Think back to the best PE teacher you’ve had throughout your life, the one whose influence stands out among the many who have crossed your path. What qualities made that teacher stand out?
There are “great teachers” throughout every discipline. In the physical education world, we remember those who remain fixtures in our lives because of their creativity, ability to make class fun, compassion and ability to challenge students to grow and continually improve. These teachers focus on much more than their specific PE curriculum with students. That makes them vital both inside and outside their classrooms. They are committed to the learning process and passionate about guiding children to become their best selves.
Entering the holiday season is the perfect time to self-reflect on how you align with the 6 key qualities of a great PE teacher below. These qualities are integrated into IHT’s Spirit Curriculum Resources, originally developed as “PE 3” Curriculum, (PE for the Mind, Body, Spirit) which was approved as an official PE Course statewide in Texas because of its effectiveness and is offered at no cost to our customers nationwide.
It’s also the best time to set your 2022 goals with the end of the spring semester in mind; focusing on how you’ll be the best teacher you can be for your students in the coming year:
They Have High Expectations For Their Students, and Themselves:
The most effective PE teachers demand great effort and accomplishments from their students, regardless of their fitness level, and they get it. By providing students with real-time, personal, and data-driven feedback, they constantly work toward reaching the goals students set for themselves at the beginning of the semester. When teachers believe in their students, young people sense that and work with the teacher to reach their goals.
“You can see it in the body language of the students, the look on their faces,” San Bernardino City Unified School District PE Specialist Scott Smith said. “As soon as we gave them the heart rate monitors, they really felt at that time that we really cared about them as individuals.”
They Think Creatively:
The best PE teachers think outside the box, outside the PE classroom, and outside the norm. They leap outside of the classroom walls and take their students with them. As much as possible, top teachers try to make classroom experiences exciting and memorable for the students. They seek ways to give their students the real world application they need and are always looking for new ideas and lessons.
“That was the thing they were most surprised about,” Oskaloosa Middle School (Iowa) PE Teacher Betsy Luck said after creating a winter lesson out of hiking up and sledding down a hill on her school campus. “Their heart rate stayed up for the ride down because they were excited about what they were doing. It was fun to see.”
Think tactile, unexpected, movement-oriented, challenging, fun and a little bit crazy…then you’re on the right track.
They Are Versatile and Sensitive:
The best PE teachers remain sensitive to the needs of their students, parents and the community. It’s challenging because each individual will need something different, but they all have the human need to feel appreciated, loved, and that they matter.
“Everything we do is through that Social-Emotional Learning lens,” Lesher Middle School (Colo.) PE Teacher Matt Moeller said. “We want to hone in on those interpersonal skills, and then by using heart rate on the back side allows us to make sure that they are moving at the same time.”
Students should understand that we are all connected and should experience and accept each other’s similarities and differences. Work with parents to show interest and concern for their children; it’ll be one of the best time investments you can make.
They Know Every Student Matters:
A great PE teacher knows that if a student can move they are an athlete regardless of their fitness level. Your PE class may be the only place some of your students will have the chance to learn about their health and enjoy their bodies in motion through physical activity and group camaraderie. Great PE teachers have strong core principles embedded in the PE philosophy while evolving with changing times. They embrace new technologies, are fully present for every class and confidently move forward into the future.
“We need to know what health is,” Irving Elementary School (Waterloo, Iowa) PE teacher Cory Arensdorf said. “It’s everything. Students can’t just be physical. They have to feel good about who they are before they can learn the lessons of being healthy and taking care of themselves.
They Inspire Leadership:
Students may not remember a single lecture you give but they will always remember the way that great teacher made them feel. Great PE teachers don’t just deliver the curriculum; they inspire and empower their students to become leaders and teachers in their own right. Showing students you care about them helps create a positive, supportive relationship and helps build an environment where learning can flourish.
“The kids are excited about what they are doing,” Great Valley High School PE teacher Dustin Kasper said. “I’ve never seen them come alive like that with excitement when they see the feedback that they made their goal or the class made its goal. This is very motivational, and the students are bought in.”
Listen to your students and help them express who they are and how they want to be treated. Be receptive to their feedback and model the behavior you want students to learn and emulate. Your goal is for each student to experience the connection to themselves, their classmates and to the larger world around them and to take ownership of that connection.
They Emphasize the FUN in Movement, Learning, and Life:
Great PE teachers create lighthearted fun out of serious learning. They get to know their students’ interests, talents, needs and who they are as individuals.
“I want to instruct them on how to help them become healthy for a lifetime,” Charles City (Iowa) High School PE Teacher Steve Stallsmith said. “Today that means engaging them in activities that I didn’t think about before. That means giving them a curriculum that includes the things that they have been doing. I’ve never had a skateboarding curriculum before, but I do now. I told the kids if they want to learn about skateboarding, I’ll call Tony Hawk if I have to.”
This understanding will help better prepare and tailor your lessons and will help students feel the partnership you’re creating with them in the learning experience. Through this educational experience, each student grows beyond the intended knowledge of the skill or movement into having a direct and personal understanding through practical contact and accountability.
The qualities of being a great PE teacher center on celebrating your own unique teaching style and bringing passion and purpose every day to your students. Your passion empowers them to be the best they can be. Commit today to how you will best help your students achieve personal and team goals in activities they both enjoy and are self-motivated to perform beyond your class, all while having the ability to objectively evaluate their successes.
The positive results will lead you to not only be a great teacher, but empower each of your students to design a long-term action plan – along with the skills necessary to execute it – to improve their health, fitness, health literacy, and commitment to a healthy, long life.
Note: This post was originally published in Nov. 2015 and has been updated for accuracy, comprehensiveness and the 2021 qualities of a great PE teacher.