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Teaching PE: Breaking Through the Obstacles, Overcoming the Challenges!

What we do in the gym, on the field, and in the classroom as physical educators is certainly not an easy task. We are given little prep time, large numbers of students, limited administrative support, and difficult students to teach. New teachers struggle with the lack of quality college preparation and finding an adequate curriculum to teach their PE and health education lessons. Veteran physical educators struggle with keeping things fresh and coping with “teacher burnout” during their latter years. Professional development can be uncommon and getting permission to go off campus to learn new things can be a difficult task. District and state cuts are being made to physical education programs all over the nation despite the overwhelming evidence of how physical movement benefits the holistic development of our children.

Teaching PE: Breaking Through the Obstacles, Overcoming the Challenges!

With all these obstacles, issues, and challenges we as physical education teachers face throughout our careers, it is easy for us to become defeated, give in, and throw in the towel. Some take that route and then decide to put minimal effort into what they do and hope to ride out their careers until their retirement date. Others decide to tackle the challenges head-on because they feel it is worth the fight to flourish in the storm. They develop strategies to help combat the issues, allowing them to grow as educators and to take their programs to much higher levels. Your attitude is indeed everything, and how you decide to move forward in your career is ultimately up to you. Which path will you take?


Overcoming Obstacles

In this article, I am going to highlight some of the common challenges we as physical education teachers face and provide some practical strategies that can be used to help combat some of the negative outcomes that may result. These are strategies that I have used throughout my career as a physical education teacher to help me break through the obstacles, overcome the challenges, and find success in my physical education lessons.


CHALLENGES AND STRATEGIES

1. Lack of Support

The lack of support for your PE program may come from administrators who never come to your gym to see teaching students or those that will not “let loose” even a penny to be spent on equipment for your students. It may come from classroom teachers that think you are a “babysitting” service and your only purpose is to keep their students so that they can have some planning time. PTA groups or other school entities that exist to fund programs in your schools may not feel that physical education is important enough to support. You might also see a lack of support from the district or state with them holding back funds, providing minimal guiding standards, or limited curriculum resources. ​


Strategies

  • Develop a relationship with your administrative team; invite them into a PE class and let them know what you do and why you do it

  • Ask teachers how you can collaborate with them to help connect some of their academic curriculum to what you already do with your students in PE

  • Use physical education and health-related visuals inside and outside your gym that display, teach and advocate what you are about

  • Invite parents to attend classes and/or have community events such as Jump Rope for Heart, Walk America, Family Fitness Fun Nights, Field Day, etc. that pulls the community into your school and teaching area and involve them in some physical activity

  • Make an effort to get to know your PTA or School Foundation to establish a positive, cooperative relationship with them so that they will want to help boost your program

Why Physical Education?


2. Lack of Respect

Although it is vital, Physical Education has been struggling to keep a positive reputation due to the numerous bad practices implemented in programs across the country. Much of this lack of respect for our field today exists because there are many parents, teachers, administrators, legislators, and community members that had poor PE experiences when they were younger. These people are now the decision and policymakers at all levels of the education system. Even though we have many great PE teachers today, we are haunted by our history and by prior misguided teaching habits that are still being repeated.


Strategies

  • Get involved in your school committees and groups to establish positive relationships with teachers, staff members, and school volunteers

  • Develop a school PE web page and/or use a home PE newsletter to let others know what you do in class, provide opportunities for movement at home, and deliver pertinent information to parents about school and local movement experiences

  • If your school has a morning news program, make yourself available to highlight events that go on in your gym, give out awards, and/or lead school-wide movement segments

PE Teacher and Students

  • Use social media to describe, show pictures, and/or video the great work that goes on in your class and during your special events

  • Organize before and after school clubs (running, walking, intermural sports, fitness, etc.) to allow students to increase their PE skills and fitness



3. Limited Standards, Outcomes, and PE Curriculum

Some states and districts have outstanding written performance standards that are easy to implement while others lack depth or are not valid. Each district and state is different in what they expect physical education teachers to teach. Some are very clear in their expectations and others are murky. Some districts have supervisors or good PE teachers to use as mentors, however, many leave physical education teachers to fend for themselves. Some schools, districts, and even states hold PE teachers accountable for their teaching and assessment while others do not. Every situation is unique, but chances are, you have had questions about how and what you are supposed to teach and when you are supposed to teach it.


Strategies

  • Become involved by helping write on your district/state curriculum or standard development teams

SHAPE America Grade Level Outcomes
  • If you are not required to use state or district standards, consider using the SHAPE America Standards and their corresponding Grade Level Outcomes

  • First-year PE teachers should find a mentor teacher and establish a relationship with that person to help develop a solid yearly plan as well as answer questions about their daily lesson planning

  • Use FREE curriculum plans such as OPEN or ask your district to purchase comprehensive curriculum programs such as SPARK. Use shared lesson activities and plans and/or purchase smaller items to supplement your program from sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers

  • Become an active member of the PE Community on Social Media. Twitter (#physed) and Facebook groups such as PE Central and Elementary PE Teachers are great places to start your journey. Outstanding activities, skill stations, and games are being shared daily using video, pics, and/or written descriptions

Consider making your own activities, visuals, and game sets using Canva. It is a design website that makes it easy for anyone to create professional-looking visuals. You can use Canva to create posters, activity sets, social media posts, infographics, and more. Click here to sign up and use it for FREE.



4. Equipment/Facility Needs

Regardless of your teaching situation; you probably have the equipment or facility needed to accomplish your goals. As an avid #physed Twitter follower, I have seen a huge range of teaching environments from ultra-high tech indoor facilities to those that only teach outdoors with only “bare bones” equipment and limited playing areas. Some of you teaching physical education now, truly do have critical needs to make your program function. No matter where your program is equipment or facility-wise, it is likely that you will have to take steps to “up your game” and grow your equipment collection to move you and your students to the next level in their development.


Strategies

  • Partner with other schools to share equipment throughout the school year. Coordinate when purchasing to allow for the most variety of activities possible

  • Establish a relationship with your PTA and/or other school entities that could give you money to purchase equipment for your daily classes

  • Consider a couple of annual fundraisers (i.e. Boxtops for Education, Fun Run) to boost your equipment needs

  • If your school or district allows it, use a professional fund-raising organization such as Go Fund Me or Fundly to help raise money to supply you with what you need

  • Use discount stores or Amazon.com for your equipment needs rather than ordering from more expensive PE sports catalogs


Need PE Equipment?

5. Large Class Sizes/Lack of Assistance

For many physical education teachers, having large class sizes is an all-too-common occurrence. I taught at a school where the average class size was 100 students or more, with four to five classes coming in simultaneously and spanning multiple grade levels. Some of you out there are all by yourself with no help whatsoever and are challenged with figuring out how to provide authentic assessments for a large number of students. To properly assess a student, your focus must be on that particular student, yet you remain in command of every other student in your learning area... a significant issue in our field.


Strategies

  • Utilize stations for skill and game development as a teaching option to spread students out and have several activities (related to your unit of study) going on simultaneously

  • Include several large group games (i.e. J.D. Hughes (PE2theMax) style) that incorporate multiple skills, strategies, movement concepts, and outcomes

  • Plan activities that utilize the entire space of your playing area. If there are 2 of you, use indoor and outdoor spaces simultaneously to accomplish your teaching goals

  • Use technology (i.e. timer apps, projection devices) to aid in your instruction. Consider using large group fitness and dance instruction from organizations

  • Incorporate large group fitness movement at the start of class as an instant activity and/or organized warm-up



6. Lack of Professional Development

Quality professional development requires time and money. Either presenters are paid to come into a school or district to provide new ideas or teachers have to be given paid leave to meet up and share ideas. Many teachers take time off themselves using personal days and spend their own money to travel to state conventions or workshops to grow as a professional. This is not an easy task as we know teachers are not paid well, and getting quality subs to take your place isn’t always the norm. Personal days are limited each year and travel, accommodations, and registration fees are never cheap.


Strategies

  • Consider participating in some summertime professional development to acquire new teaching ideas and recharge your batteries

  • Inquire with your district to see if you can meet with or visit other PE teachers from around your area to help share and collaborate

  • Take part in some online professional development from organizations such as SHAPE America, PE Central, ESPEchat or PHYSEDagogy

  • Ask your school PTA or Foundation to help offset the cost of traveling to a state convention or district workshop

  • Establish a Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, and/or Voxer) presence to help obtain and share outstanding teaching strategies, management tools, and movement activities

Physical Education Social Media


7. Student Behavior

The conduct of students has always been and will always be an issue for PE teachers. Is it worse now than it used to be? I am not qualified to answer that question however, in my opinion, kids are kids. They never want to feel disrespected and they always want to feel loved. The world our students live in now is different than in years past, so the challenge for physical educators is knowing what makes them feel loved and respected. We are also fighting against a society that is generally less physically active now than it has been in the past. It is not always easy to get students to put forth the effort to move their bodies when they are not physically active at home. We also see some extremes out there where some of our students are becoming one-sport specialists, with little physical development other than the skills represented by the sport their families are engrossed in. Sometimes it seems these types of students’ sportsmanship are less than desirable and it falls on us to teach them how to handle a variety of games and cooperative situations.


Strategies

  • Develop a solid behavior plan that does not punish the whole class for the actions of a few. Use a non-threatening stop and think area that allows students to reflect on their mistakes and give them strategies to change their actions

  • Ensure that students are engaged in learning, during your entire lesson, to keep off-task behavior to a minimum

  • Put in place a J.D. Hughes or Ben Landers-inspired “Conflict Corner” where students can come together to resolve issues they might have with each other in a calm and structured manner

  • Discuss sportsmanship often and consider it to be a continual part of your daily lesson

  • Incorporate cooperative activities in your curriculum where all students play vital roles in accomplishing group or team goals

  • Make a genuine effort to know your students. Try to understand what makes them tick and develop strategies to handle their behavioral issues

resolve- Let's Work it Out in PE


8. Teacher Burnout

It is extremely easy to get caught up in teaching the same skills, activities, games, sports, and concepts year after year. It is easier to do the same things over again from one year to the next. Providing new activities/games and stations requires time, work, effort, and sometimes money. Even if you teach differently each year, you are always going to face some of the same issues no matter how you present your material. Poor sportsmanship, tattling, student behavior, technical issues, equipment malfunctions, and being thrown out of your teaching space, will always be a part of the PE teaching experience. You may also come into work and not know what your gym will look like each day when other programs move in and out of your teaching space. These types of issues will always push your buttons and strategies will have to be implemented to avoid early burnout.


Strategies

  • Make it one of your goals each year to change the lessons in your units or add some new units to your yearly curriculum plan

  • Attempt new things. You can do that by getting resources you find in books, off the internet, or from social media tweets and posts

  • Take someone else’s idea and make it your own. You have a unique situation with your teaching environment so add or take things away from what something else has done to make it work better for you

  • Don’t be afraid to come up with something on your own. Be inventive with how you tackle a standard or grade level outcome

  • Let your students come up with some ideas. You might really be surprised what they can make happen!

PE Teacher and Students

Photo from Jason Leach, a prominent physical educator at Independence Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas.



Final Thoughts

It can be challenging to teach PE, but it's also extremely rewarding. As a teacher, you need to be constantly evolving and coming up with new ideas to keep your students engaged. In this article, we've provided you with some strategies to help you overcome common obstacles and challenges in the gym and classroom. Use these tips to make your teaching experience more enjoyable and successful!


Keep in mind that change requires effort and it may not come easy. Rob Sharma. A Canadian writer once said that “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end”.

Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end

What will you do from this day onward? Will you give up or face your challenges head-on? The decision is yours!


 

FREE advocacy bundle

Need some graphics to advocate for your physical education program? Download this FREE visual packet to create wall posters or post them on your gym or school bulletin board!!

FREE physical education advocacy bundle on capnpetespowerpe.com


 

Need more resources?

Teaching physical education can be difficult. There are so many different things to cover, and it's hard to know what is the most important. I can help you make teaching PE simpler with engaging, student-friendly graphics that you may utilize on your gym wall or via a monitor. Visual aids can assist make physical education instruction much more simple. They break down complex topics into easy-to-understand visuals that will engage your students and help them learn.

If you're looking for high-quality visuals to help you teach PE and health, go with the Cap'n Pete's Top Physical Education Posters - 25 Set Super Bundle.


Cap'n Pete's Top Physical Education Posters - 25 Set Super Bundle.

You can download the bundle (or individual resources) from either of the following platforms: Cap'n Pete's Power PE Website or Teachers Pay Teachers- Cap'n Pete's TPT Store



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