Physical Education Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about careers in physical education. Get job descriptions, salary and education requirement information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a physical education career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Physical Education

Teaching physical education (PE), health, and sports to children and adults can be rewarding. There are a wide variety of career options, and you may find an area of expertise suited to your fitness and interests, but earning the necessary training, certification, and degrees can be costly. Three of the most common titles held by physical educators are elementary school PE teacher, high school PE teacher and fitness instructor. The following provides a look at these careers:

Elementary PE Teacher High School PE Teacher Fitness Instructor
Career Overview Elementary and kindergarten physical education teachers help young children maintain physical fitness through a variety of activities. High school physical education teachers promote lifelong health through physical activity and classroom lectures; they may act as coaches. Fitness instructors teach a wide range of physical activities in different settings.
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree; teacher certification program At least a high school diploma or a GED; formal education may be preferred
Program Length About 4 years, full-time About 4 years, full-time Varies widely
Certification and Licensing State licensure with PE endorsement for public education State licensure with PE endorsement for public education Certification may not be required, but employers prefer certification from the American Council on Exercise or the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association, among others; CPR certification
Work Experience 0-2 years depending on employer About 1-2 years 1-3 years depending on work setting
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Average growth (12%) compared to all occupations* Below average growth (5%) compared to all occupations* Average growth (13%) compared to all occupations*
Median Annual Salary (2014) $54,120* $55,200* $34,980*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Elementary PE Teacher

Your responsibilities as a kindergarten or elementary school physical education teacher vary depending on the age of the children. For example, with kindergarteners or first graders, you might be in charge of teaching basic motor skills with the activities, exercises and games you implement in class. With older kids, your job is typically to help them prepare for a life of fitness and healthy choices. You'll often be responsible for coordinating fitness events in and out of the classroom or gym, writing and implementing a curriculum and communicating with parents.

Requirements

In order to become an elementary PE teacher, you'll need to complete at least a bachelor's degree in physical education or a related field. Programs specifically in K-6 PE education may be available. These bachelor's degree programs include professional development courses and field experiences, as well as subject-specific courses in health education, physiology of exercise, motor learning and development, elementary PE and kinesiology.

In order to teach in public schools, you are required to be licensed by your state. Licensure typically requires completing a bachelor's degree and a teacher preparation program. Additionally, you must complete a general teaching and subject-specific certification test, according to the BLS. Maintaining licensure requires the completion of continuing education credits, and some states may require you to continue your education through a master's degree program. In addition to education, some positions will require several years of teaching experience.

The following are a handful of employment opportunities that were posted online in October 2012:

  • An elementary school in Kansas was looking for a licensed PE teacher dedicated to the principles of lifelong learning.
  • A Christian Montessori school in California was seeking a part-time, experienced PE and sports teacher.
  • In New York City, a brand new school was looking for a kindergarten PE teacher with at least two years of experience in an urban environment. This individual would be responsible for developing lessons and teaching students how to use movement through creative games and materials.

Standing Out

Since most job postings specified experience requirements, you may want to consider gaining entry-level experience by substitute teaching in a PE classroom. The requirements to be a substitute teacher vary by state, but in some cases, you may be able to substitute teach while completing your degree program. Substitute teaching will allow you to become comfortable teaching elementary age children. Additionally, you will gain experience working with lesson plans.

High School PE Teacher

As a high school PE teacher, your duties will typically be considerably different from an elementary school teacher's. Often, you will focus on teaching particular sports or health. In a more health-based program, you could end up teaching teenagers about everything from nutrition to human sexuality. You may also be in charge of coaching and teaching various organized sports like soccer, football, baseball and basketball.

Requirements

High school PE teachers typically require a bachelor's degree that includes a teacher preparation program for students from grade 7-12. For certain jobs, you may need to earn a master's degree. Secondary PE education programs typically focus on health education, teaching health and physical education, adolescent psychology, human relations, team sports and first aid. You will also complete a secondary education student teaching experience.

Public high school PE teachers are required to gain a state license with a PE endorsement, as well as complete professional development courses to maintain licensure. In addition to the normal certification tests, students with experience in the field may gain licensure through alternative certification programs. Initial experience can be gained through student teaching, volunteering, residencies and internships.

Employers posted the following handful of job opportunities for high school PE teachers in October 2012:

  • A bachelor's degree in education and 1-2 years of experience were required by a high school in Hawaii looking for a PE teacher.
  • A high school in Austin, Texas, was seeking a state-licensed health and PE instructor. Job duties included planning and organizing activities, implementing learning strategies and adhering to state, local and federal regulations.
  • An alternative high school in Alaska preferred that job applicants for the PE teaching position have a master's degree in physical education or health. In addition to this, recent job experience was required.

Standing Out

Having a diverse skill set in high school sports and coaching can help you to stand out to potential employers at the secondary level. To gain coaching experience, you can choose to complete coursework in coaching in your secondary PE program or complete advanced education in coaching, such as a master's degree in coaching. Coaching coursework examines injury prevention, officiating and coaching tactics. You may choose to expand your coaching expertise in a particular area, like football or basketball. Participating in the athletic program of the college or university you attend can also demonstrate your skills in and knowledge of a particular sport.

Fitness Instructor

Fitness instructors are responsible for demonstrating exercises and proper techniques, monitoring a client's progress and helping with nutrition or weight control techniques. There are several different types of fitness instructors, including personal, group and specialized fitness instructors. They may have expertise in a particular area or exercise technique, like Pilates, aerobics and yoga. While, according to the BLS, 58% of fitness trainers and instructors work in fitness and recreational sports centers, you can also find opportunities in social organizations, educational services and hospitals.

Requirements

While a high school diploma is the main requirement for this job, an increasing number of employers are requiring associate or bachelor's degree programs in health or fitness, according to the BLS. Regardless of your education, employers prefer a fitness instructor who is certified in the field and in CPR. Fitness certifications are available through a wide variety of associations, including the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Through the ACE, you can become a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor or health and fitness specialist. While eligibility requirements vary based on the certification, to become a group fitness instructor through ACE, you must be 18, hold a CPR certification and pass an exam. Advanced certifications may require you to complete a formal education, stated the BLS.

In October 2012, employers posted the following job opportunities for fitness instructors:

  • A fitness studio in the Northeast was seeking a certified personal trainer with strong customer service skills to work with a team. This individual must have 1-3 years of experience and BLS certification; group exercise certification through the ACE is preferred.
  • In North Carolina, a health clinic was looking for a CPR-certified group aerobics instructor with at least a bachelor's degree and experience.
  • A hospital in California was searching for a prenatal and postnatal yoga instructor with a minimum of 1 year of experience.

Standing Out

There are many different measures that you can take to get ahead as a fitness instructor. Choosing a discipline that is growing in popularity is a way to accomplish this. According to U.S. News and World Report, the number of people doing yoga in the U.S. increased from 4.3 million in 2001 to 14.3 million in 2010. U.S. News and World Report also stated that the number of subscriptions to a popular yoga magazine increased by 300% in this same time. You might also choose to become registered in your field of interest. For example, you may consider becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) through a training program that follows the standards and guidelines set by the Yoga Alliance.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
  • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
  • AASBA in Health Club Operations

Which subject are you interested in?

Full Sail University

  • BS - Sports Marketing and Media (Campus)
  • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media

What is your highest level of education?

Liberty University

  • MS: Exercise Science and Wellness: Fitness and Performance
  • MS: Human Performance: Fitness and Wellness
  • BS: Sport Management: General
  • BS: Sport Management: Conference and Event Management

What is your highest level of education?

Columbia Southern University

  • MBA - Health Care Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Health Care Administration
  • BS in Sports Management
  • B.S. in Health Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Bryant & Stratton College

  • BBA Medical Services Management

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Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

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