Home How to Become a Physical Education Teacher

How to Become a Physical Education Teacher

Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18.5% of the nation’s children aged two to 19 are obese. As a result, a growing number are developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems. Experts blame two factors: poor nutritional habits and lack of physical activity.

Physical health is an integral component of a well-rounded education. In fact, studies link physical fitness to academic achievement in young people, especially at the elementary school age. Highly active students scored higher in math and reading than their less-active counterparts.

Physical education (PE) teachers play a critical role in improving the health of our nation’s children by giving them the skills and knowledge they need to lead healthy lives. On this page, you’ll find out how to contribute to the well-being of today’s youth by becoming a PE teacher.

PE Teacher Job Description

Health and physical education are taught at all grade levels. At the elementary level, PE programs serve as an introduction to various types of physical activity. At this young age, kids can be susceptible to playing video games, eating junk food, and learning poor habits that can contribute to poor health in the long-term. The emphases tend to be on coordination, teamwork, and appreciation for sports.  With young kids, gym teachers should look for ways to keep learning fun. This requires more of a game-based approach to activities, instead of focusing so much on competition and winning.

At the secondary level, programs become more specialized and in-depth. For example, a physical education teacher at this level might teach classes in aerobics or rock climbing. Extracurricular activities are introduced at this level and competitive play is more of an emphasis. PE teachers re often responsible for coaching activities after school and evaluating student performance to encourage those who may have natural talents in particular sports.

By the middle and high school years, students’ bodies are also developed enough to start weight training to improve their physical strength. Curriculum for gym class and courses specific to strength training are often introduced by high school. PE teachers in these courses will help students understand the importance of proper lifting and stretching to avoid injury. They will also emphasize a deeper understanding of healthy eating, since diet and exercise go hand-in-hand.

Often, PE teachers at the middle school or high school level work as coaches in addition to teaching. They hold tryouts for teams, provide training, and coach games. For larger schools that are serious about their sports, coaches might have assistants.

Most PE teachers also teach a health curriculum. This course may include topics such as:

  • Alcohol, tobacco, and drug prevention
  • First aid and CPR
  • Healthy lifestyle choices
  • Lifetime survival skills
  • Nutrition education
  • Personal and community health and safety
  • Sex education and human development

Benefits of Physical Education

The National Institutes for Health affirms that students who are actively engaged in some sort of physical activity excel in other areas of life, including academic and personal development. It falls upon Physical Educators to effectively relay the benefits of incorporating exercise into daily life, explain the far-reaching benefits of beginning and maintaining a healthy routine, which include proper nutrition and proper exercise.

Cornell University reports that children engaged in regular recess and physical activity before lunch make healthier food choices, citing that 54% of them eat more fruits and vegetables, and a 45% increase in students eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables during the school day. Physical activity coupled with proper nutrition both play essential roles in a healthy, productive day both during and after school hours.

This leads to a greater sense of balance for students. Addtionally, when healthy behavior is reinforced by a student’s community, this increases the chances of children and adolescents carrying these healthy habits into adulthood, a trend which can help curb obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

The fact that this is being cut from schools can be disheartening, and is all the more reason for physical educators to understand the importance and impact of their roles.

Physical Education Teacher Salary and Career Outlook

According to CareerExplorer, in October 2019, there were an estimated 20,600 physical education teachers in the United States. The job market is expected to grow by 9.7% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average for all other jobs. However, because the position of a PE teacher is specialized, there are fewer openings than there are for general education teachers.

The ten states that currently employ the most PE teachers are:

New York1,310
North Carolina1,020

ZipRecruiter reports that in October 2019, the median salary for PE teachers was $45,215. The top 10% of PE teachers earned $71,500.

The following states paid the highest average salaries in October 2019:

StateHourly WageAverage Salary
New York$23.79$49,480
New Hampshire$23.21$48,279

Physical Education Teacher Requirements

This page focuses on physical education bachelor’s degrees. For graduate degrees in PE, check out these pages:

To work as a physical education teacher in a public school, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree in education with an endorsement in physical (and possibly health) education from an accredited teacher preparation program. Note that there are also alternative pathways to becoming a teacher for those who do not get a bachelor’s in education.

All 50 states require health and physical education teachers to be licensed. Exact requirements for PE teachers vary by state, but most states require you to complete student teaching and achieve a passing score on a comprehensive exam, such as the Praxis. For some positions, you may be expected to teach both physical education and health courses; in those instances, you will likely need endorsement in both areas.

For specific information about your state’s requirements, check with your state board of education.

Curriculum Information for Physical Education Colleges

In addition to classes about teaching methodology, you will take courses in exercise physiology, kinesiology, health and wellness, and activity courses like tennis, basketball, and aerobics. The following are descriptions of some specific courses you might take.

  • Introduction to Teaching Physical Education: In an introductory course, you may do more than just learn the basics. Some courses explore philosophical approaches to physical fitness and the current trends that define health and wellness.
  • Growth, Development, and Motor Learning: This course teaches you about typical expectations for the growth, development, and motor functions of children and adolescents. Focuses may include agility, balance, coordination, and strength. Those three primary areas of the class guide learning theories and instruction about planning activities in individual sports, physical fitness, and team sports.
  • Designing Sports Programs for the Special Child: When you become a PE teacher, you will almost definitely teach students with a variety of needs and abilities. This course provides instruction about creating and implementing appropriate and effective strategies for teaching PE to children who are physically or developmentally challenged.
  • Planning and Implementation of Physical Activities: As a PE teacher, you will be responsible for planning developmentally appropriate learning experiences in physical education. In this course, you will learn how to design a curriculum based on educational frameworks that deliver research-based activities for children and adolescents. The course may cover alignment with standards if your state has developed standards in PE.

Practicum Experience for PE Teachers

As part of your learning experience, you may be required to get experience in a real-life classroom. Part of this experience may include designing and implementing a learning program related to physical education. You may also be expected to evaluate students based on their performance. These practicums, also sometimes called student teaching, are often done under the guidance of a current teacher and an advisor from your own program.

Online Physical Education Degree

If you are already a physical education teacher looking to further your knowledge, or you are a working professional who doesn’t have the flexibility for a traditional PE degree program, an online PE program may be an ideal option for you.

Most online physical education programs are offered at the graduate level. In addition to exploring various team sports and recreational activities, you can expect to take courses such as teaching methods in physical education, human growth and development, coaching theory, and assessment in physical education.

Course content is delivered over the web, and students may typically access classes at any time. Class discussions are often held via regularly scheduled online chats.

Online master’s degrees generally take about two years. Because you can schedule courses at your own pace, you may be able to complete a program in less time. Check out our list of the top 25 online master’s programs in education.

Useful Resources

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