Program: Physical Education
Gail Tait’s father had a big influence on her love of sport and fitness.
He was a physical education teacher at the elementary/junior high levels and then at Moraine Valley Community College. Tait remembers going to the gym with him as a child and playing on the trampoline, ropes and other equipment.
“I still love walking into a big gym—it brings out the kid in me,” she said. “He spent a great deal of time with me teaching me tennis, swimming, long distance running and how to throw a football. I really learned to teach from watching him in his classes and camps.”
While Tait was an athlete in high school, she also was a PE assistant, which allowed her to teach others and realize that was her strength. She first majored in biology at Western Illinois University but switched to Physical Education and Athletic Training. Her first jobs were working as an elementary PE teacher, athletic trainer and fitness instructor.
“I was part of the fitness boom in the late ’70s and ’80s and yeah, I wore a headband teaching dance aerobic classes and entered 5Ks when I could,” she said.
While earning her master’s degree in Exercise Physiology at the University of Michigan, Tait was also a teaching assistant and received the Hunsicker graduate student award based on professional zeal, accomplishments and future promise. This led to Michigan hiring her immediately following graduate school as a full-time instructor, where she specialized in classes such as elementary physical education methods, fitness instructor training, motor learning and motor control, swimming, and weight training.
“As a high schooler, I worked at jobs such as swimming camps and summer camps and I enjoyed working with the kids,” she said. “I was able to break complex motor skills down so that students could achieve small goals, gain confidence and eventually learn the skill and/or sport. It felt good to be able to teach someone who’s never swam before and eventually get them to swim. To this day, I still love teaching beginners, whether it’s in swimming, yoga or even anatomy and physiology.
“As I grew into teaching college courses, I was able to bridge the gap between research and application and that made me more successful as a teacher.”
While at Michigan, Tait developed an anatomy and physiology course that was required for all kinesiology majors. She also became an early adopter of technology and began setting up the technology in the classrooms, overseeing remodeling of the classrooms and training faculty on instruction technology equipment and software.
While it was a fulfilling position, Tait decided to move to College of DuPage, where she currently is associate professor of Physical Education. She continues to be passionate about teaching and enjoys working with her students.
“I hope my students come away with a passion for the field of kinesiology,” she said. “It is quite broad and whether they want to be a PE teacher, coach, fitness instructor or athletic trainer, I want them to see the big picture and see how it all fits into human movement and how they can make a difference in the lives and health of others. The ability to critically think, taking the principles in class and applying them in the field, is another skill I hope they develop. You’ve got to do that, because the science and methods are always changing.”
As a teenager, Tait found inspiration in tennis player Billie Jean King, who took a stand for women tennis players and all women athletes, advocating for a level playing field in opportunity and pay, which she continues doing to this day. Tait also is inspired by her fellow teachers and her students.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in some great places working with some great teachers,” she said. “Add enthusiastic students and it makes for an enriching, satisfying environment, particularly at a community college where you get a variety of students coming from so many different experiences and challenges. They inspire me to continually learn and improve.”