves. You know, kids love that. Especially if they have, like, a silly side.

Or a lot of times people that are going into this field like children anyway. So just make sure that they're being real.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Great advice. Do you have a particular one of probably several, but do you have a teaching highlight that comes to mind?

LINDSEY CONNER: Oh, my gosh. There's a lot of highlights. Oh. Right now I could think of one that just happened, like, two weeks ago.

So Zooming is hard. And I never know, like, what they're thinking. You know, because a lot of times they have to stay muted because they can't all talk. We have 20 minutes to get through a lesson. I don't always have time to listen to everyone.

So I don't always check the chat box because a lot of our teachers don't even turn the chat boxes on. But I happened to notice a chat box right before I was getting ready to end a Zoom with a fourth grade class.

And in it it was, Mrs. Conner, you are the best PE teacher in the world. And I love PE. This is my favorite time of the day.

And I was just, like, ah! That's what I'm going for.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Heart melting.

LINDSEY CONNER: Yeah. That's why I do this. So you know, just knowing that they really-- it's only 20 minutes, and it may not be my favorite activity, but they are loving it. And it's why I do it. So.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I saw on Twitter the other day a teacher posted that her student-- her second grade student-- asks every single day in the chat box, like, how are you? Are you OK?

Like, this student is so empathetic to the teacher's feelings. And I just thought that was so sweet. That's so touching.

LINDSEY CONNER: Yeah. They come up with some pretty-- we have an app that our district's using. And so they can actually message us personally just about any time they want. And I get some pretty cute little-- how are you doing? I love that activity. When can I do that again? Or can you send me the link? Kids at this age-- I teach K through 5th-- really do love PE. That makes our job that much more fun.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I mean, you're the superhero of the school


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So Lindsey, as a Champaign-Urbana/Bement hometown legend, your students and the fans of this podcast need to know what do you listen to in the car, typically?

LINDSEY CONNER: Oh, everything, actually. I will listen to whatever is on. I like oldies. I like '80s. I like hip hop. I like country. It's really whatever's on.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you don't seek out something specific? It's--

LINDSEY CONNER: I do not. And Kidz Bop, sometimes, if my kids are in there.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. Your favorite kind of go-to snack?

LINDSEY CONNER: Oh. Snack. I like popcorn.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Popcorn. I like that. My son eats a bag of popcorn every day on the way home from his preschool. Every single day.

Favorite toy as a kid?

LINDSEY CONNER: That's a good one. I don't know. I always loved basketball. I'd have to go with basketball.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I think I would have to agree with you on that. First concert?

LINDSEY CONNER: Oh, ho, ho. New Kids on the Block.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You know what? That was one of my first. Did you attend the one at the Assembly Hall?


JAMIE O’CONNOR: I was there, too. That's so hilarious. Yeah, I was there. So.

LINDSEY CONNER: Unforgettable.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, unforgettable. My-- yeah. That's so funny that we were both at that concert.

Finally, when you settle down-- actually, I might have one more for you, too. But when you settle down in the evening, what TV show do you look forward to watching?

LINDSEY CONNER: I hate to admit this, but I am like a real junkie for anything reality. So I like The Bachelorette, The Bachelor, Jersey Shore.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, my gosh.

LINDSEY CONNER: Anything that is not going to make me have nightmares at night or think about murders. I just-- anything that's real lighthearted and funny.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No, I get that. I should have prefaced that question with, there are wrong answers because that is a wrong answer. But I do-- when you added that element of not wanting nightmares, I get that. I do understand.

Reality TV, though, oh, it just makes me feel like my soul is just .

LINDSEY CONNER: I know. I think I just use it as a place to go, and I don't have to think of anything else. I also really like anything on Netflix that has to deal with the planet or animals. I'm like, a real junkie for, like, shows about Alaska. Real life stuff, though.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Real life stuff. So one last little silly question for you. Have you ever laughed at an inappropriate time, like a somber church service, for example? And the only reason why I'm asking you this is because I told my undergrads this lately, that I was flooded with a memory from my days at the University of Illinois when we had to take a dance class. And the instructor-- one of the assignments was to attend a dance performance at Krannert on campus.

And I assumed that it was going to be this massive venue. But it happened to be in one of their tiny, tiny, tiny little theaters. And I brought my sister, who was 18 at the time. And it was this very dramatic performance. And the people were wearing these George Washington style wigs.

And they had this insane makeup. And it was really just not our cup of tea. But I made a critical mistake. I glanced over at my sister, and I noticed, like, her shoulders were just, like, shaking. And she was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face.

And then I lost it. And we laughed for the entire performance from beginning to end, like, chest pain from laughter. Getting glares from the people next to us. It was a disaster.

So that's the only reason why I asked you that is because it's been on my mind lately.

LINDSEY CONNER: I'm sure I've got some. But I'm having-- I'm struggling to think of something. I love to laugh, so I'm sure I've got some. I just-- I'm sure I do.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. Just not a specific memory that's flooding to your mind right now.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. Inappropriate laughter. I don't know why, but that just came back to my mind recently. And-- yeah. So my students had some good stories to share about that this morning--

LINDSEY CONNER: Oh, awesome.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: --chatting with them. Yeah. It was really funny. And we talked about that awkward response to something that's supposed to be serious, and how it's just the worst feeling.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. Well, Lindsey, thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. And good luck with the rest of your semester.

LINDSEY CONNER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: 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, Jaime, O'Connor, at

Encourage your friends to listen and subscribe to the show either through iTunes, iHeart Radio, or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

back to news