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Beyond The Gym Floor—Jeremy Richards

Jamie O'Connor, a Teaching Associate Professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, speaks with Jeremy Richards, a physical education teacher Prairie View Ogden North elementary school in Royal, Ill.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Jeremy Richards of Prairieview-Ogden North Elementary School, thank you for joining me on Beyond the Gym Floor.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Glad to be here.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Jeremy, if you could start off by telling us everything we need to know about Royal, Illinois?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Oh, there's not a whole lot to tell. It's a very small town. There's one church, Lutheran church; one school building; a couple of bars.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I was just going to ask, what's the nightlife like?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Oh, man. It's--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No beer, man. I go to bed at about 8:45. So let's maybe talk about the early evening life.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Well, I'm sure you could get probably some bar food and a couple of ice cold beers. And then, yeah-- Don't blink, you'll miss it. It's pretty small.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh.

JEREMY RICHARDS: It's a very small school.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Fair enough.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So what's your role at Prairieview-Ogden? And how did you land there?

JEREMY RICHARDS: I'm the head physical education teacher. I've been there-- this is my 20th year. It was my first job right out of college. I got hired on, very first job right out of college like I said. And I got hired two days before school started. It was kind of serendipitous that I ended up at that school.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Where do you go to college?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Williams Baptist. It was Williams Baptist College when I attended. It is now Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, so then what brought you from Arkansas to the lovely plains in Illinois?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Oh, man. My wife got into the University of Illinois, Vet Med School. She was actually the first student from our college to get accepted into a medical school of any kind. And she got into LSU. And she got into the University of Illinois. And I had relatives that live up this way. So it was a no-brainer to move this way instead of moving 12 hours away from anybody that we know.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So is she a veterinarian in the community?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Well, she did a year at Vet Med. And then--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So there's a bigger story there.

JEREMY RICHARDS: There's a bigger story. And we won't go into that one.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: But we won't go into that one. Because you know what, we're here to talk about PE, not about veterinary medicine, no offense to your wife.

JEREMY RICHARDS: No.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK. So that's great. So you were hired two days--

JEREMY RICHARDS: Two days before the first day of school in 2000. I had actually signed on to be a boys baseball coach, girls basketball, girls volleyball, and a teacher's aide at Thomasboro, which is another little school about 10 miles down the road. And the superintendent, Mrs. Kuhn, called me into her office like four days after she had hired me.

And I was like, oh, gosh, what have I done? I've already screwed up. I'm not-- you know, what am I going to do? And she said, I just got a phone call from another school down the road. Their PE teacher quit.

I know you have your teaching degree. And I really wanted to be a teacher. I didn't want to be a teacher's aide. And she said, I want you to go down and interview for this. And if you get it, then great. You don't have to worry about your coaching responsibilities here. I want you to go down there.

So I went down. And I interviewed. Vic White was the superintendent. And he's still superintendent at the school now. He hired me.

And I went back and told Ms. Kuhn, I committed to doing those coaching jobs. So I'm going to finish coaching those jobs at Thomasboro. And then next year, of course, I won't be back next year because I'm already over at Prairieview.

So I coached boys baseball. I coached girls basketball, helped with girls volleyball. And then I also-- part of taking the teaching position at Prairieview, Vic was like, hey, we need a track coach. I need you to coach track. So I coached for sports my first year right out of college and taught two days, four schools. So I was winging it the entire year.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: See, I like to tell my undergrads that I came out of the gate coaching three sports. And I thought that was a lot. I'll no longer use that as an example.

JEREMY RICHARDS: And I had a one-year-old and my wife was in Vet Med.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK, wonderful.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, that's insane.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Not to try to one-up you or anything.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No. You've done it. You were successful. So congratulations. That is crazy. So when did you know that you wanted to be a physical educator?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Well, I have two aunts that are teachers. And one is a physical education teacher. I always knew that I wanted to work with kids. And I always knew that I wanted to do sports.

And I can remember coming into college, and I really hadn't declared a major yet, and talking to the counselor. And she's like, well, what are your interests? And I kind of go--

And she goes, have you thought about PE? And it was just-- it's like a light went off. It was like, oh, yeah, that would be awesome. I love playing games and playing with kids. So yeah, let's do that.

And then, like I said, 20 years later, having been at the same school, I'm starting to get the kids of my kids.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, wow. How old are your children?

JEREMY RICHARDS: My son is 20. He'll be 21 in October. So I got an early start, got married very early.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. Oh, that's great. Since there was like a light that went off when you realized this is what you wanted to do--

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: --did you then reflect back and think about a PE teacher who really mattered to you when you were in school.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah. So junior high school, I had a really cool PE teacher, Coach Gilbert was his name. I remember him being one of those guys that would get out and play the basketball game with us. And he was our football coach, too.

And then when I got into high school, I had a PE teacher who was our football coach, who really frustrated me because he was a one that would sit in the bleachers and just look at his-- read the paper, roll out the balls. Hey, you guys are playing this.

And then it was like, you got the coolest job in the world. You get to play games. And you're going to sit over bleachers. So I was like if I ever get a chance to do that, I'm going to be Coach Gilbert. I won't be Coach-- I'm not going to use this name because I don't--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, sure.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah, so--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I appreciate that because we're now up to about 100,000 listeners at this point. So we don't want the word to get out.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Right, exactly. But I don't even know if this man is still alive honestly. He was old when I had him. So that was probably the reason he sat in the bleachers. But still, it was like you could at least get out. I mean, he would tell me, hey, Jeremy, go set up the badminton nets. You guys are playing badminton. And he'd sit over and read the newspaper.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I was just telling a class of undergrads today that one of my most profound memories of teaching in Philadelphia was seeing this coach, who was a legend in the community, sit for elementary PE lessons. He would sit in the bleachers. It just at the time, I could not believe it.

I mean you are so revered among everyone in this town. And yet they don't know that you sit down while you teach elementary PE. So what would you change about physical education if you could?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Oh, gosh.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So do you still face any challenges that frustrate you to this time?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Well, not major challenges. I mean, I don't-- like I teach at a very small school. I know all my kids. I know my kids parents. I have very good communication. So discipline is really not much of an issue at my school. I mean, it's not.

I know that the little problems that I have are nothing compared to what they're going to have in Champaign and Urbana. So I am afforded the opportunity to do a lot with my kids. And the only frustration I would-- more funding. I mean it would always be nice to have more money to buy cool equipment for the kids to use. So I guess that would be my major-- I guess-- thing that I would like to improve about physical education in my building.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. So for the most part, you're supported by administration, by parents.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Exactly. Yeah, yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's lucky.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So what's the most important lesson your students have taught you throughout these 20 years?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Not to judge a book by the cover and not to be fully quit to, if a kid's lashing out, think that it's personal. Nine times out of 10, something at home is going on that's causing them to be that way. And just building those relationships with kids, that's the important thing.

When you build a good relationship and the rapport with the kid, they start to open up. And then discipline usually doesn't become an issue. I mean, that's the big-- that's what I would tell a new teacher is, build the rapport with your students. If you can build a really good rapport with your students, discipline will not be an issue. And if it is, it's not going to be a major issue.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you just mentioned this idea of teaching them about building rapport. Are there other-- is there another piece of critical advice that you would give the cohort of Illinois undergrads who are thinking about PE teaching as a career?

JEREMY RICHARDS: You need to befriend to people for sure in the building, the janitor-- you need to make sure you're on really good terms with that person because they're going to help in more ways than you can imagine-- and the building secretary.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Become their friend.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Become, their friend, yeah, yeah. Of the people that you're going to be coming in contact each day, those two people are very important, I mean, I eat lunch with my janitor every day. We sit and we bounce ideas off each other. He's a supercool dude--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love it.

JEREMY RICHARDS: --supercool dude.

I actually teach in two different buildings. I start my day in Royal. And I end my day in Ogden. So I have two different secretaries. And I always stick my head in the office, hey, how's it going? Do I need to know anything that's going on, because I'm in two different buildings, running around.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Building only relationships with the people in your building.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah, exactly.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: do you have any elementary students who are not in the physical activity? I know it's just-- it's more common at the middle high school level. And if so, how do you try to reach them?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah. I mean that's one of the challenges you face because not every activity that you're going to do with the kids, each kid's going to really be interested or want to participate in. The way that I motivate my kids is I get out on the floor and I'm doing stuff with them.

I always tell my kids, especially if we're doing anything that's hard, and I'm not going to do anything-- I'm going to ask you to do anything that I'm not willing to do myself. If we're doing push-ups that day, hey, I'm doing push-ups them. If we're running laps or we're taking a test that's a timing running test, I'll run it with them. Hey, I'm 41 years old. I can still do it. And let's get out here and do this.

And then finding-- those kids that aren't super-athletic or not really into PE, finding out what their interests are. And then bringing that back around and relating it to something in physical education. And maybe tying that into some kind of a game that you're playing. Oh, a light goes off. Oh, yeah, I can do that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's great.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Do you have a teaching highlight? And I know you probably have several, but one comes to mind?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Jeez, over 20 years.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I know. I know.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Nothing-- nothing like super jumps out at me. I've got so many funny stories. I could sit here for an hour and talk about just funny stories and stuff.

I guess the first thing that pops in my head is the first time that I had-- first day I was in the new build-- so I started out my career. I started in Flatville, Illinois. I taught at the junior high. And then I would end my days in Royal.

And then we kind of went through a little downsizing. Back mid-2000s, we had to release a couple of teachers. And one of them was the other physical education teacher. So when that happened, my assignment got changed from junior high to now I was all K through sixth grade. And I would start my days in Royal and finish in Ogden.

Well, I never really had any interaction with the Ogden building or with those students until they had come to the junior high. So when I started teaching the elementary, I had to introduce myself to all the kids that were down at the Ogden. They see me coming in and out. They know on the other PE teacher. I'm the coach, whatnot.

So I'm introducing myself to a third grade class. And this little boy raises his hands. And he goes, so you're Mr. Richards. I said, yes.

He goes, my mom had you. She said you wore the coolest PE teacher ever. I was like, oh, that is so awesome. And I feel so old.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. Yeah, that really would be jarring for the time.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah. But the fact that his mom had said, oh, you have Mr. Richards. He was the coolest PE teacher ever. You're going to love that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So was it was pros and cons, pros and cons.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah, exactly.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So Jeremy, since you are royalty, so to speak-- and did you see what I did there? I mean, is that the worst royal joke you've ever heard?

JEREMY RICHARDS: It's pretty bad.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: It's really bad. And I'm the one who said it. I know. That was actually like a classic dad joke that I just said. But regardless, your students and the fans of this podcast need to know what do you listen to in the car?

JEREMY RICHARDS: I listen to the classic rock station out of-- I think it's Decatur, 9.85. It might be even over in Indiana somewhere. I don't know. I rock out to the '80s hair bands.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: 80's hair bands.

JEREMY RICHARDS: '80s hair bands.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: one in particular?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Oh, I love-- I love Def Leppard, Bon Jovi. And then, of course, I grew up in the '90s. So I'm a big fan of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, really eclectic music. All I like all music. But if I'm needing to unwind or I want to jam out, I'm putting on some '80s hair bands and listening to that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Favorite snack?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Cashews.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Cashews, great.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Last week's guest said tuna. So really you could have said anything. And you would have won this competition. Favorite toy as a kid?

JEREMY RICHARDS: The baseball glove.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Your baseball glove.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Get out there all the time?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Well, yeah. So funny story. My dad worked third shift when I was growing up. So he wasn't home a whole lot to play ball with me when I get home from school.

So I'm right-handed. And I learned how to bat left-handed because tossing the ball up and trying to hit it myself, I couldn't toss it very well with my left hand. But I could toss it really good with my right. And then swing left and hit it.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Interesting.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah. So growing up, I was a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed batter. And I played--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I bet your coaches loved that.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Oh, yeah. And I played peewee ball all the way up through junior high. I played high school ball, played baseball in college.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So let's see. First concert, did you get to see any of these hair bands?

JEREMY RICHARDS: No. I never-- the funny thing is, I'm such a big fan. But I've never been to a hair band concert Metallica is on tour. And I really wish I could get some tickets to go. But I'm not going to pay $1,000 to go.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No. I know.

JEREMY RICHARDS: My first concert I ever saw was actually a Jars of Clay, which is a Christian rock band.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. I've heard it.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah. I went and saw them in college with my wife. So that was the first time.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very nice. Your first concert was in college.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow. Yeah, man, that's cool.

JEREMY RICHARDS: I lived a sheltered life growing up.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Sheltered life, huh. So finally, when you're not inspiring this next generation of active movers, what TV show do you look forward to listening to or watching?

JEREMY RICHARDS: Watching?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yes.

JEREMY RICHARDS: I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: The Walking Dead.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I can't do zombies.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Yeah. I didn't think I would like zombies. And then I got caught up in a marathon they were having one weekend, about two seasons in. I'm like, oh, this is more about-- it's not so much zombies. It's how people are going to react when the world goes to crap and the choices they have to make.

So zombies are kind of a background. But yeah, it's--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: But it's it kind of terrifying to think about what humans are going to evolve into? I mean, that actually might be--

JEREMY RICHARDS: It's evolved into-- yeah, yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So I don't know if I could handle even that element.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Some of that show is extremely dark and heavy. But at the same time, it's like, oh, man, what would you do in that situation?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I don't want to think about it. Well, thank you Jeremy so much for being on Beyond the Gym Floor.

JEREMY RICHARDS: Well, thank you for having me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No problem. Take care.

If you would like to be a guest or simply have a comment or a question, you can reach me, Jamie O’Connor, at Beyond the Gym Floor @gmail.com. Encourage your friends to listen and subscribe to the show, either through iTunes, iHeart Radio, or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

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