Top 10 Tips for New Physical Education Teachers

As professional teachers, we all go through the adversity of student teaching.  This true introduction to teaching, whether positive, negative, or both, gives the candidate hope to gain enough experience to enable to hold their own when first landing a job. 

Here are 10 teaching tips all new physical education teachers should know before they begin teaching!

10 Teaching Tips to Know Before You Start Teaching!

  1. Be on time. Always arrive to work on time or ahead of schedule.
  2. Plan for everything.  Sometimes things don’t work out the way you had hoped.  So, whether it is a lesson, equipment, or facilities, have contingency plans.
  3. Be flexible.
  4. You’re the expert. Realize that if you mess up in a lesson (as long as it is nothing major), the kids will not know the difference. 
  5. Time management. It’s one of the hardest things to conquer. Initially you might take too long with a portion of your lesson, or perhaps stop a lesson too early.  I am one of those people who need to be at the airport 5 hours early, but I have become an expert at managing time. 
  6. Discipline. Create a discipline plan and stick to it. 
  7. Be friendly. Be-friend the custodial and secretarial staff members, you will need them. Smile and be cordial to co-workers… even if you don’t mean it.
  8. Continue Learning. Read subject material and go to conferences.
  9. Recover your emotions.  The class that you are about to teach has no idea what happened the period before (no matter how nightmarish it was).
  10. Relax…this really does get easier the more you do it!

Thinking back to my student teaching experience, I remember how difficult it was for me.  Back then, student teaching was compressed in only one-quarter of the college year, rather than the typical semester it now is.  I commuted from campus in my parents’ run down Chevy Blazer, driving 98 highway miles round trip to my assignment each day.  I taught high school in the morning, drove to my assigned elementary school each afternoon, followed immediately by mandatory coaching with the Varsity Field Hockey team.  Needless to say I was very busy.

Coming into the beginning of that school year, I felt very confident I would learn a ton of basic start-to-the-year procedures that I could make my own.  One of my assigned cooperating teachers was due to retire at the end of that year.  After meeting with him before the school year began, he informed me that I was his 30th student teacher.  Here this experienced teacher would definitely pass on his expertise and wisdom to me.  My expectations were one of pride; to be his last disciple in a long line of illustrious predecessors.  I was excited and nervous at this wonderful prospect.

My introduction was a shell shocking one to say the least.  In only the third day of school he told me I would teach the entire first couple of classes, with him “watching” me from his office.  The feeling of nausea was overwhelming.   I nervously asked him, “You are going to leave?  What if I need help from you?”  He responded, “I wouldn’t do this if I felt you were not ready.  I trust you.  You will be fine.”  How could he say that?!  He hardly knew me at that point.  With that he handed me his roster and left the gym completely.  I did not see him again until his (my) third period prep.  And believe me, I checked.  I frequently looked in the direction of where the PE office was, and still…nothing.  I realized that my on-the-job training became quite apparent, and I needed to do it very quickly.

My first student teacher was “assigned” to me in my fourth year of teaching, and although at the time I most likely shouldn’t have had one, I did.   I knew that the methods used with me were not the most effective when teaching a future colleague.  I decided right then and there that I was going to be very involved in the process.  During successive years with other student teachers, I learned what works and what doesn’t, just like teaching your students.

I always am a bit guarded when I take a student teacher.  You are lending your classes to an inexperienced teacher who may or may not turn out the way you plan.   I only hope they turn out as good as, or better than me.  If the experience is not as good as you hope it may take a while for bad habits to get out of your classes when they leave. 

Enter “Robby”, my 7th student teacher.  I had heard he was a Major of the Year recipient from my alma mater, and couldn’t help but have high expectations from him.   Going in, I dreamt that he would dazzle me with the latest and greatest techniques the college had to offer.  This surely would not be a typical inexperienced teacher, and thought I might have a prodigy on my hands.  However, Robby struggled.  A lot.  I expected him to make mistakes, and to take advice and techniques from me to model from, however he wasn’t able to.  He knew his educational theory extremely well.  He was knowledgeable about a lot of subject-specific matter, but when it came to teaching actual kids, he had a hard time.  He came across as awkward to the children.  When he saw me do an activity or technique, he tried to copy it verbatim.  For whatever reason these techniques would morph into something different, and most of the time, become ineffective.  Things did not flow well naturally, which is to be expected.  However the learning curve was much steeper in his case.

One day near the end of his teaching experience, we both sat down in my office to discuss things over lunch.  Robby slumped down into the chair looking exasperated.  “Holy cow,” he blurted out.  “I am so exhausted after those four classes.  How do you do it?”

I looked him over.  He actually looked as if he was going to collapse.  “Things get easier with time,” I replied.  “You get used to it.”

He didn’t look reassured.  “I have been at this for a while now, WHY are things not getting easier?”  I noticed the tone in his voice had become higher as he spoke.  “The kids listen to you.  They try hard.  You speak with humor and they totally get it.  This seems so easy for you…”

I noticed how frustrated he seemed to be.  This comment is so common when working with young and/or inexperienced teachers.  They expect things to work well right away when in reality, they don’t always happen like that.

I can recall a very similar conversation that I had with one of my mentors which went down almost the same way.  In my first year of teaching I asked the same thing to my co-worker, a woman who was an institution in the school that I now teach in.  I was there part-time and was frustrated that things were not going as smoothly as I had hoped.  She had been teaching for 37 years, on the verge of retirement, and her enthusiasm for the job still glowed as brightly as I imagined it did in her youth. 

Her reply to me has been one I have not forgotten.  It was simple and insightful.  “Because I have been at this much longer than you.  I am much older than you.  The kids know me.  Like it or not, kids understand this.  This does not mean that you are not a good teacher.  It’s just that experience plays that much of a difference.”

She was absolutely correct in that experience makes a world of difference.  That is how we grow and improve.  By definition, experience means insight into observation of facts or events.  We learn from others as well as ourselves.  We make mistakes and hopefully learn to not repeat them.

Thinking about Robby helps me remember what I have gone through in my work.  

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