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Justin Young

Beyond The Gym Floor—Justin Young

Jamie O'Connor, a teaching associate professor at the University of Illinois, talks with Justin Young of the Gilman School District in Wisconsin.

Click here to see the full transcript.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Welcome to Beyond the Gym Floor. We are joined today by one of my beloved former students from my time in Wisconsin, Justin Young of the Gilman School District. Justin, thank you for being here today.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Thank you much. I appreciate it. It's good to see you and talk to you again.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about you, Justin. Where did you grow up and what led you to physical education?

JUSTIN YOUNG: So I am originally from Bloomer, Wisconsin that's about a half hour North of where I went to college where one of my favorite professors, Dr. O'Connor here, and taught me. Born and raised there. Very supportive family. I am one of four kids. Two of my siblings are teachers and I got to see what they did. So I just naturally went into that. Then my twin brother, he decided to be a nurse, I guess. Went to Eau Claire. Just really loved the Fi Ed I was actually originally a criminal justice major--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I remember that.

JUSTIN YOUNG: --one semester in. I was like, no, this isn't for me because I really liked back in my day-- something I always remembered was going to Fi Ed, being outside, being active. And I just really knew that's where my heart was. So I just went right to that and I don't regret anything and now I'm trying to demonstrate my knowledge to the students I teach here in my huge, huge town of 410 people.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And I remember, Justin, because I remember having conversations with you early on about that transition from criminal justice to physical education. And sometimes, I love the students who think they're going to go one way and then do a pivot and go a different direction because it's almost like a revelation happen-- like you realize either through taking courses or just something hits you like, oh, I'm not going down the right path. Like, this is what I'm supposed to do.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Yeah. Absolutely.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And it's so exciting.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Oh yeah. That was me 100%. And I just knew a semester and whatever half in, I was like, I don't think this criminal justice is for me. And that was a partial pull of my family. I had a grandpa and uncle, all of them in law enforcement, and I just knew that-- I don't know. Education is maybe where it was at for me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Well, and you were a joy to teach. And so speaking of joy, so what are typically the most joyful moments in your day? I know you teach K-8 So what are the highlights of your day?

JUSTIN YOUNG: So I do teach K-8 Phy Ed, I also teach 7th and 9th grade health and then I have a section of adapted Phy Ed. But for me-- I don't want to be biased but my favorite part is having those little kids, those kindergartners, first graders, second graders. You walk through that cafeteria while they're eating lunch-- I mean they're all screaming your name and that's a good feeling because I always hear that from other teachers, oh, you're the fun teacher! And I was like, well, life's full of choices of what you want to do.


JUSTIN YOUNG: And I just love that part in getting those hugs from the kids and feeling valued from them. And that's really what I like to do. And then seeing what they know after I taught them. I just love that feeling. And then lastly, I just love when a lesson goes good because it feels good for me and it feels good for the students. And that's what I really love to do. And you'll have those lesson plans that don't go so hot and--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. We all do.

JUSTIN YOUNG: --it's back to the drawing board.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Back to the drawing board. In fact, that kind of makes things interesting. It keeps you on your toes when something fails pretty badly. You're like, OK, what happened? What can I do differently next time? But when you mentioned walking through the lunchroom and having the kids yell your name, it reminds me-- I read a story about a woman who went into a restaurant with her kindergartner. And her kindergartner gasped and started almost screaming as if she was seeing a celebrity and it was her teacher. It was her PE teacher that she saw in public and it was so disorienting for her that she just-- it was like she had seen Beyonce at this restaurant.

And I love that about the K-5 group is that you really are kind of the rock star of the school.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Right. and I've had that same situation. You meet in small towns. You go out into the community and everybody knows you. I mean, you go to a restaurant and you see your students over there kind of talking to their parents, all pointing at you and--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Of course,

JUSTIN YOUNG: --that's Mr. Young!

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's so cute.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Whatever. I'm a person, too. So I go out to eat and do all that good stuff too.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh my gosh. So given the fact that you teach in Wisconsin and that you were born and raised in Wisconsin, do you have any really core Wisconsin curricular choices that you implement? Anything related to snowshoeing, or fishing, or anything like that that is innately Wisconsin?

JUSTIN YOUNG: Yeah, we do-- a couple of traditions here we do is we have-- it happens more in the winter. We actually take our kids on a couple winter trips so we have this ski sports area that's pretty close to us, it's owned by the county and we take our kindergarten through fourth grade there. They learn how to-- they snowshoe and then we have an educational component, something that deals with outside nature. We'll have a guest speaker come in. They go snow tubing. It's all run by the county people. It's really a good time for them. And then the fifth and sixth grade tag along too but they have a chance to go cross-country skiing where they learn how to do that. And then one other thing I actually just did is I got a grant for snowshoes and we got 75 brand-new pair of snowshoes that we use every winter. And that goes all the way down to second graders, I think. I have pretty small snow shoes so we use those quite a bit. And then we have a downhill ski place that's pretty close to us. So we'll take a day and go there where my fourth graders learn how to downhill ski. So those are a couple of things that we do around here. And then, of course, I get pretty heavily into football.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. That's the one thing I loved about being in Wisconsin is just how much you all embrace the insanity of your winters. You're not bitter about it, it's just, no, let's just do what we can with the snow, where it's going to be on the ground until May and let's just love it.

JUSTIN YOUNG: And last year with the COVID and stuff we kind of canceled those trips which made it tough because that was the kids' favorite thing to do. So it was on me to kind of make a Winter Olympics day where we did tug of war outside, we did snow painting, we did snow hockey with boots on, and a whole bunch of different things. And it was a whole afternoon of basically the kids being outside on a really, really nice day. So that was kind of an alternative we did last year but this year we're looking back into our two trips away from school.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's great. So, Justin, how do you reach your students, the ones who push back on your efforts to connect?

JUSTIN YOUNG: Well, I think the one thing with me-- and I think it's my biggest strength-- is relationship building. I really like to know my students, who I'm working with. And every student is different. So one thing that I really try to do the first two weeks of school is just get to know them.

I mean, I want them comfortable around me, to trust me. So I'm always asking kids-- especially the ones I don't know. I know most of the students now, I've had them for a couple of years-- I want to know what they like, what they dislike, what do they do outside for fun. Like we were talking before, culture around here is hunting, fishing, outdoors. And I try to relate my content to that.

A lot of my boys, they like to be outside, on their four wheelers. We just have a first aid unit where we're doing a prevention ad. Revolve it around four wheeling; how can you be safe on that? And those are the things that try to do is just relate my content to them and make them feel like, yep, I'm actually doing something I like.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. I love that, though. It shows that you care about what they care about. It's not just you prescribing what you had enjoyed as a kid it's-- no, this is what this particular community enjoys and I'm going to connect it to that.

JUSTIN YOUNG: And especially for my younger elementary and Phy Ed classes. I try to do like one community buildings activity per week, whether it's--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that.

JUSTIN YOUNG: --the human knot or something where they have to work together to achieve something rather than more individual-based and that helps them grow and then helps them obviously learn from me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. And when you actually took our adventure-based learning class in Eau Claire-- and I don't know if you were a part of this cohort where we actually had to cancel our big day kind of the final event because of nine inches of snow in the middle of May. I don't know if you were a part of that group--

JUSTIN YOUNG: I just remember not being able to--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: --if you had an opportunity to climb all of that insanity then that was not your group. But Wisconsin is just such an interesting state.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Love and hate it sometimes.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No, I loved it. Purely. If my family had lived there, to be honest with you, we would have stayed. I think Wisconsin's pretty outstanding.

JUSTIN YOUNG: I think it's awesome you just get to see four definite seasons. And there's always a change and you can tell that changes kids moods sometimes too.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, of course. So, Justin, now that you've been working for a while, what advice would you give with the current cohort of Wisconsin and Illinois undergrads who are thinking about a career in PE?

JUSTIN YOUNG: I think if you're looking for something that is consistent but yet different every day, I think this would be the path for you. Consistent as your schedule-- I mean, obviously most schools work 5 days a week, weekends off. You get that consistent schedule along with a little variety. I mean, for me, I teach K-8 Phy Ed. That's a lot of different things I'm doing. But at the same time, there's some consistency to it.

And then if you think about the kids you meet, well, they have families too. And for me, in a small town I get to meet their families most of the time. Hang out with their families. You open doors that you never thought you'd open before. And then, of course, you have to think about June, July, and August. So that's a nice break for you and--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. In fact, our-- I think it was maybe our last guest talked about using those months wisely, trying actually to disconnect from kids for a little while.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you get rejuvenated for the fall.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Yeah, absolutely. You get rejuvenated and you just set back to go. And usually two or three weeks before, I always say to myself, yep, I think I'm ready to go back to work. And obviously throughout the summer, you're thinking a little bit about what you might do for the fall. I always am. And I always have to stop in back at the school because people are always here working, especially the maintenance staff, and say hi to them. I love meeting new people every day and meeting their families and their families really enjoying me and I enjoy them. So it's obviously an awesome experience. And maybe it might be different for me, but--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No, I love that. Because you're in such a small town that you really are going to get connected to these families and you're going to be with these children for a substantial portion of their educational career and that is so neat.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Absolutely. Yeah.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So, Justin, as an educational hero, people need to know a few things about you. So if you could have one superpower for the day, what would it be?

JUSTIN YOUNG: I think it'd have to be maybe endurance. I don't consider myself old just because I'm going to be forever young but-- you know, sometimes you just get exhausted towards the end of the day. And I'm thankful I have my elementary classes at the end of the day and they really get me through it. But sometimes you just struggle to demonstrate a skill because you're maybe exhausted or sore or-- I just wish I could go through a whole lesson sometimes without getting exhausted.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No, I feel you.

JUSTIN YOUNG: I feel weak.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. And if you're saying that and you are-- I'm not going to put you on the spot and ask your age, but imagine how I feel.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Absolutely.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah-- hey, you kind of got a little too quickly. So favorite book right now?

JUSTIN YOUNG: For me, I am not really a huge reader. I'm a magazine kind of guy.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: What magazine are you into?

JUSTIN YOUNG: So I have a couple of different magazines. Part-time, besides doing teaching, I'm into to ambulance and then firefighting. So I get-- those magazines, I like to skim through and read about what other services are doing around the state. I always like to get into some hunting magazines and seeing what strategies work there too.

Bigger books, I just kind of get bored because like we were talking earlier on in the segment, I like to be active. I like to go outside, go do something, walk in the woods. So kind of at the end of the night, I just kind of wind down, just read for 15 minutes about what hunting or what these emergency medical services are doing.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No. That's great. Do you have either a celebrity crush or a celebrity you just admire?

JUSTIN YOUNG: I don't think I do. But if I had to say something, I think somebody or people that I admire most, probably my parents, honestly. I don't really have a celebrity admirer.


JUSTIN YOUNG: Just you get older in life, you look back and you see what people or who they are that helped you get to where you are. And I think my parents. I mean, I coach football here now and I love it. And my dad doesn't even miss a game yet and I don't even play. So just showing what parents should look like, what decent humans should look like. And I think you get into your big person job, you're going to realize that, holy buckets, my mom, or dad, or grandma, grandpa really gave me a good opportunity, good chance to be successful.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's awesome. And the fact that your parents are even supportive of your teaching and coaching career that says so much about the people that they are. And they did a good job with you, Justin.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Oh, I appreciate that. Yes. I will agree there. They did.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: They did. So your least competent sport or activity?

JUSTIN YOUNG: Oh boy. Probably my number one is probably gymnastics.


JUSTIN YOUNG: Number two is probably dancing but I--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No, I thought you were a pretty good dancer!

JUSTIN YOUNG: I'm a pretty good dancer, usually, on a Friday or Saturday night. But probably gymnastics is my probably least competent for me just because I-- something I don't quite like as much.


JUSTIN YOUNG: And I don't get into but thankful for me, I have students that are phenomenal at it. So--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: They can demonstrate--

JUSTIN YOUNG: I can tell them about it and then I got great demonstrators. We do do those units and luckily, we have a really nice wrestling room so I just go in there and we get to work on our gymnastics stuff and the kids still enjoy it. So I can't complain too much.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So fill in the blank. Your friend just asked you to spend the day doing what with him or her and you immediately start thinking of excuses?

JUSTIN YOUNG: Like we were talking before, it's going to get redundant, I don't like being inside. So if my friend asked me to go to a movie or something like that, I would probably say--


JUSTIN YOUNG: Unless it's maybe raining outside, like it is today here, of course. I might have to turn down or think of excuses to go to a movie but maybe if it's a movie I like--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you had such ants in your pants that you cannot sit through a movie? That is phenomenal. That sounds like my dad. He used to be the same way. The thought of going to a movie theater for two hours made him stir crazy.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Oh, it absolutely does. And I think back to what I was third, fourth, fifth grade I have a twin brother and then an older brother. When that halftime of the Packer game was up, we were outside tossing a football around until it started again. That's how much I didn't like just sitting there. I felt like I was wasting my time just sitting in front of a screen watching something.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No, I get it. I appreciate that perspective. Yeah.

JUSTIN YOUNG: That's I think really got me into Fi Ed teaching.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: It sounds like it. It sounds like you are the perfect person to go into this discipline. So, Justin, thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. Have a great day.

JUSTIN YOUNG: I appreciate it. Thank you very much and good luck to you and good luck to our future Fi Ed teachers.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Thank you.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: 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, iHeart Radio, or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

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