'There's No Replacing Andrew': Popular Phys Ed Teacher Retires from P.S. 234

Andrew Steele puts his students through one of many fun activities that keeps them moving during gym class. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 15, 2019


That was about all that an overwhelmed Andrew Steele could say last Tuesday afternoon when met with shouts of “Surprise!” and the whoops, cheers and applause in a school library filled with colleagues, past and present. P.S. 234’s beloved physical education teacher, retiring after 21 years at the school, had just walked into an unexpected party of appreciation, and farewell.

“I am very excited. I am very amazed, I am very out of words,” he finally said after gaining his composure, and before the hugs and cake-cutting began.

“People keep saying to me, are you going to replace Andrew,” said Assistant Principal Elizabeth Sweeney. “We’re not replacing Andrew. We will find a really good gym teacher. But there’s no replacing Andrew.”

Steele, who also worked for 10 years as Manhattan Youth’s after-school site director at P.S. 234, will continue coaching in the Spruce Street School’s after-school program as well as with the summer camp run by Manhattan Youth.

Before starting at P.S. 234, Steele had taught physical education for 15 years at an elementary school in Harlem, while also coaching the Stuyvesant High School boys volleyball team and the womens volleyball team at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The then P.S. 234 principal Anna Switzer swam at BMCC and the college’s athletic director, who knew the principal, suggested to Steele that he talk to her about a job at the school. (Later, when people would ask Switzer where she found Steele, she is quoted as responding, “Heaven.”)

“It’s been home. It’s been a welcoming place ever since I first started,” said Steele, a Staten Islander who has been biking to work since his first days of teaching in Harlem. “I always felt it was a good fit for what I thought about how to do things with kids and what they wanted. It was like a puzzle piece that just fit together.”

Even kids who struggle in school, Sweeney noted, will say they love gym. “There’s a warmth in his humor,” she said. “And the way he can get kids to play a sport without any worry about competition or who won. It just about learning a skill and having fun.”

“I know Andrew will be missed at P.S. 234,” former longtime teacher Pat DeMarco said in a speech at the party. “Andrew would often have his classes chant after their classes were over, ‘Good job by me.’ Well, now I say, ‘Good job by you, Andrew Steele.’”