Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated August 10, 2020

Physical Education Teacher: Job and Salary Information for P.E. Teachers

By Eric Gill
  • Early childhood education career options

Physical education teachers are vital to learning as they contribute to the overall improvement of education across America. Physical education teachers help students stay mentally fit, raise the bar for making healthy choices throughout life, and build character — from elementary school into adulthood.

If you’re passionate about giving children, adolescents, or young adults the opportunity to develop skills, gain confidence, and learn about the importance of a healthy mind and body, a teaching job in the field of physical education may be an excellent fit.

At-a-glance: Physical education teachers

In addition to setting examples by staying fit, physical education teachers motivate students to embrace exercise regimens, set individual goals, and participate in team sports.

Physical education teacher job description

A physical education teacher engages students in physical activity during their school day. Physical athletic activity is a main focus of P.E. classes, as well as educating students in exercise regimens, the history and societal impact of sports, nutrition and weight control programs, and advancing their interest in individual and team sports.

Physical education teachers should be well grounded in classroom management and school procedures. In addition to helping students exercise, they may teach physiology, nutrition, or another related content area.

With a renewed focus on improving core curriculum standards for English language arts and math, physical education teachers are expected to incorporate reading, writing, and arithmetic into their courses. Activities might include:

  • distributing reading materials on Greco-Roman wrestling and the first Olympic contests
  • reading about the history of baseball
  • calculating the dimensions of basketball courts
  • assignments illustrating the meanings of numerous terms, such as “traveling” and “off-sides” or the difference between 2- vs. 1-point foul shots

Many physical education teachers continue their own love of sports by coaching after-school sports teams in the afternoons, evenings, and occasionally weekends within their district. Coaching opportunities vary by institution and level.

Typical Duties:

  • Plan and grade lessons, as well as other P.E.-related assessments
  • Communicate with parents or guardians
  • Stay current with state and local standards for physical education curriculum, fitness, and nutrition expectations
  • Prepare students for grade advancement through assessments
  • Develop curriculum expectation tables based on state and local standards and physical education best practices from professional organizations like SHAPE America
  • Work with students individually when necessary to assess fitness and health progress, improve performance levels, and achieve overall physical education success
  • Prepare and give lectures and lead engaging group and one-on-one discussion sessions
  • Work with colleagues and department heads to coordinate curriculum goals
  • Grade students on participation, best effort, and knowledge of the curriculum

And, specific to post-secondary physical education teachers:

  • Conduct research to advance knowledge in the field of physical education
  • Write books and articles and publish research and analysis in academic journals
  • Guide and supervise graduate students who are working on doctoral degrees

Who makes a good physical education teacher?

Physical education teachers should excel in motivating teenagers to exercise and engage in athletic activities by sharing their own excitement for sports and exercise programs, while establishing procedures that promote student cooperation.

A good physical education teacher is someone who is:

  • Patient and authoritative
  • Empathetic and regimented
  • A natural leader who leads by example
  • Comfortable speaking in front of large groups
  • Able to explain complex procedures in simple terms
  • Well-versed in school procedures and classroom management techniques
  • Prepared to enthusiastically teach a wide range of aerobic activities and sports
  • Able to teach diverse students with varied athletic interests and different physical abilities
  • Dedicated to healthy lifestyles, with an understanding of physiology, nutrition, and metabolism

Physical education teachers in-depth

Physical education teachers at varying levels

There are many constants within the profession of teaching physical education, regardless of the grade level. However, depending on the education level of the students, some duties, expertise, and skill level will vary.

Numerous factors come into play when determining what grade level to teach. These include:

  • Educational level (postsecondary institutions typically require an advanced degree)
  • Range and breadth of physical education subjects; the higher the grade level, the more advanced the curriculum
  • Desire to teach advanced courses or coach team sports
  • Age and maturity levels of students — from K-12 to college
  • Salary considerations and availability of employment opportunities

Elementary school physical education teachers

Elementary P.E. teachers generally teach students grades K-5 (children aged 5-12). In addition to keeping children healthy and fit, the purpose of physical education in elementary schools is to give students a lifelong foundation for the benefits of daily exercise.

The Society of Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) offers standards for K-12 physical education, beginning with elementary schools. SHAPE emphasizes “foundational skills, knowledge, and values” as core principles for elementary schools in its “road to a lifetime of physical activity.”

Middle school physical education teachers

Middle school P.E. teachers generally teach students from grades 6-8 and are trained to understand the psychological, social, and intellectual development of children ages 11-14. Middle school physical education teachers are focused primarily on teaching exercise and healthy habits and leading individual and team sports — from soccer and flag football to gymnastics and volleyball.

Teaching students of this age combines elements of teaching both high school and elementary students. The time during middle school is when youth are most transformed. They enter as children and leave as teens. Having a strong understanding of adolescent psychology and being able to relate to this age group is important for all middle school teachers.

Procedures are extremely important to facilitate a smooth transition from elementary to middle school. As adolescence progresses within this age group, locker room management is a key function of physical education at the middle school level. This includes assigning gym clothes and equipment lockers and requiring daily showers.

High school physical education teachers

High school physical education teachers generally teach grades 9-12 (students aged 14-18). They are responsible for continuing student participation in organized activities that require team participation, exercise, and healthy habits.

Procedures are an important element in high school physical education to facilitate a smooth transition from middle to high school, where team sports become increasingly competitive.

Current physical education curriculum goals for high school students may include:

  • Personal and social development
  • Motor skills and movement patterns
  • Physical activity and fitness
  • Physical literacy development

Postsecondary physical education teachers

Postsecondary physical education instructors have opportunities to train future P.E. teachers through innovative techniques in athletics, physiology, aerobics, nutrition, and health. This gives postsecondary physical education teachers opportunities to advance their own knowledge of subjects they care deeply about while researching and writing books and publishing reports, magazine and online articles, and peer review papers.

Postsecondary physical education teachers work in junior colleges, state and private colleges, and universities. Their students are comprised of adults 18 and older interested in physical education and a variety of athletics, physiology, nutrition, and science-based health programs.

Postsecondary physical education teachers teach in lecture halls and medium-size classrooms, gymnasiums and outdoor sporting facilities, and even online. They specialize in teaching tomorrow’s physical education teachers, who earn credentials to teach elementary, intermediate-level, or high school students. College instructors frequently serve as role models for physical education majors, who may aspire to become teachers or enter a range of professions — from professional sports medicine specialists to private physical trainers.

Postsecondary teachers have more flexibility over the format of their instructional methods than their K-12 counterparts. They also have greater control over their schedules, with many postsecondary instructors teaching part time, as well as full time. Although they have fewer classroom management and procedural responsibilities than teachers of other grade levels, they devote significant time to preparing lectures and instructions for assignments and for grading tests.

With today’s computer technology, the advent of relatively affordable telecommunications and online college courses, postsecondary teachers have additional teaching options. Many online instructors work in adjunct teaching roles. To learn more about adjunct professors, see our adjunct professor post.

Education and certification requirements for physical education teachers

  • Education: Bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree
  • Typical study time: 4-8 years

A bachelor’s degree — preferably in physical education, kinesiology or physiology, physical therapy, or nutrition and health — is a minimum education requirement for beginning physical education teachers at the middle- and high-school levels. Most states require the completion of a master’s degree within five years of obtaining certification for continued employment.

Postsecondary physical education teachers may find employment at community colleges with a master’s degree and relevant experience, whereas most four-year colleges and universities require a doctoral degree for employment.

Teachers come from various backgrounds of study. Most future teachers enroll in a teacher education program in college. These programs offer studies relating to classroom management and curriculum development, with a semester-long student teaching practicum. These students usually graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education and can begin teaching immediately.

Other teachers, after completing a more specialized program of study and sometimes even after spending years as a professional in a related field, turn to a career in education.

With a bachelor’s degree, education hopefuls find enrollment in education-based master’s and doctoral degree programs imperative in finding a career as a teacher.

For physical education teachers who are considering a master’s degree, grade level, relevant curriculum, and educational leadership are three primary considerations.

Certification and licensing

A state-issued teaching certificate or license is generally required to teach. Specific certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Teachers are often required to complete years of teaching and take professional development courses as a condition of certification. For both legal and safety reasons, many institutions also require teachers to hold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Teaching license reciprocity by state: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

A note on tenure: For teachers, a significant goal in the traditional academic career is to attain tenure. Tenure is often seen as a guarantee for a lifetime position. Unfortunately, though widely believed, that is not the case. Tenure mandates that due process will be followed before the dismissal of any teacher holding tenure.

Teachers enter education on probationary status and can be terminated without just cause and/or proper documentation before tenure is granted. The process for tenure can take three to four years. During this time, teachers are evaluated by administrators, mentors, and often peers on their job performance. This time allows administrators to make evaluative and supported decisions on the faculty teaching students in their schools.

Salary range and employment projections for physical education teachers

Elementary, middle, and high school teachers

Salary ranges for elementary, middle, and high school teachers can vary depending on the state, school district, experience, and degree. According to Career Explorer, the median annual salary for physical education teachers is $39,293. The lowest 20% earn $33,513 and the highest 20% earn $62,289.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, average pay for physical education teachers by state varies from $34,965 to $49,479.

Here is a snapshot of average physical education teacher salaries for elementary, middle, and high schools:

  • ZipRecruiter.com: $45,215
  • Payscale.com: $43,829
  • Indeed.com: $45,303
  • Glassdoor.com: $45,852

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that the employment of elementary and secondary teachers is projected to grow 4% from 2018-2028. Employment growth for public school teachers may depend on state and local government budgets. Many teachers will also be needed to replace those who retire or leave the profession for other reasons.

Postsecondary physical education teachers

Salary ranges for postsecondary physical education teachers can vary depending on the institution of employment, state, experience, and degree.

Although specific salaries for physical education teachers is sparse, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a postsecondary teacher at a community or junior college is $56,930.

Postsecondary teachers employed at a state four-year institution have a median salary of $81,120. Private four-year institutions have a median salary of $78,540.

Here is a snapshot of average postsecondary salaries:

  • BLS: Health specialties teachers, postsecondary — $97,370
  • Glassdoor.com: Assistant professor, physical education — $40,406
  • Glassdoor.com: Associate professor, physical education — $45,852
  • ZipRecruiter.com: Assistant professor — $64,010
  • Payscale.com: Associate professor — $67,223

Employment of postsecondary teachers overall is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028. Part-time positions will make up a considerable amount of these new jobs.

Advantages and disadvantages

Pros:

  • Sharing a love and dedication of fitness and sports
  • Teaching the importance of physical education, nutrition, and health
  • Inspiring students to become physically fit
  • Working among colleagues with similar interests and career goals
  • Working with future leaders and teachers who are interested in leading-edge physical therapy sports innovations
  • Making a difference
  • Job security

Cons:

  • Dealing with administrative processes and classroom procedures that are sometimes bureaucratic and frustrating
  • Salary is relatively low compared to counterparts in other professions
  • Long hours devoted to course preparation
  • State and local standards
  • Little adult contact throughout the day
  • School funding

Professional development for physical education teachers

Continuing education is a great way to keep a career on track, expand knowledge, remain competitive, and increase one’s real value in the job market.

Professional associations for physical education instructors offer webinars, correspondence courses, one-day seminars, symposiums, and other continuing education platforms to help teachers advance their knowledge of physical education and health industry best practices. These are terrific opportunities to enhance one’s understanding of physical education concepts while meeting like-minded professionals.

Physical education teachers seeking professional development can also benefit from learning to leverage computers. For example, graphics software and 3D imaging programs enhance multimedia demonstrations and classroom presentations, which in turn captivate audiences and facilitate learning.

Professional associations for physical education teachers

Best of the Web

The internet is ideal for physical education teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning, and presentations. Here are some useful resources:

Favorite physical education teacher websites and blogs

Favorite physical education teacher Twitter and Instagram accounts to follow:

Learn More: Click to view related resources.
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