High school physical education teachers aren't just observers who watch kids play sports. Instead, they actively teach basic physical fitness, health and nutrition, and monitor kids' physical activities to ensure they are safe and healthy. They also typically teach a wide range of sports and physical activities such as volleyball, rock climbing, basketball and soccer. Because PE can be a challenging subject for some students, teachers also need to be equipped to manage students' emotional and social needs. Every state sets its own standards establishing education and training requirements for phys ed teachers, but you'll generally need a college degree and certification.
Diploma or GED
A high school diploma isn't sufficient to become a PE teacher, but it is a necessary prerequisite. If you don't finish high school, you'll need to get a GED diploma before you can pursue the higher education you need to become a PE teacher. Many future PE teachers play a variety of sports in high school, and this can help them establish the background and experience they need to become expert coaches.
Every state requires, at minimum, a bachelor's degree to become a PE teacher. Some schools offer degrees designed specifically for future PE teachers; these degrees are usually in health and physical education. If your school doesn't have such a major, an education degree with a dual major in exercise physiology, sports nutrition or health may be sufficient in your state. Regardless of the major you choose, you'll need a wide educational background in sports, health and physical fitness, and may take classes in health, nutrition, physiology, anatomy and fitness.
After you graduate, you'll need to become certified to become a phys ed teacher. In most states, this requires student-teaching under a certified PE instructor. You might also be required to take a certification test or demonstrate experience with a certain number of health and wellness activities. If you have a degree in physical education, you won't typically need to seek additional education, but if you've graduated with a different degree, you might need to take additional college courses to fill in gaps in your knowledge.
Unlike some other teaching specialties, PE teachers have to have direct knowledge of and experience with the concepts they're teaching. You can't teach kids to play soccer if you've never played it yourself. Experience as a coach, membership in a college or high school athletic team and experience with a wide variety of sports can help you gain the experience you need to teach health and wellness concepts to children.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.