If you are passionate about physical activity and fitness, and want to share that passion with a variety of youth from diehard athletes to couch potatoes, you might want to consider the Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) degree program at the University of New Mexico. PETE strives to prepare the next generation of physical education teachers to effectively serve the children and families of New Mexico in PK-12 educational settings.

PETE offers a kindergarten through high school (K–12) licensure program and prepares candidates content-wise and through hands on field and clinical experiences to teach at all three levels of school. The degree program trains the next generation of teachers to facilitate the development of lifelong movers, by exploring fundamental skills and physical activities they will enjoy and be able to become proficient at as they mature. The program creates an awareness of how the physical educator fits into the total school community by looking at what’s going on in the classrooms and departments across PK-12 schools and how physical education is a part of the total school curriculum.

“Some candidates come into the program thinking they want to coach, but then they engage in our elementary field experience and start thinking about becoming an elementary school teacher,” said Gloria Napper-Owen, associate professor in the Department of Health Exercise & Sports Science at UNM. “Others lean toward working with certain groups of students at certain stages in their development. So giving the candidate the whole PK-12 experience helps them understand mentally, physically and physiologically what they need to do to meet the needs of particular levels of school students.”

Napper-Owen refers to undergrad students in the program as candidates. “We use this term because these are the individuals who will be become graduates of our programs, and candidates is more of a generic term. We refer to our K-12 youth as students. They are the ones our candidates visit and practice with. This way we don’t confuse UNM students with K-12 students.”

The PETE program is unique from similar programs around the country because, in addition to method courses, it also includes an assessment course where candidates learn how to refine written lesson plans while also learning how to assess performance outcomes. “We have a behavior management and classroom management class, so when problems arise in the classroom setting, teachers have proactive strategies to meet the needs of students who might exhibit some kind of behavioral issue,” Napper-Owen said. “And most importantly, we establish classroom management strategies so that students aren’t standing on the sidelines. We need to get all students active, get their heart rates up, because the obesity issue is huge in our schools.”

The No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001 marked a major reduction in school-based physical education. Close to half of all school administrators report cutting considerable time from physical education classes and recess to allocate more time for reading and math. But a study recently published in the Journal of Health Economics provides the first evidence that increasing physical education in kindergarten through fifth grade reduces the chance of obesity.

“We’re finding that with the standardized testing situation, much of our physical education time, especially at the elementary school level, is limited to one day a week,” Napper-Owen said. “What do we give these young students to take away from that one day a week of exercise, to get them self-motivated? Not all students have parents who are able to take them to additional sports activities after school or on weekends.”

Napper-Owen added that students have to be adept at motor skills in order to want to do things outside of school. “We try to teach fundamental skills at the elementary level so that when they move into the middle school and high school they can begin to do more sports specific transition activities. At that age, they might have more selectivity in what they want to become proficient in as they move into their adult years,” she said.

Physical fitness is globally related to academic achievement. “Activity helps get the neurons firing in our brains and in our muscles so that kids are more able to learn in the classroom. And combatting the overweight issue means not sitting at a desk all day and getting in some physical activity,” Napper-Owen said.

The PETE program has licensure standards that UNM candidates must meet before leaving the program, and to demonstrate that they can meet the New Mexico beginning teacher competencies. “We also have competencies that our K-12 students are supposed to be able to meet before leaving the K-12 environment,” Napper-Owen said. “So our candidates are learning to write lessons and units for short and long term outcomes in physical education, and part of that is how we make the students in the K-12 setting physically active for life.” 

PETE offers a Bachelor of Science in Education, post-bachelor endorsements in Physical Education, a Master of Science in Physical Education with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction, a Master of Science in Physical Education with a concentration in Adapted Physical Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Education, Sports, and Exercise Science with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction.

For more information on the program, visit PETE