Wisconsin’s Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year is none other than alumnus Chris Wendorf ’00, who teaches at Sunnyside Elementary School in Sobieski, Wisconsin. Wendorf has taught for 26 years and lives in the Village of Ashwaubenon with his wife, Barb, and two children. We asked the Wisconsin native, who received his master’s degree in education from Lesley in 2000, to tell us about his life and work.
Q. When did you first get interested in education and why?
A. Education has been very important to my family. We have a tradition of serving as educators: My grandfather was an elementary school principal; my father was a high school history teacher, coach and later an administrator for 35 years; my mother taught physical education for 37 years; my uncle was a high school teacher; my nephew is currently a fifth grade teacher. I, too, wanted to be able to make a difference in students’ lives.
Q. Why did elementary education appeal to you?
A. First off, I have always enjoyed participating in or watching sports and physical activity. I grew up around sports, both playing and watching my dad coach, and later having him as a high school coach for both basketball and baseball. Being with and around kids was something that I enjoyed, and people always told me I was great with kids. Elementary physical education seemed like the right fit.
Q. Were you always athletic?
A. I've always felt comfortable participating in sports and physical activities. Growing up I played basketball (my favorite sport), baseball and some football. I've enjoyed mountain biking, rollerblading and water skiing. I take daily walks, and when Wisconsin weather permits, I love playing pickleball.
Q. What did you study at Lesley and how did your degree affect your perspective on education?
A. I completed my master’s in education with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction. It helped me to see things in a new perspective. By participating in the Arts in Education program, I learned how other areas could be integrated into movement.
Q. Why do you feel physical education is important to elementary school students?
A. We need to help students understand at a young age the value and importance of regular physical activity. Their future health and wellness are so dependent upon it. If we can accomplish this, hopefully it becomes a daily habit for them and serves as a natural prevention to serious health issues.
Q. How does physical education help their overall education experience?
A. In physical education, we teach life skills like teamwork, cooperation and problem-solving, which can be used in any learning or work environment. By keeping students active, we are also helping them improve their focus and attention span in the classroom.
In my opinion, physical education should be considered a core subject like literacy and math. It seems all our eggs are put into the "core subject" baskets. In education we help create future lawyers, doctors and CEO's, but how effective will they be if they have chronic health issues or die prematurely because they haven't established healthy habits?
Q. Do you have a philosophy or motto that you impart to your students?
A. Numerous years ago I saw a saying that read, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I have followed this thought for many years. I believe teaching begins with building relationships with students. I also believe it is imperative that I expose my students to as many physical activities as I can to help them discover what they enjoy and will choose to do to remain physically active for a lifetime.
Q. Who do you look up to?
A. My mom and dad are my role models. They laid the groundwork for what hard work, dedication and doing things the right way (with class) look like. In the realm of physical education, I follow teachers like Mike Graham, Ben Landers, Joey Feith, and many others. They are cutting-edge teachers who are always finding ways to take it to the next level.
Q. What do you think about getting the Physical Education Elementary Teacher of the Year award from the Wisconsin Health & Physical Education organization?
A. I am both humbled and honored. Many of the teachers within the state of Wisconsin that have been honored in previous years are people I admire and try to model my program after. My elementary physical education teacher was honored many years ago and to think that I am now joining that group is pretty special. I have always taken great pride in providing my students with extraordinary experiences and to be recognized for my efforts is very satisfying.
Q. You’re now eligible to apply to the Midwest Physical Education Teacher of the Year. Will you compete for that award, too?
A. I plan to submit my application and see what happens.