In the last 30 years, the number of obese children in the United States has doubled, with adolescent obesity numbers nearly quadrupling, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In order to combat these statistics, children need at least an hour of exercise everyday. Unfortunately, many children don’t get nearly enough physical activity, which is where school physical education programs come in. PE teachers play an essential role in helping children maintain a healthy weight, while also teaching important life habits. However, a growing portion of student populations are affected by disabilities. These deficits make it difficult to perform traditional exercises and activities during PE class, even though exercise is just as important for disabled children. In order to overcome this problem, many schools hire adapted physical education teachers with additional training, education and certifications specific to children with disabilities.
Physical education teachers that specialize in adapted education make similar wages to other teachers at the elementary and secondary levels, though they may be able to leverage a higher salary due to their additional education, certification and the specific needs of the school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, secondary teachers make a median salary of $55,050 per year, while elementary teachers make a median salary of 53,090 per year.
Entry positions for teachers with little past teaching experience tend to start lower on the salary scale, or an estimated $36,930 for secondary level teachers and $32,450 for elementary teachers. Adapted physical education teachers can expect to make a little more, especially if they have a graduate-level degree.
Adapted physical education teachers perform many of the same tasks and responsibilities of traditional PE teachers, and in many cases teach classes in both types of PE depending on the school. PE teachers are expected to provide safe and fun activities for children that promote muscle development and provide cardiovascular exercise, while at the same time teaching children important skills like teamwork and sportsmanship. Adapted teachers are responsible for adapting these physical games and activities to children with disabilities. These teachers often need to create games and activities based on the specific needs of each individual child, as they may work with various disabilities ranging from children with blindness or hearing problems to those with orthopedic impairment or traumatic brain injuries.
Adapted physical education teachers must have a love for children and a desire to see children with disabilities grow and succeed. Teachers must have a creative and innovative mindset, along with excellent problem solving skills in order to create and facilitate successful adapted activities. Patience is essential, as many children can be difficult both physically and emotionally to work with. With many adapted teachers working with both traditional and disabled students, these PE teachers must be both knowledgeable and flexible in order to provide the right types of activities for each group or challenge.
Degree and Education Requirements
In order to qualify for physical education teaching positions, including those for adapted physical education, candidates will need at least a bachelor’s degree. Common degree paths include a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in physical education, or some colleges also offer degrees specific to physical education. Candidates should consider courses in special education, or pursuing a minor in special education if the school offers one. PE teachers need to meet all the qualifications for a teaching certification or license in the state they plan to teach in. Those looking at pursuing adapted education opportunities often continue into a graduate degree program focused on adapted physical education. Those interested in the field should also consider qualifying and applying for a national CAPE certification through the Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS) organization.
Pros and Cons
Working with disabled children can quickly change a teacher’s life. Not only are you helping those with disabilities develop and flourish, but you also get to become an important part of each child’s life that you work with. On the other hand, working with special needs children can be trying and even frustrating at times. It takes a great amount of patience and effort for even small results sometimes. But small results in this portion of the student population often equal huge steps in the lives of the children adapted physical education teachers work with.
Beyond meeting the necessary education requirements, those interested in working in adapted physical education should look for opportunities to gain experience with those with disabilities. Various opportunities are available ranging from helping with sports groups aimed at disabled individuals, to volunteering at major sporting events like the Special Olympics. Not only does this experience help build a resume, it also helps teaching candidates gain a greater confidence working with those with disabilities, while making a difference at the same time. These opportunities also offer hands-on learning from other professionals in the field who have experience adapting common sports and physical activities.
The teaching field is expected to grow at 6 percent for secondary school teachers and 12 percent for elementary school teachers. Because adapted PE teachers have additional certifications, and can work with both traditional and disabled children, the chance of obtaining a position increases. Those with a graduate degree in adapted physical education also have an advantage over other applicants. Positions can be found in both public and private educational institutions starting at the kindergarten and elementary level and continuing through the secondary high school level.
Adapted physical education teachers play an essential role in not only helping children in general stay fit, but also specifically providing the support and atmosphere necessary for disabled children to stay healthy and develop important skills. If you’re interested in making a difference in the life of a child who truly needs it, consider a career in adapted physical education.