By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Julie Arbour has taught physical education at King Elementary School since 1981. She grew up in Tecumseh, the only girl in a family of three boys. She discovered she loved sports at a young age while always playing whatever the boys in the neighborhood were playing.
At Tecumseh High School, she played volleyball, basketball, softball, tennis, and track. In her senior year, she was on a state championship basketball team.
Eastern Michigan University came next. Her mother—who attended EMU when it was called Michigan Normal College—had told her daughter that it was the best teaching college around. Arbour played two years of basketball and four years of volleyball for EMU while majoring in physical education with a minor in early elementary social science.
Immediately after earning a degree in teaching physical education, Arbour was offered a teaching position with Ann Arbor Schools and taught at six elementary schools that first year. While teaching at AAPS, she took night classes at EMU and earned her master’s degree. Arbour coached varsity volleyball at Pioneer and then moved to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard to continue her coaching career. At Richard, she coached a volleyball team that went on to become state champions.
King Principal Mary Cooper says that teaching healthy lifestyles is just one component of Arbour’s work.
“She provides King kids with what they need to be healthy and encourages them to take care of their bodies,” says Cooper. “Julie makes games fun and interesting, while at the same time developing skills that can be transferred to life-long sports. Julie is a living example of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Keepers by being bold in taking care of all children.”
Arbour lives in Ypsilanti with her loving husband Ed and their lab Libby. The two of them are enjoying life with their 31-year-old son, Adam and their recently married 27-year-old daughter Kristy and her husband Ryan along with their two goldens, Kallie and Nash.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
What inspired me to become a physical education teacher was my amazing middle school PE teacher. She was young and had so much energy. She treated us like we were her kids. She always pushed me to strive to be better. I wanted to excel in everything that I did in her class.
Did you consider anything other than physical education?
I student taught first grade but had always hoped to teach PE.
What was always written on your own report card in grade school?
That I was a quiet leader and needed to speak up more.
When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
My first year of teaching was very challenging. Although I wasn’t full time, I was placed at many elementary schools as an overload PE teacher. Every morning when I got in my car, I had to remember where I was going for that half-day. On a couple of days, I would be at one school for one hour and then would have to travel and be at another school the same morning. I started to get really good at eating lunch on the road.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
That even the best plans need to be fine-tuned. It is all right if your lesson does not go as planned, but just be ready with Plan B. Each class is different and unique, so be flexible. The same lesson might not work for the same grade level. Take your time and establish a bond with each individual student. Relax, take a breath, and enjoy all those smiling faces.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
I think the best compliment that anyone could give me is that I have been a positive influence in their lives.
In your 40 years of teaching, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
In my 40 years of teaching, I’ve learned that I am always surrounded by amazing children and teachers. All of these wonderful people have something to share and I can learn from them. Collaboration with colleagues is what helps me to improve, so don’t be afraid to share ideas or make a change to what you have always been doing. I have learned a lot from the children. They will let me know when things are going great, or when I need to make an adjustment to a game or skill so they can better understand it and be more successful. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As a colleague at King tells his students: “A mistake is a golden opportunity to learn.”
Describe an average workday.
I arrive at school at 8 a.m. and then check any emails and start reviewing my plans for the day. At 9:05 my classes start for the day. An average day consists of nine or 10 classes of different grades, so I am constantly on the move. The day moves quickly as classes are in and out every 30 minutes. At the end of the day, I am in the hall, helping with kids when the bell rings.
What’s the happiest part of your day?
The happiest part of my day is when a class can play a game or activity with little help from me. To see the kids moving, actively involved, and playing by the rules puts a smile on my face. At the end of the 30 minutes, if I see red cheeks, a need for drinks, and the class asks for more time, that makes my day complete.
Favorite websites: Pinterest, The PE Specialist, and anything sports-related.
If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you say?
If I could, I would tell my teenage self to not be in such a hurry and appreciate the small things.
What do you know about teaching now that you wish you’d known that first year?
I have found out that teaching is more than just teaching physical education. We need to teach the children about so much more. I spend time teaching the kids about kindness, integrity, honesty, respect and many other life skills. When the kids understand these skills, the physical educations class is so much fun to be a part of. Watching the kids help others during class is what makes my day!
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
The kids of course. I get to see the kids grow and develop for six or seven years. Watching them grow physically and emotionally is exciting! I love it when kids come back to see me when they are in middle school or high school and let me know what they have been up to and what activities they are involved in.
How do you spend your summers?
After spending many years following my two kids with travel baseball, softball, college baseball, and college softball, I really enjoy just staying around Ann Arbor. I do like to go jogging at the park and taking Libby for walks.