General Education

How to Become a Physical Education Teacher, a Career That Says ‘Yes’ to Shorts at Work

How to Become a Physical Education Teacher, a Career That Says ‘Yes’ to Shorts at Work
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Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella September 6, 2019

Pro: You can wear shorts to work. Con: Herding children is difficult, especially when their choices are "play" and "listen to a teacher."

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PE, the best (or worst) class of the day, depending on how you look at it. There is no greater feeling than winning a game of capture the flag, lofting the banner as you exult Megan Rapinoe-style. There is no greater agony than being the last person on your dodgeball team, cowering in a corner in anticipation of your imminent red welt and the attendant shame.

PE is serious stuff.

As PE teacher, you will promote students’ physical fitness by organizing games and leading exercises. You will provide a much-needed respite from the sedentary study that makes up most of a student’s school day. Occasionally, you will facilitate big red welts.

This article will cover:

  • The pros and cons of becoming a physical education teacher
  • The kinds of physical education teacher careers
  • The educational commitment to become a physical education teacher
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a physical education teacher
  • Resources for becoming a physical education teacher
  • The typical advancement path for physical education teachers
  • Further accreditation or education for physical education teachers

Pros and cons of becoming a physical education teacher

Let’s start with the money. Teachers are not generally known for their high salaries. Glassdoor reports that a gym teacher’s income is about $48,000. Private school teachers, of course, make even less.


  • PE teachers get to run around for a lot of the day, no matter what grade level they teach.
  • Yes, you can be outside and wear gym shorts to work.
  • You are at the pinnacle of hands-on learning and stand a good chance of being the most liked teacher in the school.
  • You should easily qualify as a referee or summer camp director during the summer, which means the job can extend year-round.


  • You still need to develop a curriculum. As fun as it sounds, the job involves more than physical activity. If you are the type of person who is only good at being active, this probably isn’t for you.
  • You must have a bachelor’s degree and get the proper license. Some PE teachers even have a master’s degree. The requirements are less strict for private schools.
  • You are still a teacher, which is challenging work. You must figure out a way to work with uncoordinated kids—we all know the one—and find a way to make them feel included.
  • It can be difficult to herd children, especially when their choices are “play” and “listen to a teacher.”

Kinds of physical education teacher careers

The two main categories of PE teachers are elementary and secondary (middle school and high school), which, having graduated both, you probably already knew. Regardless of level, you will lead a physical fitness program that instills good movement practices and introduces students to a healthy lifestyle. The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America), offers five national standards for physical education; your program will probably adhere to these.

Additionally, you could become a teacher in a private school, which may require less formal education, or specialize in adapted physical education (for students with disabilities), which requires a different certification. Some PE teachers have a master’s degree, but a bachelor’s is far more common.

PE teachers should see their salary increase with professional development. They also receive a pretty comprehensive benefits package, which includes things like:

  • Summers off
  • A pension plan or 401(k)
  • Adequate healthcare coverage—for the family too

How generous teacher benefit packages are is open to debate. Many teachers, for example, will tell you that “summers off” is a gross mischaracterization; most have to work to supplement their teaching income or complete professional development during the summer months. Regardless, pretty much everyone can agree that having some dental insurance is better than having no dental insurance. This is especially true for physical education teachers, who have a relatively high risk of chipping a tooth on the job.

Adapted physical education teacher

Adapted physical education teachers specialize in working with disabled students. Becoming an adapted physical education teacher comes with a different set of challenges and achievements. In this career, you will be working with students with all types of disabilities, such as autism, blindness, emotional disturbance, or brain injury, among others.

The National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities, which is a long name with an even more unwieldy acronym (NCPERID), offers a set of 15 standards to guide adapted physical instruction. It also administers a certification examination called the Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS).

To take the APENS test and become an adapted PE teacher, you must first:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree with a major in kinesiology or some other physical-education-related field
  • Become a certified teacher
  • Take a 12-hour adapted physical education course
  • Accrue 200 hours of experience providing physical education to people with disabilities

There is no salary boost for adaptive physical education teachers. Do it for the love of the work, not for the money.

Educational commitment to become a physical education teacher

If you’re sitting here thinking, “I just want to teach elementary school, where kids rub boogers on all the equipment and run around. It shouldn’t be that hard,” you have another thing coming, my friend. To become a public school PE teacher—at any level—you must have a bachelor’s degrees. Private schools have their own rules, so you may not need a degree to teach there, but in most cases you probably will.

Now, if you’re majoring in geology but want to become a PE teacher, you might want to think about changing majors. A physical education major is a much better fit. You’ll likely take courses in the following subjects:

  • Fitness education
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Motor development
  • Motor skill analysis
  • Educational psychology
  • History and rules of games

You’ll also have the opportunity to test the waters with a student teaching program (i.e., an internship).

The good news is that there is no teacher education program specifically for elementary or secondary school PE teachers. You don’t need to decide on the level you want to teach while you’re pursuing your bachelor’s degree.

There are also alternative teacher programs for those without traditional education degrees who want to get into teaching. Though requirements vary by state, alternative programs grant temporary licenses that can lead to a state teacher certification.

Licensure and accreditation for becoming a physical education teacher

There is no one standardized accreditation requirement for PE teachers but most states require a passing grade on a certification test. The required test may be a =Praxis exam or it may be offered through the National Evaluation Services (NES). These exams are designed to measure your grasp on kinesthetics and best teaching practices.

Check out the US Department of Education for a complete list of state requirements.

Further accreditation or education for physical education teachers

Requirements vary by state, but if you want to teach in public schools, you will probably be asked to renew your teacher certification or license after a few years. Minnesota, for example, has a four-tiered licensing system, where you move up the tiers based on your teaching experience.

New York teachers, on the other hand, are required to complete continuing education requirements (read: master’s degree) in order to renew their licenses. This might not be such a bad thing, however, since teachers with master’s degrees earn more than those without.

A license is not required to teach in private schools, although any individual private school is, of course, free to require one if it wishes. Because it’s a private school.

Resources for becoming a physical education teacher

There are some great resources available to prospective physical educators, including PE Central, a website that offers videos and physical education classes and some blogs that help with lesson plans and evaluations. The site also provides links to online courses and workshops. It might be a good idea to look into continuing education even if you are already working PE teacher, since the industry is continually growing and changing.

There are also a number of scholarships offered to those majoring in health and physical education. As always, be sure to check the scholarship’s requirements. Some may be offered only to full-time undergraduate students or only to graduate students.

Typical advancement path for physical education teachers

Congratulations. You made it. So, what’s next?

Many PE teachers, especially at the high school level, also coach sports teams. If you’ve seen Friday Night Lights you know just how dramatic and life-changing that experience can be. If you’ve actually coached a high school team, you also know it doesn’t always work out that way.

You might also be qualified (after a few years) to become an athletic director or physical education director. These positions generally require critical thinking skills and offer higher pay. They also take place at a desk, which means that you probably won’t be playing much foursquare anymore.

Whatever the case, being a gym teacher is a career with a lot of room for movement, whether it be in the schoolyard or up the career ladder. Final invaluable perk of the job: you get to wear a whistle all day long.

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