How to Survive Your First Year as a Physical Education Teacher — Part 1

By Kara Gabriella Deutch posted 07-26-2016 09:11


Are you about to become a first-year teacher? Being a first-time anything can be intimidating, and I’m here to share my experience and walk you through possible obstacles you may encounter as you enter the world of teaching physical education.

Why Did I Go to College Again?

Starting any job can be somewhat scary; however, I think that being a first-year physical education teacher can be more challenging than many other jobs. After going through four or more years of college, you either continue your education or go right into teaching. I went right into teaching and let me tell you, what I learned in college was not a real depiction of what I faced on the job.  

Don’t get me wrong — what you learn in college is very useful, and if you’ve been through a quality physical education program you’ll have the tools you need to be successful. However, one of the things that’s hard to learn in college (but necessary to have when you start teaching) is “withitness,” the ability to control your classroom by being aware of everything that’s going on at all times.  

It’s Time to Take Control

Imagine that Bobby and Jenny are two second-graders in your PE class. You’ve just introduced the skill cues for doing the underhand toss and you see that both Bobby and Jenny are struggling with stepping with opposition (stepping with the opposite foot). You go over to each of them and assess, then tell Jenny: “Okay now try again, but this time step with your opposite foot.” She then does the underhand toss perfectly.  

When you try to explain to Bobby why it’s so important to step with the opposite foot, he just can’t seem to get it. He starts to get frustrated and argue with you that he is right-footed and needs to step with his right foot. You remain patient and explain again the right thing to do, but Bobby gets angry and runs to the corner, refusing to participate. How are you going to handle that?

You’ll learn very quickly that students don’t all react the same way in every situation. In my experience in college, we first practiced teaching on our peers, who for the most part were well-behaved and followed directions to the letter. When we moved on to student teaching, there was usually a mentor teacher who reminded the students to be on their best behavior. That mentor teacher was also there to handle situations with students like “Bobby” so we could continue teaching the rest of the class.

Essentially, that’s what college doesn’t prepare you for — being in your own classroom or gym with no one there to help. You are the only go-to person and the students are looking to you to handle everything. That responsibility can be a little scary, but you can’t let your students know you are scared; if they sense it you will lose control of the class. Be confident in what you are doing and everything will fall into place.

Set Routines

Kids thrive when they have routines, especially in the classroom or gym. In my opinion, routines are the key to having a very smooth year and a successful PE program.

You need to set routines on the very first day of class. Your students should know the rules, what’s expected of them, and how they should behave in your classroom. If you have nothing planned and don’t set concrete expectations, believe me, your students will take advantage of you for the rest of the year.

For example, I have my students come into the gym and sit in four color-coded lines. They know that every time they come to PE, the first thing they do is sit quietly in their lines and wait for my instruction. One day, I was still in my office finishing up some paperwork when my third-graders came in. I overheard their homeroom teacher tell them to sit on the blue line. I then heard one of my students say, “No, we’re supposed to sit on different colored lines.”

When the students can take responsibility for their own classroom routine, that’s how you know you’re implementing a successful learning environment.

FIve Classroom Management Tips

  1. Don’t have more than five rules — Students will lose interest after five rules. Also, you want to be able to refer back to your rules and that’s hard if you have too many.  
  2. Have an attention getter — Choose a phrase that tells students they have to freeze and be quiet, such as “freeze, all eyes on me” or “hocus pocus, everybody focus.”
  3. Set concrete expectations — Make sure students know what’s expected of them, from how they enter the gym to how they exit the gym and everything in between. This includes having a discipline system in place, such as: warning - conduct mark - sit out (briefly).
  4. Be consistent — Say what you mean and mean what you say. If students notice you’re not sticking to the routine, they will take advantage of that.
  5. Practice — It’s okay to dedicate the first week of school to practicing your classroom management routine. Find fun ways to teach the rules and expectations, always saving time for a game at the end.

Want more tips? Visit SHAPE America's Career Link page to download 101 Tips for New Physical Education Teachers.




09-25-2017 17:26

Hello! I’m currently a student at West Chester University studying Health and Physical Education. As I approach my time to start student teaching I feel pretty nervous. I can definitely relate how a lot of times during class we peer teach and it isn’t realistic to an actual class filled with students. I am hopeful that all the techniques and strategies I have learned throughout my college experience will be useful in my ability to manage a class. I agree that setting routines will be helpful. Personally I love being in a routine because I feel like I am more motivated and driven and I can see how students can also benefit from being in a routine. One of my main concerns going into student teaching is if the students will look at me as an authority figure and respect and listen to me. As a woman who is just about the same height as a middle schooler I sometimes feel like students don’t view me as an authority figure. I’m hoping that I am able to establish myself as someone the students need to respect and listen to. Thanks for your tips!
Kelly Meagher
West Chester University Student
Health and Physical Education

08-30-2017 10:51

Kara, Thank you so much for sharing. Here is a video I created for new teachers