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Jon Beutjer

Beyond The Gym Floor—Jon Beutjer

Jamie O'Connor, a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois, speaks with Jon Beutjer of Lyons Township High School, a PE teacher and former Illini quarterback.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So welcome back to Beyond the Gym Floor. Today we are joined by Jon Beutjer of Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois, coach of the thousands of listeners who regularly tune into this program from all over the Midwest. I think most will be tickled by the fact that you're a former U of I quarterback. True or false?

JON BEUTJER: That is true. That is true. So thank you for having me. I'm looking forward to being on your podcast.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Now, I have to ask, do you still root for the Fighting Illini, or have your loyalties shifted? You can be totally honest.

JON BEUTJER: So I still root for the Fighting Illini football, basketball. It's a great school. Believe it or not, I get a lot of students at Lyons Township who ask me about my experiences at the University of Illinois, and obviously I highly recommend the school.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's awesome. Let's dive in. Jon, where did you grow up?

JON BEUTJER: I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. It's about 35, 40 minutes west of Chicago.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Very cool. So what led you to a career in physical education and coaching?

JON BEUTJER: Well, actually, going to Wheaton Warrenville South high school-- a very, very good high school-- I was fortunate to play football and basketball there, and I had some great teachers and coaches who really had a positive impact on me, both athletically, academically, and then also as a person. So late in my 20s I decided to go back to school and become a teacher and coach. I was able to get certified.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Where did you go?

JON BEUTJER: I went to North Central College in Naperville. I actually got my master's in education from the University of Illinois, but then went and got certified to teach PE at North Central College, and I just really enjoy being around high school students, having a platform to impact them both in the classroom, on the field, and I also enjoy sports. I enjoy the competitive nature, the strategy, and also all the life lessons that you can teach students and athletes in the classroom, as well as on the field and off the field.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Sounds like, from all of your positive influences, you're just hoping to pass it along to the next generation.

JON BEUTJER: That's correct. That's correct. That's what I-- every morning I get up and I'm energized that these students-- the students that I work with every day, I can help them from a physical standpoint as far as PE is concerned, but also socially and emotionally as well.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And so your role-- you mentioned physical education. Are you also-- were you recently named the head football coach, too?

JON BEUTJER: That is correct. So this past August-- actually, right before the football season was supposed to kick off-- I was named the new head football coach. Our former head coach decided to leave, and so I was named the next head coach. And then I think the next day the season was officially postponed until the spring. We're actually supposed to start our spring season March 3, along with all the other high schools in the state of Illinois.

I know our seniors and underclassmen are just really, really, really excited to have an opportunity to play. I think Illinois and New York were the only two states in the entire country that did not play football in the fall. So it's nice for our kids to have an opportunity, but at the same time, we're still concerned about their safety with the pandemic, and taking the necessary precautions to keep them and the coaches safe as well.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Without a doubt. These teens are probably feeling a little bit restless at this point, and are ready to jump in and get going.

JON BEUTJER: Correct. I think there's been a lot of things that we've learned through this pandemic, and I think a lot of the high school students have learned to appreciate things more, because a lot of meetings have been taken away from them-- both athletically, socially. Even being in school isn't the same. We're in a hybrid model right now, and we have about probably 10 to 12 kids for PE each day.

And normally we'll have 35, 36 kids in a class. So I know, speaking with the seniors, they have learned to really, really appreciate being able to come together and work out and lift, and being a part of something that's bigger than them, and I think that's-- it's going to help them as they move forward in their life.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So over the past several years, what's the most important lesson your students or your athletes have taught you?

JON BEUTJER: I would say that I think all of my students, past, present, and even the students that I come in contact with in the future-- they all want to-- they want someone to believe in them and care for them first. And I think that's number one across the board, whether it be someone who's very, very athletic, someone who's maybe not athletic, someone who's highly intelligent, someone who's not. All of these kids want someone to believe and care for them, and so I think that's number one.

And students want them to-- students want teachers and coaches to help guide them and give them advice. And looking back at my high school career, some of the greatest coaches and teachers that I had cared first, and then taught and coached second. So I think great teachers and coaches have that approach when they're dealing with students. So hopefully that answers your question.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Definitely. And then so you mentioned those students who perhaps are not quite as athletically gifted, or perhaps even struggle academically. What strategies do you use to try to reach them on a daily basis?

JON BEUTJER: I think genuinely caring for students. I think when students know that you generally care for them, getting to know them, and that you want to see them do well in the classroom, but also, when they leave Lyons Township High School, when you're more interested in that, helping them to develop positive attributes that will help them be successful in life while still holding them to high expectations, but just caring about them as an individual.

And I think kids, students, athletes-- they can see that, and they appreciate that. And I think just caring about them and believing in them will actually help reach them, because then they know you care about them. I think when kids know that you care, then they are going to be a little bit more receptive, maybe, to your teaching or coaching as well.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So this is obviously-- this is a great piece of advice for the--

JON BEUTJER: Can I maybe--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: --for the--

JON BEUTJER: Can I maybe add to that last one?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh absolutely. I was going to say, because I feel like you're already giving such great advice to the next generation of future teachers at the University of Illinois. But yeah, tell them more. They need as much advice as they can get.

JON BEUTJER: So I just think when you're generally interested in seeing students improve as a person, in the classroom, and in their sport, they will respect and look up to you and listen to you. Because when a student knows that you care about their overall well-being, then they're going to respect you more and they're going to be more receptive to your teaching and coaching as well.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You might get a little bit more buy-in to your program.

JON BEUTJER: Absolutely.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Do you have a particular-- and I know it's hard when you have probably so many great experiences throughout a given academic year, but is there a moment that stands out, like a teaching highlight, where you really got through to someone?

JON BEUTJER: Well actually, I would say I had a student, a special ed student last year, who came into my class. He did not have a lot of confidence, however he worked really, really, really hard and just tried his best. And one of the nice things that I think PE allows is for teachers to recognize those individuals who just really, really have a positive attitude and work hard. And in a general classroom, you may not see that, because students are sitting down, it's more cognitive-based.

Whereas, not that PE's not cognitive, because we're still teaching them things about physical education and what being physically active does for your health, but PE allows a teacher to recognize that individual who's really, really giving a lot of effort, who's demonstrating a positive attitude.

And we have something that's pretty neat at Lyons Township. We have a student of the month, where a teacher receives notification that, hey, you're going to pick a student who has really gone over and above in your classroom. So I was able to select that student. And then before the pandemic, we would have a breakfast where the parents would come, administrators, and you stand up and talk about that individual. They get a plaque.

So after speaking with the parents, they said that that's one of the first times-- that's the first time actually that their son was rewarded and acknowledged for their hard work. So I think that was a special moment, just seeing the parents, their faces, when their son received an award for their effort.

And again, I really think that for me seeing students also improve from one unit to the next, maybe they couldn't perform a specific skill in a sport, and then by the end of the unit they're able to perform that skill and give them confidence, both in PE and also in life and in the classroom.

I know that actually my wife, my mother-in-law, could not stand PE. In fact, she still talks about how she was always picked last. Which we don't pick teams in PE anymore, because of that reason. And when we do certain activities, sometimes she talks about her experiences in PE, and whether it be doing backyard activities in the backyard.

And so again, I think we have such a huge impact on a student's confidence. And just being able to sell to students that trying their best is good enough and just to do their best.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, I mean--

JON BEUTJER: I know that was a very long-winded--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: This is why I'm doing this show, because I feel like we need to get the message out there that physical educators have the possibility to impact a person's movement experiences for the rest of their lives.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: And if we take that responsibility seriously, then the impact can be phenomenal. Or conversely, we can ruin someone's overall perception of activity for the rest of their life. So I just think this is why I'm trying to get the message out there that we have PE teachers in this state, in this community specifically, who are doing a wonderful job.

And so speaking of, as a hometown hero, I know you don't live in Champaign Urbana anymore. But people need to know a few extra things about you. If you weren't a teacher, what would you be doing, John?

JON BEUTJER: I think if I was not a teacher I would-- I know this is very comparable to a teacher, but I would probably be coaching maybe in college. I enjoy football. I actually thought about going that route in fact, when I was at North Central College in Naperville. I was coaching football there. But I decided that I wanted to get married and raise a family and that going the PE and coaching high school route would be better for me. But definitely probably a college football coach if I wasn't teaching high school.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Now, are you an early bird or a night owl? And not necessarily based on what you have to do, but just innately. So if kids weren't a factor or--


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, early bird or night owl?

JON BEUTJER: I would probably say that I'm more an early bird. Especially lately, with everything that's going on with-- I have students that are remote. I have students that come to school. The workload has significantly gotten much higher. I'm also coaching. Right now, I'm currently coaching, believe it or not, girls' badminton and sophomore boys' basketball right now. So I'm coaching two sports.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you have a lot of free time right now?

JON BEUTJER: Yeah, so I'm trying to prepare for the football season as well. And so, to answer your question, getting up early, before my kids get up and getting a lot of stuff done, allows me to you have more of an efficient day.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: What do you typically eat in the morning? Your breakfast? Your go-to.

JON BEUTJER: I usually eat oatmeal, and I have to have coffee in the morning.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh for sure. Without a doubt. It's like I get so excited at night preparing my coffee for the next morning. That's how nerdy I am.

JON BEUTJER: I'm the same way.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. Favorite guilty pleasure fast food? Like if you're on a road trip, what are you going to stop for?

JON BEUTJER: I really, really love-- there's two restaurants I love. I love Chipotle, and I like Chick-fil-A. Those two are kind of my go-to.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Love it. Favorite TV show right now?

JON BEUTJER: To be honest with you, I don't really have a favorite TV show. Because after we put the kids to bed, I'm so tired I usually go to bed. But we do like, there's some shows on HGTV like Mexico Life.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Fixer Upper?

JON BEUTJER: Yeah, Fixer Upper, Mexico Life, Bahama Life. We like to dream about getting a house in the Bahamas one day, and it's cool to see the families go through the different houses and then pick the house that they like.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK, I'll accept it. I was originally going to boo your response of not watching TV, but I'll accept it. I understand the fatigue of being a parent and just wanting to wrap things up at the end of the night.

Well John, thank you so much for being a guest on "Beyond the Gym Floor."

JON BEUTJER: No problem.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Have a great day.

JON BEUTJER: Yeah, you too. Thank you for having me. Good luck.

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


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