The smell of a middle school locker room at the end of the day can mean different things to different people.
Most people would probably cringe at the ripe aroma, but I smell the sweet success of students participating in physical education classes that are vital to their health and well-being.
For many students and parents, however, PE classes come with challenges and even frustrations. A big one is the matter of "dressing out," which is a term meaning to wear clothes appropriate for working out. In most PE classes, students are required to change from school clothes into workout clothes, then back into regular clothes to complete the school day.
It's all about good hygiene and learning how to be considerate around others when it comes to normal bodily odors.
During middle school years, for example, students' bodies go through many changes, one of which is the production of body sweat. In PE classes, students are going to sweat. That causes their clothing to be damp and musty for hours after they're done exercising.
Students learn that having deodorant handy is a good practice, and many spray themselves down with cologne or perfume, too.
Odor is just one of the reasons dressing out is necessary for PE classes. Students also will be active during classes, which are held inside a gym or outside on fields. From time to time, students might fall and accidentally rip their clothes or get dirty. Dressing out prevents a student from walking around in dirty, torn clothes all day and ruining their good school clothes.
Many students struggle with dressing out because they must dress and undress in front of other students at an awkward time in their lives. Some fear they will be made fun of, or observed while dressing.
Parents deal with a different issue. They're expected to purchase or produce a PE uniform in addition to all of the other school expenses. Making matters more complicated is that schools have different dressing out requirements. It's important that parents find out what their school's policy is.
As physical educators, we understand the concerns of students and parents. Our goal, however, is to teach students how to be active and healthy for the rest of their lives. As adults, they won't head to the gym or work out in their professional clothes, or even casual wear. They will change into clothing that is appropriate for exercise. Then they'll shower and change again — a routine that may seem obvious to adults but that has to be taught to kids just as other life habits are.
Physical education teachers are not trying to punish students or parents with dressing out requirements. Our goal is to encourage our kids to become healthy, fit and clean adults.