An Open Letter to Student Teachers – The Future of Our Profession

Dear Physical Education Student Teacher,

You are about to undertake a challenge that many people undervalue and most misunderstand.  Sadly, you may actually be one of them.  Despite having spent your last four years in professional preparation where faculty have attempted to instruct you about what it means to be a teacher, you will still enter the profession aspiring to emulate the teachers, coaches and programs that molded you as an adolescent.

At this beginning stage of your career, you still see physical education teaching through immature eyes: the eyes of a successful mover, athlete, leader or team player.  You aren’t seeing the challenge ahead of you through the eyes of a teacher: a mature professional focused on helping all students.  You mostly see only those students that reflect your image and are blind to the less skilled students who are awkward, shy and hesitant to engage.  You see success as the number of athletes that gravitate toward you, rather than the number of physically literate children that grow up to become health conscious adults.

To prepare for the important transition from student to teacher you need to understand that you are about to enter a very special classroom.  This classroom doesn’t have desks or chairs.  It isn’t quiet or sedentary but it is a classroom just the same.  Despite the differences, you need to prepare for learning – not playing.  That means you should be creating lessons, not picking games and choosing teams.  Your lessons should address the grade level outcomes of all the classes you teach with attention to unique student strengths and weaknesses.  You must try to differentiate each of your lessons so that every student is being educated, not entertained or overlooked.  And you need to assess student knowledge and performance so that you have valid criteria for evidence of learning and future planning.

Remember, your goal is to develop physically literate children not high school or college athletes.  This means your program should help to cultivate young adults who are competent and confident in a variety of activities across multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person. To succeed, you must teach beyond team sports.  You need to offer your students opportunities to embrace yoga, dance, swimming and other activities that you yourself might not be literate in.  And most especially, you need to resist the urge to simply “roll out the ball” and not teach, and also become determined to change colleagues around you who do.

I write this letter to you as a veteran teacher who entered the gymnasium over 29 years ago.  Sadly, it took me way too many years to see my profession through the eyes of a teacher. Today, as you enter the gymnasium at the start of what I hope will be an enjoyable and productive career, I hope you understand you are a teacher, not a coach and not a recreation director.  Choose to take pride in our profession and represent it with integrity.  Make a promise to yourself to be a positive influence in the lives of all the children you teach each and every day.

Good luck.


Lynn Hefele


50 Million Strong Case Studies

Read how your teaching colleagues are showing their commitment to increasing physical activity and bringing good health to their students! Remember - It begins with US (and that includes physical and health educators everywhere!)  


  1. Lynn,

    I applaud your commitment and I agree with the overall sentiment of your article. I agree that we must think deeply about the future, about each student, and about the importance of looking at our past with a critical gaze.

    There are a couple points you make that I would like to add to:

    You say:
    “Despite the differences, you need to prepare for learning – not playing. ”

    I say:
    Learning and Playing are not enemies, and I know you know that. I get what you are saying here, but we must be careful with our language. Perhaps what we should be saying is something like, “learning AND playing,” or, “learning AS playing.” In other words, we would do our students well to never pit these two concepts against each other.

    You say:
    “You must try to differentiate each of your lessons so that every student is being educated, not entertained or overlooked.”

    I say:
    I agree with the sentiment, but education CAN be entertaining. Nothing wrong with “entertaining.” Perhaps there is something wrong with something being “simply,” “merely,” or “only” entertaining, however.

    You say:
    “Remember, your goal is to develop physically literate children not high school or college athletes.”

    I say:
    I agree that we are not to think of PE, primarily, as a means of developing elite athletes. I’m not so sure that our goal should be to “develop physically literate children” though. In my view, our children are ALREADY Physically Literate, but to their own degree and unique to their own context. I wonder if we, and our students, would be better served if we instead tried to help them develop physical literacy on (mostly) their own terms? This shift in language seems insignificant, but it implies a Physical Literacy that is always in a process of becoming, rather than a rigid, fixed state of being “literate,” which, of course, is always defined by a group of well-meaning experts who see populations over persons, thus invalidating unique contexts. The mistake that we Physical Educators sometimes make, in terms of trying make our students more “Physically Literate,” is that we try to move them all in the same direction, at the same time, and at the same speed (GLO’s), and we all know that doesn’t work for many students. Sure, differentiation is important, but if it’s minor variations on the same theme that they find meaningless, that differentiation rarely does anything. Just think of the kid who doesn’t want to do much, but WILL do some things. Trying to make that kid (depending on HOW you do it) more Physically Literate by requiring 100% effort on the things they won’t do isn’t likely to help them. It is probably better to keep them mostly in their comfort zone with little excursions outside of it when the time is right and also in cooperation with them. In other words, a trek that is 4% outside their comfort zone may work wonders, OVER TIME, but probably looks different than the plan WE had for that kid. And if that plan involves play or entertainment, we run away from it, we see it as illegitimate, as it doesn’t look like the rest of the “learning” we see everywhere else on the school campus.

    But I know this is not what you are advocating.

    Thanks for taking the time to write the article and for contributing to our field!



  2. Nate,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my letter. I understand what you are saying and I believe that you are reading my thoughts correctly despite the language I used.

    We are extremely lucky that our goal of teaching children the skills to lead a healthy life can be done through play. Personally, I always try to prepare lessons that entertain! My point is that play and entertainment are the vehicles we use to drive our lesson and should not be confused with the lesson. I think I would use the term “learning THROUGH play.”

    As far as differentiating is concerned, I think we are in agreement that the future of learning in physical education can’t be a one size fits all lesson. The student teacher- with immature eyes- often has difficulty seeing the trees within the forest. They will need to take time and plan to find what works for each child.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to provide each child with their own personal path to physical literacy!


  3. Lynn I loved this. Many students excelled in high school or college sports and want to pass that passion on. The problem is that 3/4 of their students will not be playing sports at all. How do we get our new graduates to realize that teaching the student who does not appreciate sports is where the real gains need to be made? Again what a great post!

  4. “You aren’t seeing the challenge ahead of you through the eyes of a teacher: a mature professional focused on helping all students”

    I mostly agree with you. I do feel that the above statement is a bit judgmental. Depending upon the PETE school there are students coming out as very good “quality physical educators”. When I came out of USC, I was very prepared for my job.

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