Physical Therapy and Student Learning

Twenty years of labor intense underground mining finally caught up with me and I could no longer ignore the pain or put off surgery to have my knees replaced.

After the fifth day of total knee replacement, I began physical therapy, which left me numb with pain and doubting myself if I would be able to complete my exercises the next day.  On the way home a thought entered my mind—Physical Therapy is like helping students with learning difficulties.

Before beginning Physical Therapy (P.T.), I sat down with the therapist and we discussed in detail my disability and what goals I want to achieve.  My main goal is to be able to walk normally and participate in family activities.  Just like the Physical Therapist evaluates a patient, a teacher will evaluate a student to understand the student’s learning ability.  Goals are discussed and a plan will be implemented.  For this story the student is having difficulties understanding Order of Operations.

The first week of P.T., I am given instructions on how to perform exercises that will strengthen my leg muscles, so that I can begin walking without the use of a walker.  I am asked to ride a stationary bike, but cannot due to swelling and pain.  My homework this week is to walk around the yard as much as possible with the aid of the walker. 

For the first week the student is given review problems using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to help prepare the student for the upcoming multi-step problems of Order of Operations.  In addition, the student is given a few Order of Operation problems to attempt, but cannot complete them due to not understanding the steps involved.  For homework the student will practice review problems.

After several sessions of strengthening exercises, I begin learning how to walk correctly and encouraged by the therapist to not use my walker for support.  I gain the confidence needed to start walking without the aid of the walker.  I decide to take an afternoon walk and on the way back to the house I misjudge the terrain and step into a shallow depression, which causes my knee to buckle and I fall to the ground.  I try to get up, but the pain is unbearable.  With my confidence shattered, I manage to get up and walk home.  During the evening, while icing my swollen knee, I begin to doubt if I will be able to walk at all and I am not looking forward to attending P.T. the next day.  I am mad at the world.

After several days of practicing Order of Operations and using the mnemonic P.E.M.D.A.S. (Please, Excuse, My, Dear, Aunt, Sally) to solve problems, the student gains confidence and completes homework correctly and studies for an upcoming quiz.  The day of the quiz the student looks at the problems and is unable to solve any of them.  Perhaps due to test anxiety, family problems, or a learning disability.  This is the student’s shallow depression, which causes the student to fall and fail the quiz.  Angrily the student blames everyone else for failing the quiz.  This incident leads to the student hating math and not wanting to attend school.

My next session of P.T. the therapist notices that I am limping and not as enthused about my exercises.  The therapist engages me in a conversation that eventually leads me to inform her that I had fallen and that I am in poor spirits.  The therapist allows me to speak about my concerns and she listens intently.  She asked me to do a few simple stretching exercises and sends me home.  On my next visit, the therapist lays down a new foundation for my rehab.  Simple exercises to increase my confidence level are given and then she begins to push me harder every day, but she knows when to back off.  Because she took the time to listen to me, she was able to put a new plan into effect, which has increased my flex in my knee from 47 degrees to 137 degrees in one month’s time.  I am well on my way to a full recovery.

The teacher while grading the quizzes realizes that the student failed the quiz and notices the student’s demeanor in class.  The teacher has a conference with the student and listens to the students concerns.  By listening to the student, the teacher learns that the student gets nervous and can’t think clearly while testing if other students are present.  The teacher makes the necessary accommodations to help the student be successful, which excites the student and the student enjoys coming to school.

Regardless if you are a patient, elementary, high school, or college student, having support from medical staff, care givers, teachers, and family members is crucial to the individual  who is learning to walk again to the student who is conquering the “sum” of all fears.


Manuel Chavez

Manuel Chavez

San Manuel, AZ

My name is Manuel Michael Chavez Jr. My greatest contribution to education is being able to relate my 20 years of work experience to my students, which I obtained while working for Magma/BHP Copper, one of the largest underground copper mines in the world. My intentions had been to work for Magma Copper Company for the summer and return to school the following fall to pursue my dream of becoming an educator. Twenty years later, I was still employed with Magma Copper and had held various underground mining positions with the last position being a heavy equipment mechanic. In 1999, the mine announced complete closure and I had been forced and given a second opportunity to pursue my dream. What a bittersweet life-changing event in my life. I obtained my Bachelor’s of Science degree in education from NAU and have been teaching for the Mammoth-San Manuel Unified School District in Southwest Arizona for nine years and am pursuing National Board Certification. In 2009, I was selected as an Ambassador for Excellence for the Arizona Educational Foundation and currently sit on the Board of Directors for Sun Life Family Health Care Clinics and the WestEd organization. It is my belief that by intertwining my classroom lessons with my own life experiences and providing my students real world life scenarios, students become engaged in the lessons and develop a desire to learn.

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