Physical Education Teacher Career Guide

Physical education teachers educate children and adolescents on the many aspects of leading healthy lifestyles, from physical activity to nutrition. A physical education teacher should enjoy an active lifestyle and be able to communicate health concepts to students in various age groups. This guide provides further information on what physical education teachers do, how to become one, and the career’s salary and job outlook.

Physical Education Teacher Job Description

A physical education (PE) teacher instructs students about sports, physical development, health, and proper nutrition. A PE teacher has unique knowledge of sports and the health sciences. Physical education teachers teach students how to play various sports and the benefits of physical activity for one’s body and overall health. PE teachers also plan activities that help make exercise-based learning more engaging for students.

Teacher Quote: “So what’s the best way to sell a lesson? You show your students how and why it’s cool and worth learning. So many teachers just…teach, but never let their students know why what they’re learning is worth learning. They don’t sell it. They don’t use their enthusiasm, their passion, or their humor to show their students how gnarly or scary or fun or super cool it is to make coil pots, play Hot Cross Buns on a recorder, or throw a Frisbee through a rolling hula hoop. And this makes all the difference.” –Michael Linsin, Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers

Physical Education Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Physical education teacher jobs require that instructors be physically fit and active as they will typically lead multiple classes and activities across the school day. They work both indoors and outdoors, teaching students how to work as a team, communicate effectively, play various sports, and the importance of exercise. They are responsible for organizing activities and curriculum, including the preparation and maintenance of gym equipment. Some PE teachers are also responsible for teaching health classes in middle schools and high schools.

PE teachers should have knowledge of sports and basic health and nutrition for all developmental levels. A solid background in sports and communication skills is a definite plus. Most physical education teachers are certified and hold a four-year degree in teaching exercise science or related subjects. Some may have a master’s degree in physical education. Many PE teachers also participate in coaching activities for school sports teams and may also be faculty advisors for student clubs.

How to Become a Physical Education Teacher

To become a physical education teacher, the first step is usually earning a bachelor’s degree in health education, physical education, or athletic training. Examples of degrees that can prepare a person for this career include a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd) in Health Sciences, Kinesiology, or Physical Education. Courses common to these programs include Theories in Physical Education, Theories in Sports Pedagogy, Team and Individual Sports, Basic Methods of Teaching, and Human Development. Regardless of the PE-related major, prospective teachers must be sure to complete a teacher preparation program that has been approved by the state board of education in order to ensure that they qualify for teacher certification in their state. The most common route to a physical education teaching career is as follows:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education or a closely related subject, like health education or kinesiology.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship in a physical education setting.
  3. Take your state’s required tests for the physical education endorsement.
  4. Apply for your teaching license.
  5. Begin applying to open PE teacher positions.

Public school physical education teachers must earn state teacher certification for the grade levels they wish to teach. In most states, a four-year bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on physical education will qualify an individual to sit for the state certification exams. Many states also offer alternative certification pathways that may include a master’s in physical education degree. There are several categories of certification that a physical education teacher can pursue, which are based on the grade levels to be taught (early childhood, elementary, secondary, or K-12). Physical education teachers may also become certified to work with special needs populations using adapted physical education methods for differently-abled students.

Physical Education Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

A PE teacher’s salary is usually similar to other teacher salaries, ranging from a median of $61,690 per year at the elementary school level to $62,360 per year at the secondary school level as of 2022.1-3 The exact salary varies depending on many factors such as the level of the school (such as elementary, middle, high school or college), the location of the school, and the teacher’s education and experience. Job growth for teachers is expected to be positive, with a projected job growth rate of 3-5% through 2031.4-6 There is demand for suitable physical education teachers who have exceptional ability in physical education and knowledge of health and nutrition.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Physical fitness, experience in team sports, and strong interpersonal and communication skills provide a good foundation for aspiring physical education teachers. Knowledge of team dynamics, kinesiology, and nutrition can help new physical education teachers find employment. The goal of a physical education teacher is to promote physical fitness and to teach students the value of proper health and eating habits. Good PE teachers are role models for their students, and as such, should demonstrate all the attributes of good health and fitness. Physical education teachers inspire their students to live healthy, active lives.

Additional Resources

  • Shape America: The national professional organization for health and physical educators at all grade levels. In addition to publishing standards and guidelines for PE, Shape America also provides workshops and other continuing education opportunities.
  • National Association for Sport and Physical Education: A non-profit organization of coaches, teachers, trainers, and researchers that promotes high quality physical education, sport, and activity programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need certification to become a physical education teacher?

Answer: To teach in public schools, physical education teachers should hold state-level teacher certification with a subject endorsement in PE. There are also alternate pathways to certification and waivers may occasionally be granted. You can check with your state Board of Education or college program for further information on certification requirements in your state.

Question: What types of courses do PE teachers need to take?

Answer: The courses required vary according to the degree earned, but most physical education teacher preparation programs include courses in child development, kinesiology, nutrition, and exercise science.

Question: How much do physical education teachers make?

Answer: A PE teacher salary depends on many factors including years of experience, education, and the school where they are employed. The BLS reports that as of 2022, for teachers of all subjects the median salary was $61,690 for elementary school teachers, $61,810 for middle school teachers, and $62,360 for high school teachers.1-3

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252022.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252031.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm