Educator steps off the teaching field

Freetown Elementary PE instructor retires after nearly 40 years

June 11, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Frank Seifert started teaching gym at Freetown Elementary School in 1968. And he never left.

For 38 years, he's taught pupils at the school how to spike volleyballs, swing tennis rackets and bowl.

But now, at age 69, he's decided it's time to retire. He wants to spend more time swimming, sailing and playing volleyball and tennis. He plans to return to the school for activities such as field trips, he said.

"It's just time to go," he said.

He's also been active with Bello Machre, a residential community in Glen Burnie for developmentally disabled children and adults, and he plans to step up his activities with that organization. A building there has been named for him, in honor of his financial contributions.

The school bid him a prolonged farewell. On a wall by the office, a photo montage shows Seifert throughout the years. An assembly was held Thursday so kids could say goodbye, and adults honored Seifert with a reception that evening.

"He has been a tremendous asset," said Principal Shirley Moaney, who has been at the school for five years. "He will be missed. He has been an enjoyable person to work with."

In addition to the PE classes, Seifert started volleyball and basketball clubs, and always seemed to be available for field trips and other events, she said.

Seifert, a wiry man who gets up at 5 every morning to run a mile and a half before starting his school day, grew up in Baltimore.

He always loved sports, he said, but back then kids weren't involved in teams at a young age, he said. They just went outside and played.

Seifert's family moved to Anne Arundel County when he was a teenager, and he graduated from Glen Burnie High after spending his senior year there. After high school, he worked for eight years for a fertilizer company, but a friend urged him to continue his education and become a teacher.

Seifert started at Anne Arundel Community College, then switched to Towson.

"I had to pick a major," Seifert said while sitting in his small office, which has a window overlooking playground equipment and field. "I love sports and I love kids, so I picked PE."

Being a classroom teacher was not for him.

"I can't sit still long enough to be in a classroom," he said.

When he graduated, he took the job at Freetown. The school, with 391 pupils, has a pre-kindergarten program, so Seifert works with students as young as 3, he said.

He taught the children and even grandchildren of his earliest pupils. One person told him that if he stayed one more year, he would have taught the great-grandchild of one of his former pupils, he said.

Seifert said he's seen many changes in his years as a physical education teacher. He thinks kids today don't spend enough time playing outside.

"It's hard to motivate them to move," he said. "I think it's gotten worse."

Studies show that more kids are overweight now than ever before, he said. TV and computers are partly to blame, he believes.

He tries to instill in his pupils the value of physical activity.

"I talk to them about myself," he said. "I'm very fit. I stay in shape. I talk to them about the health benefits."

He gets great satisfaction, he said, from "seeing kids accomplish things, just seeing kids finally figure out how to do something and doing it well."

As a PE teacher, Seifert has a curriculum he must follow. But his personality is his own. He tries to take the kids outside whenever possible. And he keeps them in line without ever raising his voice.

On Tuesday, he took his pupils outside to play with flying discs.

"One of my favorite activities," Seifert said. He likes it because anybody can play, and it doesn't require fancy equipment.

As fifth-graders lined up to go outside, Seifert gave them instructions.

"When you go out, you have five Frisbees," he said. "You can have four or five in a group. I don't care how many."

Then, without raising his voice, Seifert added: "The next person who talks doesn't get to do anything but sit with me."

The pupils stopped talking.

And after almost 40 years at the school, Seifert remains a favorite of the pupils.

"He's nice," said Stephanie Romero, 11.

Jessica McDonald, 11, said that he always encourages his pupils.

"He tried to help me serve in volleyball," she said. "I learned a little bit, but I'm still not great at it."

"He teaches a lot of things," said Diamond Henson, 11.

And he has a sense of humor.

Said Myasia Alston: "He makes you laugh when you're sad."

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