Physical education teachers work as state certified educators who are responsible for instructing students in health, fitness, and sports within a structured, K-12 school environment.
Whether they are instructing kindergartners or coaching high school-aged adolescents, the process involved in becoming a physical education teacher is fairly similar.
A bachelor’s degree has become the standard for teachers throughout the US, regardless of the type of teaching specialty. Virtually all PE teachers hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum from a regionally accredited college or university. A bachelor’s degree related to physical education is a broad-scoped degree that prepares candidates for a number of PE, recreation, and health-related fields.
Beyond a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree has also become commonplace, and many states are now requiring the completion of a master’s as part of the continuing education process.
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Becoming a PE Teacher Through a Traditional Teacher Preparation Program
A bachelor’s degree in physical education (or a health and fitness related subject) will include courses in pedagogy and a core of science-based health and fitness courses with an emphasis on physical education, such as:
- Motor skills development
- Exercise physiology
- Recreational sports
- Applied physical education
- Physically adapted activities
- First aid/CPR
- Injury prevention
- Physical education teaching methods
- Physical education organizations and administration
In the last semester of a physical education program, participants are generally required to complete an internship, often called a student teaching experience, which provides them with an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills learned in their courses. This practical, hands-on experience takes place in a closely mentored classroom environment, thereby providing an important link between a formal education and a professional career.
The majority of teacher preparation programs prepare teachers for all grade levels, just as most states certify and license physical education teachers to teach K-12.
Becoming a PE Teacher Through an Alternative Route Program
An approved educator preparation program may be of the traditional, blended variety (a bachelor’s degree in physical education plus all components of a formal preparation program), or it may be designed for individuals who are seeking an alternate route to licensure and certification.
Given the shortage of teachers across the nation as reported by the U.S. Department of Education, it is now commonplace for state licensing boards to offer a number of alternative preparation programs to attract more dedicated people to the profession.
Alternative teacher preparation programs often allow experienced professionals to enter the teaching field on an abbreviate license while they complete the necessary requirements of the program.
Depending on the programs offered by a state’s licensing board, alternative teacher preparation programs may include post-baccalaureate (fifth-year) programs, master’s degree programs, or professional certificate programs. As such, alternative teacher preparation programs are generally designed for professionals who already possess a bachelor’s degree (or higher) in a field related to health and fitness from an accredited college or university.
For example, an individual who already possesses a bachelor’s degree in a fitness or recreation-related field may choose to complete an alternative teacher preparation program to fulfill the teaching methodology and practical components needed to teach physical education in a public school setting. This would also include an internship/student teaching experience.
Alternative preparation programs typically come with very specific requirements, so individuals taking this route should carefully study these programs to ensure they meet all requirements.
Completing State-Specific Examination Requirements
Regardless of the chosen preparation route, nearly all states require individuals to take and pass a set of general knowledge and content-specific examinations before licensure/certification can take place. Standardized tests have become a basic requirement for licensure, as they ensure that prospective candidates possess the specific level of knowledge and skills necessary to teach physical education in their state.
These examinations may be designed specifically for the state. Texas, for example, requires candidates to complete the Texas Examinations of Educator Standards (TExES) examinations, while Florida requires candidates to take and pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE).
Other states, such as Connecticut, require prospective physical education teachers to complete a set of national examinations, like the Praxis Series examinations.
The Praxis series examinations, which are administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), have become widely used, although each state has their own acceptable passing scores for these examinations.
The Praxis I examinations are designed to measure an individual’s basic skills and are broken down into three areas: reading, writing, and mathematics. It is quite common for states to require that candidates pass all three of these examinations for initial licensure/certification. The Praxis I Reading examinations measure a candidate’s ability to analyze and comprehend texts; the Praxis I Mathematics examinations measures a candidate’s basic math skills; and the Praxis I Writing examination measures a candidate’s ability to communicate and articulate thoughts through writing.
Candidates that want to become licensed as physical education teachers must be able to pass a content-specific examination. For physical education teachers, these Praxis II subject examinations may include one or more of the following:
- Physical Education: Movement Forms – Analysis and Design
- Health and Physical Education: Content Knowledge
- Physical Education: Content and Design
- Physical Education: Content Knowledge
Some states are adopting the National Evaluation Services (NES) examinations, which are administered by Pearson. Like the Praxis series tests, states set their own requirements and passing scores. Candidates may be tested on their general knowledge through NES’ Essential Academic Skills examinations, which include reading, writing, mathematics, and technology literacy. They may also be tested through NES’ Professional Knowledge examinations, which may be taken at either the elementary or secondary level.
The physical education (K-12) assessment through the NES is organized into four categories: growth and motor development, movement activities, lifelong physical fitness, and the physical education program.
Applying for and Maintaining State Certification
Those who have met all requirements to become a physical education teacher, including the completion of a bachelor’s degree program, teacher preparation program, and all necessary examinations, may apply for state licensure.
The application process includes sending proof of the completion of an approved teacher preparation program and the passing scores on all required examinations.
Upon achieving a job as a physical education teacher, the hiring school district may require FBI fingerprinting, child abuse clearances, criminal background checks and other inquiries meant to determine good character.
To maintain state licensure, most state licensing boards require the completion of continuing education, while some states stipulate that physical education teachers work towards a master’s degree as a prerequisite to achieving a long-term professional teaching license.