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Beyond The Gym Floor Matt

Beyond The Gym Floor—Matt Jahnke

Jamie O'Connor, a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois, speaks with Matt Jahnke, a physical-education teacher at Bottenfield Elementary in Champaign.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Welcome back to Beyond the Gym Floor. Today, we are joined by Matt Jahnke of Bottonfield Elementary School in Champaign. Matt, so last year I harassed you about serving as a cooperating teacher for our program, which you wisely declined due to the stress of dealing with COVID. Now you're back on my radar because of the fast food chain Wendy's. Would you mind sharing that fun tale with our listeners?

MATT JAHNKE: Sure. So one of my friends and I were first in line at the campus Wendy's that opened at U of I in 2013, and we decided every year on that date to go back to Wendy's together. And we thought it would just kind of fizzle out after a couple of years. But we've been doing it ever since. We've gone nine years in a row now. And the News Gazette picked up on it. And it was it was pretty funny. All my friends texted me and everything. Kind of unbelievable. But it was--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That is really, really fun. And you guys get Frostys each time?

MATT JAHNKE: Oh, for sure.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: For sure. So do you literally have it marked in your calendar? Every year, regardless of what's happening, we're going to be meeting at the campus Wendy's.

MATT JAHNKE: That's right. We try to plan around our schedules and everything. February 11th is the-- "Wendyversary" is what we call it. So.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: What does your friend do in town?

MATT JAHNKE: He works at U of I.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: He works at the U of I. Are you going to be heartbroken if he moves? Or what are you guys going to do?

MATT JAHNKE: I mean, we're both pretty settled in Champaign. And so I feel like we'll be here for--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: The Wendyversary is here to stay.

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah, for sure.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love it. Matt, where did you grow up?

MATT JAHNKE: So I grew up in Vernon Hills, Illinois, which is a northwest suburb of Chicago.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And what led you to a career in physical education?

MATT JAHNKE: So I knew I always wanted to be a teacher. My mom was a teacher. And I kind of grew up helping out with different camps and things with kids growing up, when I was in high school. And so when I was going to U of I, I was a little unsure of what I wanted to do. So I went in undecided.

I thought I might want to teach physics in high school because I had a really good experience with that at my high school. But then after taking a couple physics classes at U of I, I decided it was not for me. And so I had some good PE teachers growing up. I've always enjoyed sports and being active. And so I knew I wanted to teach, combine it with the sports and physical activity enjoyment. And that's what I decided to do.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you did your teacher training at the University of Illinois? What year did you graduate?

MATT JAHNKE: So I graduated in 2012. And then I got my masters with Dr. Woods right after that, until 2014.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow! So did you have Gary Crull as one of your instructors?


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very nice. I actually have stepped into his role.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So, yeah. That's my current position at the University of Illinois. Very cool.

MATT JAHNKE: Oh, cool. Nice. Yeah, I did sports fitness and stuff with him. So that was fun.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: As did I. As did I. Sports fitness was a blast and such a wonderful way to build experience for a future in PE.

MATT JAHNKE: For sure. Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then, you're from Vernon Hills. And you decided to stick around Champaign-Urbana. Did you just fall in love with the community when you were here?

MATT JAHNKE: So I met my wife at U of I. And so we had always thought that we would move away. Becoming townies was always something we tried very hard to go against. But as we got more friends in town and some people started being more solidly in town rather than being so transient and stuff, we liked it. And we ended up both getting our masters at the same time, and just some opportunities opened up to be around here. And now we really like it. So yeah, we're happy to be townies now.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very good. Yeah. Preaching to the choir. I lived in a variety of places, but Champaign-Urbana is home. And I love it so much, and I wouldn't change anything about it. So if we were in normal educational circumstances, what would you change about our profession if you could? What would you change about PE?

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah. That's an interesting question. I think maybe two things come to mind. One would be if I could if I could change every school district everywhere, it would probably be just placing a more high value on physical education. I mean, just so many programs are getting cut and minutes are getting cut.

And even in the pandemic, I understand it's been kind of difficult for school administrators and superintendents and things to think about what to place value on. But it seems like specials classes and PE just get automatically the lower position-- whereas I've learned a little bit about there's some districts that excel in that. And other countries really places a high value on physical activity and movement as kind of like the cornerstone of the school. And I think that would be one thing.

And then another thing I think would be maybe more cohesion in PE teachers' curriculum, I guess, if that makes sense. Like I know a lot of teachers focus primarily on skill work. A lot of teachers focus primarily on fitness work. Some people are kind of a blend of both.

But having some consistency, more consistency about what the best approach is-- because I feel like, even when I was growing up, PE was team sport-based. And there was a big push for fitness-based things. But also that skill work is important. So sometimes it's a little bit confusing on what the main goal of every PE teacher should be.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: We certainly have a muddled mission in our field. The undergrads and I talk about the pros and the cons of that. The benefits being-- we don't necessarily have someone looking over our shoulder to determine the content that we deliver to our students. So we have so much flexibility. But as you've just mentioned, sometimes it can be a little bit confusing when you have physical educators delivering such a wide variety of content across different districts across the entire nation.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Kids are not necessarily hearing the same message.

MATT JAHNKE: Sure. And I think every teacher would say they want their students to be active for a lifetime, and sometimes the practicality of that gets a little confusing. But yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: What's the most important lesson your students have taught you over the years?

MATT JAHNKE: You probably get this answer a lot, maybe, but just the importance of relationships, I think, is the number one thing with teaching for me. Students are just going to be so much more likely to participate in whatever you're doing if that relationship is there first. Yeah. Engagement. Engagement goes up a lot.

And yeah, I think the cool part of being a teacher is that-- I'm at the elementary level and I was at a K through eight school. And so there, I got to see kids for nine years and develop a relationship with them. At the elementary school I'm currently at, it's I get to see them for six years in a row. And so that is a unique role that you have in a student's life, I think. PE, that's a great benefit of it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. I mean, even though I have had physical educators talk about relationship-building before, I think it's so important to have that throughline through these episodes, because for the undergrads who listen to this, I really want that message to get hammered home. And I think it does. So then, how do you try to reach your students? How do you try to build those relationships?

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah. So it's super important. So I try to think through that a lot. So I mentioned, my first job was in a K through 8 school, and so there was sporting events built into the school. And so I coached and attended like lots of different sporting events at the school, and so that was a little bit easier to kind of build that community there.

With elementary school, we don't have any teams or anything. And so trying to creatively find ways to connect with kids outside of PE time is important. And so I'll go out during the recess and run around with them, interact with them there before school. I started a couple after-school clubs, like a cross country club and then a fitness leaders club. I want to do a before-school running thing, too.

When the kids can see you outside of that teacher-student in class, I think it's important to do that. And this year, it's actually been kind of cool connecting with kids at home just because I feel like I've learned so much more about my students because we're using Flipgrid and they are having more voice in that. And they're showing me their animals and things at home. And so you can create some good connections with students that way, I think.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's kind of an interesting side effect from all of this. I've had a lot of people tell me even though they've been disappointed not being in the gymnasium and out on the playing fields, that there has been something really unique about connecting with kids at their home through the computer screen. And like you just mentioned, even seeing a sibling or meeting someone that they've never met before is pretty cool.

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. It's fun. The more I get siblings joining in PE, it's a lot of fun.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, that's cute! My five-year-old, his preschool class has been through Zoom for most of the academic year. They're now back in person. But for most of the fall, my two-year-old would sit right next to him, and honestly, he was just as engaged as the five-year-old. It was quite cute. Do you have any advice relationship-building? Do you have any other advice for the current Illinois undergrads who are seeking this career?

MATT JAHNKE: I think PE is a great profession. It's so much fun. And I think the PE teacher, within the school environment, just gets to be the teacher that every kid really looks forward to seeing. And I think that's a really good side effect of being a PE teacher. Yeah. You get to develop students physically, mentally, emotionally. And having the lofty goal of changing students' physical activity patterns and health patterns in the future and developing the next generation of healthy movers, I think is really a really cool goal to play a small part in.

And I guess maybe practical advice is, I would encourage undergrads who are going into PE to get on Twitter and connect with other PE professionals. There's so many good resources out there. I know the one website that has been really helpful for me this year is, which is, I think, Mark and Becky Foellmer run it. And there's just so many resources on there of people you can connect with on Twitter. And then also just tons of resources for in-person and virtual. So.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. In fact, we just had this conversation this morning in our virtual class about using Twitter as a platform. There might be a little bit of hesitancy. I don't know if this particular generation uses Twitter as much as other forms of social media. But it is a way-- if you just view it as a way to develop professionally then it's great. It's a great tool. Do you have a particular teaching highlight that comes to mind?

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah. I think I have two. One is just a thing that's happened multiple times. But basically, I'll teach a new unit that maybe kids have never tried before, and hearing from either the students or their parents that the kids are doing it outside of PE. Like I started an archery program at the middle school I was at. And I know a bunch of my former students are on the Centennial archery team and different things like that. And I had a couple of students join a lacrosse team in Illinois. And so that was really cool.

And then probably one that sticks out to me the most, just because it was when I was student-teaching-- I student-taught in the suburbs where I'm from. And I know in Central Illinois, I don't think they have boys' volleyball, but they do in the suburbs. And I had a seventh grade student that had never played volleyball before and was kind of nervous to try out for the team. And he asked me if I could meet with him before school and kind of help him work on his volleyball skills.

And so that was the first time I realized that relationship is really important. And so I met with him a few mornings before school, and he ended up making the team and was really excited. And so that was just cool. I mean, I'm sure in those 30 minutes I met with him, I'm sure I didn't make him into a great volleyball player. But just the fact that he saw that I cared and wanted to help in this area. I think it was just really cool to see him achieve what he wanted to do. So that was cool.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That was very cool. I love that. And we talk a lot about how, especially if the amount of time that we have access to the students gets shorter and shorter each year, that really it is so critical that that caring piece is there, given that how much you can directly impact motor performance in 30 minutes might be diminishing over the years. But if we give them the tools and they know we care about them as human beings, then that's pretty much all we can ask for.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So as a hometown hero, Matt, people need to know a few extra things about you. If you weren't a teacher, what would you be doing?

MATT JAHNKE: I think the ideal job-- and I think, somehow, I could do this, would be the Dude Perfect people. I don't know, are you familiar with Dude Perfect?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No. No. What's that?

MATT JAHNKE: It's the guys who do like trick shots?


MATT JAHNKE: So basically, they make millions of a year just hanging out with their friends and playing sports and recording trick shot YouTube videos. I think that that would be just a really fun job. And you make quite a bit of money, which would be--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Have you seen the clip of-- I think they're quintuplets. Did you see the trick shot for the quintuplets? They're teenagers. Look that one up. If you look it up, you'll find it. And it is insane, the shots that they make. You'll love it. It's pretty cool.

MATT JAHNKE: I'll have to check that out.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. That's cool. That's definitely the most unique response I've gotten so far. So are you an early bird or a night owl, typically?

MATT JAHNKE: I have two little kids. And I feel like I get no work done until the night happens. And so I end up staying up later than I should. And so I've become a night owl. But I think I would prefer to be an early bird.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Fair enough. What's your typical go-to breakfast?

MATT JAHNKE: I feel like I'm a big fan of breakfast burritos.


MATT JAHNKE: I don't know. Homemade. I freeze them earlier in the week, and then those are good.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK now, if you freeze a breakfast burrito and then heat it up, is it still good?

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah. I mean, it's not as good as if you made it fresh. But I mean, all the ingredients that I want are in there.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You're giving me some motivation here, Matt, because I love a breakfast burrito but I'm too lazy to make it happen. If you're telling me that the freezing will help a little-- or at least it won't make it taste like total garbage, then maybe I could do that.

MATT JAHNKE: I mean, I'm pretty rushed in the morning usually, and so as long as I can make it ahead of time and then just pop it in the microwave real quick, it's like, OK.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You've opened my eyes a little bit here. So you're on a road trip. What's your favorite guilty pleasure fast food? I mean, you can't say Wendy's. We already know--

MATT JAHNKE: Wendy's is the top. But I mean, I don't know if this counts. My two favorite fast casual-- I don't know if this counts, but Chick-fil-A and Chipotle are probably my favorite fast food places.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Absolutely. What about your favorite TV show right now?

MATT JAHNKE: Well I don't really watch anything consistently currently. But my favorite show of all time is Lost. I don't know if you've seen Lost. I think that's the definitive best TV show of all time. And I also like The Office and Parks and Rec as well. So I'll watch reruns of those two.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Parks and Rec is one of my top three. So I would agree with you on that. Oh. Excellent. Well, Matt, thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. Have a great day!

MATT JAHNKE: Yeah. Thank you. You too.

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 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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