What Is a Physical Educator?

Article excerpt

What is a physical educator? Let us start by defining what a physical educator is not. A physical educator is not an exercise physiologist, a biomechanist, a motor learning or motor development person, an athletic trainer, a theoretical pedagogist, a sport historian or philosopher, a health person, a special educator, an out door recreation specialist, a dance professional, an activity specialist, or a sport psychologist. Rather, a physical educator is a highly trained, broad-based, experienced professional practitioner who can bring anatomical, physiological, mechanical, psychological, and maturational aspects of human movement together, and combine an extensive activity base with sound philosophical and pedagogical principles. A physical educator is able to employ this wealth of knowledge in various situations to markedly improve the quality of human movement and subsequent performance in all developmental areas. This requires the ability to synthesize subdisciplines and the background to put theory into practice.

The person who prepares physical educators must therefore be a professional who can integrate all areas of the field. The subsequent effectiveness of physical educators depends not only on content knowledge and the ability to integrate the subdisciplines of the field, but to a large extent on significant prior practical experience at all maturational and ability levels in P-12 settings. University-level pedagogy position advertisements that ask for "one to two years of K-12 experience" as a criterion trouble me. To quote Emerson, "We are students of words; we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing."


The preparation and development of a physical educator at any level must include linking and at times combining subdisciplines of the profession. It must take the core foundation concepts and make them usable and applicable. Theory must be honed through practice. Preparation must employ early, concurrent, practical experience and reflection in real-life settings. The preparation of a physical educator cannot be made up of a group of unrelated entry-level courses in subdisciplines. Unfortunately, recent specialized career paths at the graduate level in the field of "physical education" (kinesiology, exercise science, movement science, health and human performance, or what have you) have not provided the synthesis of subdisciplines necessary to produce a physical educator.

As my late friend and colleague at Indiana University, Hal Morris (former AAHPERD president and Gulick Award recipient), professed to me several years ago, "Bill, we have run from the gym. I don't know where this profession is going. There are not many of us left." Sadly, far too soon, Hal has passed on. I remember my conversations with him as he fondly recalled his early teaching and coaching experiences. Now, many of my colleagues readily admit that early in their career they decided they were not interested in teaching K-12 physical education or in coaching. In other words, they were not interested in being a physical educator. Don Hellison (2008), in his recent Viewpoint article, lamented the situation by stating, "I have come to believe that our field has been sliced and diced so much that what is left are specialized fragments of what once was the field. Turf issues are numerous, isolation is the norm" (p. 6)

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recently solicited grant applicants to study "the direction needed to reverse the trends in doctoral program decline and the shortage of qualified higher education faculty members in physical education teacher education." The answer to this concern is obvious. We no longer prepare physical educators at the doctoral level or even the masters level. We prepare pedagogy specialists and other specialists who have no deep knowledge of related disciplines and limited experience in K-12 settings. …