Teaching students to care for their bodies through balanced nutrition and regular activity is becoming increasingly important as childhood obesity rates rise and screen time slowly replaces play time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of U.S. children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1-in-5 young people in the United States between the ages of six and 19 are obese.
In addition to diet and lack of physical activity, the CDC identifies additional sources of childhood obesity that are harder to control. Many people are aware genetics and metabolism factor into obesity, but community design and neighborhood safety play a part, as well. If a neighborhood is not conducive to outside play, whether it’s dangerous or there are no green spaces, children might not get the activity levels they need. Sleep duration negatively affects metabolism, also, as it can alter the glucose metabolism and hormones involved in regulating metabolism.
The CDC recommends that schools develop a policy requiring students get 60 minutes of physical activity daily, but the “death of recess” is happening all over the country. Recess time is eroding as the demand increases for standardized test preparation time. Students are pushed to perform well on standardized tests as school systems judge the performance of teachers on their results. With the death of recess, it’s possible that PE class is the only time some students are active, including students who do not live in safe neighborhoods or who are over-scheduled with sedentary activities.
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Physical Education Teacher Duties
Most PE programs are about more than fitness and sports. Nutrition, sex education and even mindfulness through activities like yoga and meditation are covered in gym class. PE teachers work with administrators to implement school policies and procedures regarding health and wellness.
In elementary school, PE teachers help growing children improve coordination, learn teamwork, cultivate a love of physical activity and develop good hygiene habits. Those who teach older students focus on skilled sports, such as basketball and volleyball, and many also coach one of the school’s sports teams. The science of health and nutrition is often taught by PE teachers in higher-level education.
The role of a PE teacher is important beyond the field or gym because studies have proven that active students are better students. After 20 minutes of physical activity, students tested better in reading, spelling and math. Students with regular physical activity are 20 percent more likely to earn high marks in math and English.
A Credentialed PE Teacher
Due to shortages in the field, many schools hire PE teachers with a background in education but not necessarily a specialization in PE, or they repurpose a classroom teacher to serve as a PE instructor. However, bachelor’s and master’s degrees specifically targeted to physical education are available, and the degrees provide a skillset and knowledge base that are attractive to districts who are hiring. Candidates with specialized qualifications are more likely to be hired as a PE or health instructor.
Nationally, there is an overall shortage of qualified PE teachers. Alabama has a particularly high need, with some of its biggest districts, like Jefferson County, facing the start of the school year short more than 60 teachers. The BLS predicts demand for teachers in general to increase by 1.9 million in the next decade. The annual salary for the position varies by state, but Payscale reports the nationwide median pay for a PE teacher is $42,673.
In most states, PE teachers are required to have a teaching certificate and a teaching license that must be renewed every five years. PE teachers in Alabama must also be well-versed in the four content standards for PE that were established by the Alabama Department of Education in 2009:
- Skill Development: Demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform physical activities.
- Cognitive Development: Demonstrates an understanding of movement concepts, principle strategies and tactics in relation to the performance and learning of physical activities.
- Social Development: Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior and values physical activity for challenge, social expression, enjoyment, health and self-expression.
- Physical Activity and Health: Participates regularly in physical activity and achieves a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
Job alternatives for those with degrees specialized in physical education include:
- Exercise Physiologist: Develops fitness and exercise programs that help patients recover from chronic diseases and improve cardiovascular function, body composition and flexibility. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the median pay for exercise physiologists as $49,090 a year.
- Recreational Therapist: Plans, directs and coordinates recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries or illnesses. The median pay in 2017 was $47,680.
- Physical Therapist: Performs many similar functions as a recreational therapist. The specific difference between the two tracks is recreational therapyimproves overall quality of life for patients, but physical therapy often focuses on one narrow goal at a time. Becoming a physical therapist usually requires an advanced degree. The median pay is $86,850.
- Fitness Trainer: Leads, instructs and motivates individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular exercises, strength training and stretching. Median pay is $39,210 a year.
Get the Best Start to Your PE Teaching Career
Advance or start your PE teaching career with a fully online teaching degree from the University of West Alabama. Develop the skills and knowledge you need to change your teaching focus to or start work in this dynamic field. The programs teach the latest in educational theory, best practices and curriculum planning. Also included are courses on first aid and safety (in the gym and on the playing field), health, psychology and educational development and special education. You can earn an online M.Ed in Physical Education or a non-certificate online M.S in Physical Education conveniently from UWA.