Becky Keely, 45, didn’t always plan to become a gym teacher. In fact, when she graduated from Kansas State, she had a degree in kinesiology, planning to work in a hospital or do programming at a fitness center.
But those occupations never felt like the right fit.
“I didn't really know what all I wanted to do with it,” she said. “There were lots of options but nothing was really like calling my name.”
One day, Keely says she surprised herself and her husband when she said she thought she might want to actually be a PE teacher.
“I for some reason was like ‘Honey, I think I want to be a PE teacher’, and he was kind of like ‘What?’” she said. “I wasn't around students or kids at the time. I don't know where I got it, I really don't. … I honestly think it was just an urge to put me right where I needed to be.”
Keely said her husband supported her decision to go back to school to get a teaching certificate and a master’s degree. This year, Keely is celebrating her 19th year teaching physical education at Meadow Lane Elementary.
“I know exactly this is the school I'm supposed to be at. I love the people, I love the families, I love the staff, I love the district,” Keely said.
ELEMENTARY PE TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Former PE teacher Wendy Scholten nominated the Wichita-native for the Kansas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance’s Elementary PE Teacher of the Year award, a title she went on to win for 2021.
Recipients must be a member of KAHPERD and need to have taught for at least five years.
After getting nominated, Keely had to write a handful of essays and was graded on a rubric for her ability to offer diverse physical education.
Keely says she was shocked to discover she had won. When she got the call from Scholten informing her she had won, Keely was actually driving in the car with her daughter.
“I hadn't read my email yet, and she's like ‘You won teacher of the year,’” Keely said.
The experience has been “humbling,” she said.
“I know that I'm not the best PE teacher in the state. I know that there are lots of great, great elementary PE teachers out there and who work really hard,” Keely said. “We all do a great job, but it was just really neat to be recognized.”
As an elementary school PE teacher, Keely says she has an opportunity to introduce kids to different ways to keep active their whole life and help them find a type of movement that they can be passionate about.
“I would say that my theme through the years is I want you to value physical activity, no matter what type you're choosing, that there's something for you that you can enjoy,” she said. “I want you to value it enough that you continue through the rest of your life to stay physically active.”
At the elementary school level, some kids have already started playing sports but others can find something they love in the classroom setting.
“You never know who's going to pick up something and run with it,” Keely said. “We do volleyball every year, and I love it because some of the younger girls are like, ‘Oh, I really liked that’ because you don't have volleyball teams in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, like soccer and T-ball and stuff like that.”
Beyond fitness, Keely says she tries to instill other important traits through her classes.
“The other main thing I teach is just sportsmanship and those soft skills that you learn by learning to win, learning to lose, because that's part of life,” she said. “How do you do that without throwing a fit, or blaming somebody else? Ways to just get along with others and treat your teammates and opponents with respect.”
Keely will receive her 2021 PE Teacher of the Year award at the KAHPERD convention in October.