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Beyond The Gym Floor S3 E3

Beyond The Gym Floor—Annie Picklesimer

Jamie O'Connor, a teaching associate professor at the University of Illinois, talks with Annie Picklesimer of Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana.

Click here to see the full transcript.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Welcome to Beyond the Gym Floor. We are joined today by Annie Picklesimer. She is the Yankee Ridge Elementary School physical educator and Urbana High School's head varsity volleyball coach. Annie, thank you for being on the show.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? What led you to PE?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: So I grew up in Sidney, Illinois, which is literally like 10, 15 minutes southeast of Urbana. I went to Unity High School, graduated in 2007. From there, I went to Edwardsville, SIUE, down by St. Louis. I went there for four years, graduated in 2011. This is my 11th year teaching, so my fourth year in district. I spent seven years previously in a different district.

I have two cats, Buttons and Clyde. Buttons is 9. Clyde is about a year and a half. I live with my boyfriend. We actually live in Westville. That's where he's from, and that's where I was originally teaching and coaching. And let's see, I have a nephew, Harrison, who's six years old. My niece Harlow is three, and I have another nephew who's due in January.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very nice.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Yeah, so my sister and her husband, they live down in Des Peres, Missouri, just on the outsides of St. Louis.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Then you, given the fact that you're the head varsity volleyball coach at Urbana, your day is pretty busy. Like, you teach full-time, then head over to coach. Yeah. And then you have to drive all the way back to Westville at the end of the day.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: At the end of the day. It's so crazy because once COVID hit, it was like, OK, no one's doing anything, and I have all this time. And then when everything got back to normal, it was like, wow. I was really tired teaching a full day and then going to volleyball for two to four hours afterward. I wasn't used to it, but--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, it's exhausting. It really is, especially when you have a commute that you have to contend with each day.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So what are typically the most joyful moments in your teaching day? So when you're working with the elementary kids, what pops out at you, as these are like the special moments?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: I mean, they say really funny things all the time. And I mean, they ask really funny, interesting questions. I think the most joyful for me is just their hugs, and they're so excited to see me all the time. And it's like, it can be something as simple as I'm just walking down the hallway and they see me and they just get really excited and wave. Even though they have just seen me in class or they're going to see me.

I think working with elementary, you just get a total different vibe from students. I mean, they are just so excited to see you and be here. And I mean, that is just so rewarding, and it's the most joyful part of my day.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You know, full disclosure, I was just observing. You are mentoring one of the University of Illinois undergraduates right now for us. And so an hour ago, I was just observing a lesson at Yankee Ridge. And I heard you say to the students, you're not going to see us on Friday because we don't have school.

And there was just this collective groan. Like, they were not even cognizant of the fact that, oh you get a day off from school. Like, that's something that kids should be excited about, but yet, they were so bummed that they were not going to have PE at the end of the week. So that's volumes about the positive impact that you're making.

So then how do you reach your students, the ones who might push back on your efforts to connect, if you have that experience at all?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Right. I mean, I definitely do. And I try from the very beginning, establishing really good positive relationships, because once you have those fundamentals and that foundation, it's going to be a lot easier to have those conversations with the kids. So a lot of times I'll go up to them and talk to them. I get on their level.

So if I'm teaching with a K12 kid, I definitely go down on one knee and so that I'm eye level with them and just ask them what's going on. A lot of times it's-- my first questions are, hey, what's going on? Did you get enough sleep last night? Did you eat breakfast today? You know, are you are you just in a crummy mood, or are you just a little tired? And usually, I would say 95% of the time, the kids are going to be really truthful and honest. And then just try and kind of work with them.

Yesterday we had a first grader who just was crying the entire time. And so eventually, I'm just kind of like, OK, this isn't really like her. So I just pulled her over, and then I just hugged her. And I'm like, it's OK. We all have those days. And she let me know that she shares a room with three siblings. They didn't get much sleep.

So I mean, it's nice because they kind of open up to you and they give you that insurance of, OK, well let me work with you a little bit. Because at the end of the day, it's about relationships. You know what I mean. And if they trust you. And so I try to just get on their level and find out what's up, why they're not participating.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: And that's a good point too, paying attention to something that's outside the norm. Recognizing that it's not typical for this student to be crying to this extent. Something must be up. And just having some actual empathy for what is happening rather than, maybe, irritation by the fact that they're not participating. I think that is a really good lesson for our students, our undergrads, to hear.

Have you had a teaching highlight this year yet? And I know you're mentoring right now, so you're in a little bit of a different role, but does anything come to mind?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: I mean, there's like-- I feel like there's highlights that happen every day. I mean, there's, like today, during the fifth grade class, I noticed a kid made a really good catch. And another student was like, wow, that was a great catch. I don't know if you heard one of them say that to the other, but I said yeah, I agree. That was an awesome catch. So I mean, to hear them complimenting each other and being kind to each other, that's always a win.

But I'm just happy that they're back in school, that we're back in person. I mean, the kids are doing, especially at Urbana, they do an amazing job with the masks. And the staff does an amazing job, and they just make the best out of the situation. So to have them here in person moving their bodies, you know, because a lot of them, teachers included, were probably very sedentary the last year and a half. So to have them here in person, in the gym, exercising, I mean, that's definitely a plus.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh yeah. It is impossible, and I'll get into this bar with anyone who wants to get into it, it is impossible to replicate what we do in the gymnasium at home to our students. It's impossible. So what advice would you share? You already talked about relationships, and I think that's a key thing for our students to hear. But is there any additional advice that you would give those Illinois undergrads who are thinking about PE?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: I would definitely say classroom management is a really important-- is important to have as a PE teacher, because we have such a large space to work with. We have no desks, no chairs for them to sit in. We're working with equipment. So really establishing your classroom expectations and procedures the very first week. And if they still aren't getting it, then continue practicing it. I mean, because your day and your year is going to go by way smoother.

I know with Johnny, there's been a couple of times where I've watched him teach and then I said, OK next time, give them a very specific example and go through every nitty gritty detail. And yes, it might take five minutes of your time, but in the end, it's going to be so much smoother of a process for you.

And kind of a personal, I mean, I think I love PE. I love my job. It does not feel like a job. I get up. I'm super excited to be there. So I think it's a great field that we're in. I think we're very fortunate and lucky. Also, we get to see all the kids in the building. So we have those opportunities to create those relationships and to create those positive role models for kids, you know. But also, don't work with kids in the summer. I did that my first two, three years of teaching, then I was continuing my counselor job at the Y. It was just too much working with kids 12 months a year.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. There's no doubt about it. You need a break to get rejuvenated for coming back to school. It's funny, my son when he was in preschool, they decided to offer a preschool summer camp. And I noticed by the end of the summer, his preschool teachers looked kind of terrible because they didn't realize-- because they're young, they didn't realize that they needed to step away from those kids for a couple of months. You get excited to come back in the fall. So I do not think they will be offering that camp again next year, or they will hire someone else to take the reins.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: And I-- Yeah, I am definitely an advocate of that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that advice.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: I love kids, don't get me wrong.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: The first person to say that, actually. So this is an original piece of advice, and I hope they tune in. Take a break from the kids. So as an educational hero, people need to know a few extra things about you. If you could have one superpower for the day, what would it be?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Teleportation. So that I could just be like, oh, I feel like going to a beach. And then bam. I'm there.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love it. And then just as quickly, you're back.



ANNIE PICKLESIMER: No waiting in line.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: --don't have to wait in like, TSA lines or-- I love it. Your favorite book of the past few years?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: So I just read What Alice Forgot. It was a novel. Basically, in a nutshell, it's about this woman who has an accident, and she wakes up and she's like, where's my husband? I'm pregnant. And the reality is it's 10 years after. So she has had three kids by now. She's in the middle of a divorce from her husband. She's a completely different person than what she was.

And so it's her trying to piece together and find those missing memories of what happened with her past relationship with her husband, and what happened with her relationship with her mother and her sister, and just kind of discover what kind of a person she is. And it ended exactly how I hoped it ended, so it was like, it was one of those books that I wish I could read again because it was awesome.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. When you are jealous when you hand it off to a friend because they don't yet know what they're getting into.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: And that's what I did. I handed it off to my best friend, Rochelle, and I'm like, oh, I'm so jealous of you. You're going to love it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK, very good. I'm always taking book tips, so I'm going to write that one down for sure. So do you have either a celebrity crush or a celebrity you admire?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: So he's not really a celebrity, but I'm a big Kansas City Chiefs football fan. I've been one since I was, like, itty bitty. So Andy Reid is the head coach there. And I mean, he is one of those coaches that he forms those relationships with his players, and he has those interpersonal relationships, and then they perform for him on the field. And I mean, he's someone that I would like to kind of strive to be like, as far as coaching is concerned, and obviously, teaching. So hopefully, I think I'm in the right path of that. And then also, I mean, Lucas Black is just so dreamy. Which, no one really knows who he is.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I was just going to say. I could be aging myself here. I don't know who Lucas Black is. What genre of--

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: So he was in Friday Night Lights the movie. He was the quarterback.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I didn't see the movie. I saw the series, but I did not see the movie.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Yes. So he was in the movie. But his first movie he was in was in a Disney movie called Flash, and it was when I was a kid. And it was about this kid who has a horse named Flash, and he rides his horse cross country to try and find his dad. And it was just one of those typical corny Disney movies, but it was one that stuck with me. And so-- I don't know.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love it.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So Annie, what's your least competent sport or activity?

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Soccer. I am terrible at soccer. I played one year when I was a kid, never touched the ball. And I was that kid just running up and down the field, waving at my parents, picking dandelions. I had no idea what was going on.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. So fill in the blank, my friend just asked me to spend the day doing what with him or her, and I immediately start thinking of excuses.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Is this-- I'm sure a lot of people are going to be like, what? Like, painting or crafting, or anything artsy, is not my jam. I don't know how to do it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I think I was a weird kid in that, most kids in class, when it was time for arts and crafts, were really jazzed. I was just like, oh. I would groan. I would groan. Like, no, we have to deal with glue and scissors. I was never excited about arts and crafts, even as a child. I don't know what that says about me, but--

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: No. I mean, my dad, he just retired now. And so he has always been a really good painter, and so he's always been really artsy and crafty. So any time we had an art project, of course, me being the student, I would wait till the last minute, typically the night before, and say, by the way dad, I have this due.


ANNIE PICKLESIMER: So obviously, we would stay up till all hours of the night. Some tears were shed from me, obviously. And he would help me and just sometimes do it. But--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's hilarious. If my sons pull that with me, unfortunately, I'm just going to tell them they're on their own because crafts are not-- I'm not interested in crafts in the slightest.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Exactly. It's just--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. I feel you.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yes, no. I don't think that's weird at all. But I might be the only one engaged in this conversation. All of our listeners might say, what? What's wrong with the two of them.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: And that's OK. So Annie, thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor.

ANNIE PICKLESIMER: Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

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