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Beyond The Gym Floor

Beyond The Gym Floor—Guthrie Hood

Jamie O'Connor, a teaching assistant professor at the University of Illinois, speaks with Guthrie Hood, a physical education teacher at Champaign Central High School.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O'CONNOR: So welcome back to Beyond the Gym Floor. Today, we are joined by Guthrie Hood of Champaign Central High School. So Guthrie, welcome.

GUTHRIE HOOD: Thank you.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: I am actually a Central graduate, Class of 1995. And what's really weird-- my parents both attended Champaign Central. They met when they were in high school. They met when they were 15. So when my dad-- I don't know how he got this nickname, but his nickname was, at the time, Rat, which is not the best nickname to have. And it was my senior year, the first day of my senior year. I opened up my locker for the first time, and I saw carved into the side of the inside of the locker Rat. And I came home that night. I said, Dad, did you happen to carve Rat inside your locker at Central? And he was like, yes, I did. How did you know that? And I said, well, I ended up with your locker. So I don't know. What are the chances of that happening? But basically, given that you're my first Champaign Central teacher, you're my all-star guest.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, so where did you grow up?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I grew up in Pesotum, Illinois, so about 20 minutes south of Champaign. There's a state police station there. So there's an exit off the interstate from that point there. I don't think anybody would know where it is. It's only about 600 people. And if you blink, you miss it, so pretty small.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then what led you to PE?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I think teaching was always going to be in my life path. Initially, I started off trying to pursue a career or education in athletic training. But teaching is pretty much the unofficial family business. On my dad's side of the family, I have two aunts that taught and two cousins and a cousin-in-law that teach as well.

And then, on my mom's side, my grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse to start her career and then finished in, I think, third grade. And my mother and all three of her siblings were or are teachers. Two of my aunts are in education as well. And then I have five cousins and a cousin-in-law that are in teaching as well. So it's--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh my gosh.

GUTHRIE HOOD: --in the blood.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: It is absolutely in the blood. Then where did you do your teacher training?

GUTHRIE HOOD: So I did my teacher training at North Central College for my undergrad. I got my health endorsement at Eastern Illinois University, which is where most of my family did their education to become teachers. And then I went to the University of Missouri for a master's in positive psychology with a focus on positive coaching.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow. Cool. Speaking of coaching-- so I know based on our email exchange that you're a cross country coach in addition to teaching PE. Is that the only thing that you coach?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I coach track as well, so track and field. And a large part of my educational experience as far as teaching is concerned stemmed from my experience at North Central. I ran for the cross country and track programs there. And even though the educational program at North Central is really great, Al Carius and Frank Gramarosso and the other coaches there on the staff really hammered home the value of relationships. I think, a lot of times, that sometimes gets lost in education, that it's not necessarily about the content. It's about the relationships.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Without a doubt.

GUTHRIE HOOD: So that really hit home for me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you mentioned your master's degree taught you a lot about positive coaching. Does that help you with regard to building relationships with your students?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I think it does. A large part of that is trying to realize that everybody comes from a different background and that we don't all share the same values, and trying to recognize that and find some semblance of commonality that you can build a relationship upon, but recognizing that everybody's got some differences. And valuing those differences rather than using them as a barrier to building the relationships, I think, is important.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: As a teacher who values relationship building, have you found it difficult to maintain those connections during remote instruction?

GUTHRIE HOOD: As far as a PE teacher and health teacher, yes. It's really hard to build those relationships when you're looking at a blank screen. And so many of my students don't have their cameras on. But the coaching side of things, we've done some remote stuff, and the athletes are a lot more engaged with that. I think it's just a sense that they already knew each other, so there was no hesitancy in sharing the screens or talking on a mic.

But when students are thrown into a room with a bunch of people that they don't know, it's a lot harder for them to engage that way. So yeah, it's harder to develop those relationships online. But my master's program was all online, and I developed some really strong friendships through that with my classmates. So I don't think it's impossible, but it's definitely a lot harder.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Have you had a strategy that's worked to try to foster a sense of community? Because I know that this is a common issue right now with teachers. They're having trouble with that connection piece.

GUTHRIE HOOD: I honestly haven't found anything yet.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And I don't know to what extent people are still going to be searching for that solution, especially if a vaccine is really on the horizon. But if we have another semester with remote learning, it might be a good time-- one of my students is going to be your student teacher this upcoming spring. Maybe, between the two of you, you can find a strategy that works well for online physical education for building those connections. So what's the most important lesson your students have taught you over the years?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I think, going back to differences, growing up in Pesotum, my exposure to diversity was pretty much nonexistent, small town, totally white. I had one Black classmate growing up, but he was in and out of classes. He had a rough home life and didn't have a whole lot of stability. So when I went to North Central, that my first real exposure to any semblance of diversity, and really opened up my eyes a little bit. But with it being a private school, the socioeconomic diversity was pretty much nonexistent.

And when I started teaching at Central, I was exposed to a lot more diversity, and it really opened up my eyes. So I think one of the most difficult things as an educator is finding the balance between accommodating, adjusting the needs of various students based off of their backgrounds, but still recognizing that there's going to be a world that often doesn't provide those accommodations for them, so helping them find the tools to help them be successful in a world that's not going to be as supportive as, hopefully, education is.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Interesting. So then how do you-- it sounds like you really try to reach people where they are. Do you have any other tips about that, about forging those connections and helping to support them while also preparing them for reality?

GUTHRIE HOOD: That's a struggle. Trying to find that balance and holding them accountable to a high standard is tough, especially when so many people are struggling. It's difficult to hold people that are capable to the highest standard, but also being accommodating those that really need it. There's a tough balance when you don't know your students personally because it's all through a screen. You don't know which students to push and which students to really take under your arm and love them and support them.

So that's tough. When you know the students personally, because you've seen them in class and you've interacted with them a little bit more, it's a lot easier to say, OK, this is a kid I can push a little bit more, and I know that they're capable, and it's not that they're just genuinely struggling. So that's really hard. But I try to use humor a lot to reach kids. My dad jokes are either awful or awesome, depending on your perspective. I get a lot of eye rolls, but I think it helps break tensions down.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah, I'm a mom, but I feel like I have a lot of classic dad jokes in my back pocket. Those are critical. So any advice you would share with the current cohort of Illinois undergrads who are thinking about PE as a career?

GUTHRIE HOOD: Not necessarily PE in general, but education-- never stop growing and learning. I think seeking out advice from those with experience is really important, but also not being afraid to share your own voice. I think if colleagues are good teachers, they're going to be willing to accept ideas or entertain ideas from new teachers. And then on that other side of that, as you grow older and more experienced, to not be too stubborn, and let new teachers under you help you grow.

And then don't expect to be respected as a teacher is another one. I think you need to earn your students' respect by showing it to them first and not just assuming the title is going to give you the respect. And then, lastly, I think it would be don't be afraid to connect with teachers in other departments. Some of my favorite colleagues teach a different subject. And I think so often, we get pigeonholed into staying in our own building and not developing relationships with other teachers.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Excellent advice. Thank you. How long have you been teaching?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I've been teaching since 2011.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK, so I know it's probably difficult to pinpoint a specific moment. But do you have a teaching highlight that comes to mind, one of probably several?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I think probably one of my favorites would be-- there was a student I had that really, really disliked PE. She was pretty unfit when she started, didn't want to participate in any of the activities we were doing in class, often had her hood pulled over her head and just really didn't engage with anybody. She was regularly skipping class and in danger of failing. And when she did show up to class, she was often just forlorn and unenergetic.

And we were outside for most of it, so I offered the option of walking around the west side park that we used for outdoor classes, and gave her daily goals to shoot for. And after that, when she realized that there were other options to pursue and not just team sports, she really started participating in class a lot more. Her attendance was almost perfect for the rest of the semester, and she had no issue passing.

But the really special part-- that was in the spring-- was when she showed up for the first day of school the next fall, and I didn't even recognize her. She was walking tall. Her hood was down, face was exposed, had pep in her step and just a huge smile on her face, had improved her fitness significantly because she realized that she could take her fitness under her own control and power, and took those steps and found the commitment to stay fit over the summer. And it really clicked. And when you see that, that's the fun stuff. When you see a kid that was struggling, and then all of a sudden it clicks, and they find a joy for physical activity, it's fun.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. And I feel like you've just given our undergrads another piece of really critical advice, too, to make sure that their curriculum is diverse, that they aren't just teaching team sports, because you won't be able to reach everyone if you have a singular vision for what physical education means. So thank you very much. These are silly, but as a hometown hero, your students and the people of Champaign-Urbana need to know a few extra things about you. So I know that teaching is your genetic predisposition, but if you weren't a teacher, if you could not be a teacher, what would you do?

GUTHRIE HOOD: Probably do something construction related. I often help my father. He was a freelance carpenter and a roofer, and my brother's a union roofer. And I spent several summers during college, and then a couple of years after college before I got a teaching job, at the steel fabrication shop in Urbana. And there's something special about being able to drive by a project or a house and say, my hands helped do that.

And with students, you don't get that. You can hope that you had an influence. And even if they tell you, you inspired me to do such and such a thing, or you really helped me out, you don't know for sure that it was you that had that impact and not a collective group. But when you have a construction project, you know for sure that you had a role in it. So that would probably be what I would do.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very nice. I'll have to remember that and email you when I need some things done around our house. I'm going to hit you up for some construction work at my house. So are you an early bird or a night owl?

GUTHRIE HOOD: Lately, I've been a night owl. I really enjoy being an early bird, especially when I can get a workout in or run. Or if I'm camping, I like seeing the sunrise. But lately, I've shifted into a routine where I'm staying up late, and I'd like to get out of that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: What are you doing, watching TV?

GUTHRIE HOOD: Grading. That's one of the things about remote teaching. There's a lot more grading for PE than there usually is. Usually, you're just observing their activity throughout the day, and you're able to get a mental note and grade during class. And now it's-- kids are turning in their logs and things like that. So you're grading more than what you are when you're doing in-person teaching for PE.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So what's your typical go-to breakfast?

GUTHRIE HOOD: Usually oatmeal and coffee.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oatmeal and coffee. Favorite guilty-pleasure fast food?

GUTHRIE HOOD: Probably Sonic onion rings.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Sonic onion rings? That's interesting. I don't think I've ever had them. Is it a mandatory must-try?

GUTHRIE HOOD: If you like onion rings, I think they're pretty good.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: All right, favorite TV show if you're not up late grading?

GUTHRIE HOOD: I don't watch a whole lot of TV, but I think if it would be, it'd probably be the Marvel--


GUTHRIE HOOD: --shows on Netflix.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh yeah, I love the Marvel world, so that is an A-plus answer. Guthrie, thank you for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor.

GUTHRIE HOOD: You're more than welcome. Thanks for having me.

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, 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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