How to Become a P.E. Teacher

A teacher affects eternity. They can never tell where their influence ever stops. Henry Brooke Adams.
Students run on a basketball court in PE class

Physical Education teachers are commonly referred to as PE teachers or gym teachers. PE teachers are skilled and educated in physical education and athletic training. Gym teachers are knowledgeable about the human body and a wide variety of sports including basketball, gymnastics, football, baseball, tennis and aerobics.

Qualities of a Physical Education Teacher

Gym teachers are usually enthusiastic, physically fit, patient and excellent communicators. They positively influence their students both physically and mentally. These teachers must be able to prepare lessons while maintaining students' physical needs, apprehensions and challenges in mind.

These teachers have the capacity motivate students to perform physical activities while making them competitive and cooperative at the same time.

Gym Teacher Benefits

Becoming a PE teacher comes with many benefits including health, retirement and a great schedule. In regards to career growth, as a teacher gains experience, they may advance to department administration positions such as athletic directors or physical education directors. In addition, unlike many other teachers, gym teachers rarely have to grade homework on their time off.

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What are the Requirements for Teaching Physical Education?

Education Requirements for Teaching Physical Education

Those who want to become physical education teachers in the public sector are required to possess at least a bachelor's degree as well as a state-issued license to teach physical education. Licensure can be attained through the completion of a teacher education program focused on health and fitness, as well as a student teaching component. The teacher education program must be accredited by CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation).

Many colleges and universities offer joint or blended degree programs that allow aspiring teachers to earn their bachelor's degree and teaching certification simultaneously. However, prospective teachers can enroll in a teacher education program after they have completed a bachelor's degree as well.

PE teacher preparation programs often focus on pedagogy, teaching methods and field experience as a student teacher. Classes for gym teachers in the program may include health teaching methods, kinesiology, exercise physiology, recreational sports, aerobics and applied physical education. Those who are teaching in physical education also will learn how to plan and present concepts to students of varying abilities and backgrounds.

Tests to Pass for Gym Teachers

Physical education teachers in public schools are also required to take and pass all state licensing exams. In order to become a gym teacher, the candidate must pass a subject matter competence exam that focuses on physical education. A general exam is usually required as well. Competency exams vary from state to state and should be taken in the state where you wish to teach. The exact licensing requirements vary depending on the state where you live.

P.E. Teacher by Degree Level

The tables and charts below break down the education level obtained as averaged across the U.S.

Who Will My Students Be?

Those who teach in physical education work with students from kindergarten through 12th grade, they will teach students ages 5 to 18.

High School and Middle School Students

Most commonly, PE teachers instruct at the secondary level (middle school and high school). Students at this level can range from 11 to 18 years old. It is important for teachers to note that students at the middle school and high school levels experience accelerated physical development and demonstrate a wide range of intellectual development as their minds shift from the concrete/manipulatory stage to the capacity for abstract thought.

Elementary School Students

On the other hand, elementary school students can range from the age of 5 to 11 or 12 years old. During these formative years, students are learning about themselves and others. It is important for a PE teacher to consider the development of his/her student in their planning.

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What Does a PE Teacher Do?

PE teachers instruct students on how to stay fit through proper health practices and exercise. These teachers will plan lessons to include a wide range of skills and exercise activities. The curriculum might include cooperative team sports, individual games or one-on-one competitions. Physical education teachers can work in either a primary (elementary) or secondary (middle school and high school) setting.

Teaching Physical Education in Elementary School

Teachers working with students at the elementary school level usually focus on developing students' coordination, agility, and teamwork skills. In addition, these teachers often try to instill confidence and an appreciation of physical activity in students. Teachers generally do this through displaying enthusiasm for the games and excitement over each student's performance.

Teaching Physical Education in Middle School and High School

At the middle school and high school levels, PE teachers focus more on educating students about the benefits of exercise, health, nutrition and overall wellness. Additionally, high school sports teachers typically includes team sports such as tennis, track, swimming, football, baseball, soccer and more. Teachers of physical education also maintain records of each student's academic progress and physical fitness throughout the school year.

PE Teacher Jobs & Job Description

More than simply sports classes, physical education teachers instruct students in a variety of skills, including youths with all different levels of physical ability. Physical education classes promote a healthy lifestyle and students' cognitive, emotional and social development, as well as physical skill improvements. Jobs are similar between the elementary and high school levels, but there are key differences.

Primary-level Physical Education Teachers

Physical education teachers at the elementary level are often children's' first introduction to sports and healthy living outside their family grouping. With that in mind, here are typical tasks that an elementary gym teacher might perform:

  • Impart to students the skills and knowledge to enjoy a healthy lifestyle
  • Teach students the muscle competent needed to engage in many different physical activities
  • Teach children the rudiments of physical literacy so they can understand game play and healthy development of their bodies
  • Empower students to be leaders in games and sports
  • Teach students about determinants of health
  • Help students develop an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses
  • Help students understand stress and how to mitigate its effects through exercise
  • Teach students how to interpret information on the sports field
  • Teach students how to plan a strategic game play, demonstrate fair play, teamwork and collaborative problem solving.
  • Teach children to be active every day
  • Praise students to acknowledge their fitness and physical activity development and achievements

Teaching PE at the Secondary Level

PE teachers at the secondary level are often children's most accessible route to amateur sports and excellent role models for healthy living. With that in mind, here are typical tasks that a secondary PE teacher might perform:

  • Empower students with the skills to develop resilience and patience in order to increase performance
  • Help students discover elements of their personal identity through physical activity and healthy living
  • Help students play variations of sports to improve practice and game play
  • Teach students about personal safety and injury prevention during sports
  • Help students explore endurance activities
  • Help students explore both indoor and outdoor physical activities
  • Help students practice communication skills and problem-solving skills on and off the field and in regard to personal boundaries
  • Mentor students in the team-coach dynamic
  • Teach children the rudiments of physical literacy so they can understand game play and healthy development of their bodies
  • Help students understand the concepts behind physical safety
  • Help students learn about their own bodies in the context of health

There are several career paths open for certified PE teachers in every state - read on to discover more information about this field.

Where Can Certified PE Teachers Teach?

Public Schools

Many licensed PE teachers choose to teach in public schools, which are supported by federal and state funds, so there is no cost to attend. These schools are directed by the United States Department of Education, local school districts and each state's board of education. The local school district oversees each school's curriculum, distribution of funds and the hiring of teachers.

Any child can attend a public school in his/her district because these schools are mandated by law to admit any student that resides in their district. Thus, public school teachers normally interact with students from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. In regard to assessment, public schools have to use state-mandated standardized tests to evaluate student learning. These tests often have a significant impact on school assessment, funding and a child's class placement. It is important to note that potential public school teachers are frequently required to apply directly to the district prior to seeking employment at a specific school.

Private Schools

Private schools do not receive federal or state funding. These schools are autonomous of the government and are normally governed by a private school board or organization. Private schools are mostly funded by tuition and donations. Unlike public schools, many private schools are religiously affiliated if they were founded by a church or religious group. In some cases, teachers educate students based on specific beliefs.

Private schools have the ability to create their own standards for students and teachers because they are autonomous. In regard to curriculum, private school courses are often more advanced than its public counterparts. Although private school teachers are not required to be licensed by the state, many private schools persist that their teachers hold a valid state certification. In order to uphold high educational standard, more and more private schools adhere to government policy concerning teacher qualification. At times, private schools might require that a teacher be certified by a specific school adopted program. Teaching candidates can inquire about specifications at the private school in which they wish to teach.

Charter Schools

Like public schools, charter schools are free of tuition. However, unlike public schools, they are independently run. By and large, charter schools are more autonomous than public schools and as a result are more flexible in their structure, governance and principles. These schools are often held to greater accountability for their performance. Each charter school has a charter plan or petition.

The charter plan acts as a contract as describes the school's guiding principles, governance structure and applicable accountability measures. Lastly, charter schools tend to be smaller in size, may have additional requirements for their teachers and are more selective.

Physical Education Teacher Organizations & Associations

SHAPE - Society of Health and Physical Educators: The Society of Health and Physical Educators defines excellence in physical education, and the organization's standards for K-12 physical education are the foundation for well-designed physical education programs across the country.

American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD): An organization of professionals supporting and assisting those involved in physical education, leisure, fitness, dance, health promotion and education and all specialties related to achieving a healthy lifestyle.

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What is a Typical Gym Teacher Salary?

Across the nation, certified PE teachers earn around $60K per year. However, the mentioned salary does not include the exceptional health and retirement benefits that teachers receive. Teacher salaries are based on years of experience and education, not on specific teachable subjects.

Elementary Teachers:

Entry-level (10th percentile): $39,020

Annual median salary: $59,670

Experienced (90th percentile): $97,900

Middle School Teachers:

Entry-level (10th percentile): $39,990

Annual median salary: $59,660

Experienced (90th percentile): $96,280

High School Teachers:

Entry-level (10th percentile): $40,540

Annual median salary: $61,660

Experienced (90th percentile): $99,660

To learn more about a teacher's salary, visit our Teacher Salary page.

(Salary data for elementary, middle-school and high-school teachers reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2019. Figures represent state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Information accessed March 2021.)

Salary (2019) and Job Outlook (2012 to 2020) by State

According to the published BLS data from 2019, the national average salary for Coaches and Scouts is $44,910, with an estimated 241,390 being employed nationwide. Also, the job outlook growth projection from 2012 to 2020 is expected to increase by 14.8%.

StateEmployedAvg Salary
Alabama2,690$36,910
Alaska420$42,780
Arizona3,130$37,900
Arkansas1,580$50,030
California23,330$42,140
Colorado6,190$35,020
Connecticut4,480$40,580
Delaware470$35,710
Florida6,550$48,600
Georgia3,380$44,710
Hawaii1,100$33,340
Idaho1,480$25,270
Illinois6,580$33,410
Indiana5,660$31,880
Iowa3,810$27,880
Kansas3,430$27,450
Kentucky1,990$38,890
Louisiana1,310$39,150
Maine1,790$21,510
Maryland3,020$45,160
Massachusetts6,330$40,260
Michigan8,520$31,330
Minnesota4,560$30,960
Mississippi1,150$51,760
Missouri5,070$31,100
Montana1,820$26,420
Nebraska1,370$31,680
Nevada1,160$34,470
New Hampshire1,220$36,010
New Jersey5,440$43,080
New Mexico1,000$31,690
New York11,210$43,730
North Carolina6,240$38,920
North Dakota590$31,570
Ohio9,140$35,250
Oklahoma2,320$31,800
Oregon3,200$36,630
Pennsylvania8,150$33,300
Rhode Island970$40,440
South Carolina3,040$40,460
South Dakota710$32,930
Tennessee2,770$46,060
Texas11,580$41,120
Utah1,810$34,510
Vermont1,310$30,650
Virginia6,820$37,860
Washington8,480$37,720
Washington, DC550$55,350
West Virginia690$49,400
Wisconsin5,710$30,500
Wyoming750$30,180

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/) for Coaches and Scouts (SOC Code: 27-2022)

Salary (2019) By Largest Metropolitan Areas

AreaEmployedAvg Salary
Wichita950$30,320
Memphis910$42,210
San Antonio, New Braunfels910$49,960
Corpus Christi90$53,860
Hammond90$33,320
Jonesboro90$52,130
Lawton90$28,110
Monroe90$44,230
Pueblo90-
Springfield90$43,410
Valdosta90$33,070
Visalia, Porterville90$63,340
Bangor90$45,540
Greenville, Anderson, Mauldin890$64,770
Oklahoma City880$41,070
Los Angeles, Long Beach, Anaheim8,570$46,750
Des Moines, West Des Moines850$33,900
Birmingham, Hoover820$35,610
Dayton810$36,480
Ames80$43,830

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/) for Coaches and Scouts (SOC Code: 27-2022)

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