Diary of a Supply Teacher: ‘Using a hula hoop is not like riding a bicycle’

I arrive at the sports hall, where a fit young man is supervising boys involved in a vigorous game of basketball. They all look suitably sweaty and enthusiastic. He pauses to greet me.

“The girls are behind the curtain playing badminton”, he says, directing me to the far end of the room.

The girls are indeed behind the curtain. One is even playing a desultory game of badminton with a stray boy. The floor is littered with hula hoops, one of which is being used, in a half-hearted fashion. No one takes any notice of my arrival.

“Is this it?” I ask.

“Is this what?”

“PE. Is this what you’re going to be doing for the next 45 minutes?”

Apparently it is. They all look bored, and I suggest that the time would pass more quickly if they indulged in a bit of exercise. They give me pitying looks, and turn away.

When I was their age, I used to spend hours with a hula hoop, trying to imitate the stars who could work it down to their ankles and back up again with barely the flick of a midriff. Clearly, in the same way that I can no longer suck my toes, I might no longer be in hula-hooping condition, but surely it’s like riding a bicycle? Only one way to find out: I pick up a hula hoop.

It is not like riding a bicycle. I can just about manage to keep it up for half a dozen gyrations, but this involves considerable effort and undignified thrusting of hips. Initial amazement turns to mirth, and I am soon the centre of attention. In no time, I am being treated to superior demonstrations, plus innumerable variations such as swinging it round an ankle and skipping in and out. They try to get me to master some of the simpler moves, and are patient with my shortcomings, but to no avail. I stop for a rest, and they continue to display. Then comes:

“Excuse me, Miss, do you play badminton?”

“Not for ages, no.”

“Fancy a game?”

“Why not?”

This arouses more interest in badminton, and when I am beaten, my opponent is not short of challengers. In fact, it soon turns into doubles as ever more decide to have a go. I am invited to join in again, and play with a girl whom I have frequently seen about the school looking worryingly miserable. Seeing her happy and laughing provides a rare moment of unadulterated job satisfaction.

The bell at the end takes us all by surprise, and there is a mad rush to stow the equipment in the cupboard and head for the changing rooms. Almost everyone has participated in some way or other, and almost everyone looks cheerful.

For my part, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Despite looking a complete idiot, I have survived in one piece and the time did indeed pass quite quickly. Whether or not anything of educational benefit came out of the session is anyone’s guess, but it was better than sitting in a classroom.

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