The Importance of Physical Education Teachers

On May 14, 2012, former Governor Tim Pawlenty spoke at the
University of Minnesota about “Restoring America’s Future.”  Although he made interesting points about teaching credentials and rigor in education programs, I do take issue with a comment he made about teacher compensation.  I recognize that I have a bias with over ten years of coaching and five years of involvement with personal trainer education, however, allow me to explain.

Pawlenty incredulously and disrespectfully questioned the validity of a high school physics teacher making the same amount of money as a high school “gym teacher.” He states, “Really? We are going to pay a physics teacher the same as the gym teacher?” He goes on to say something about physics teachers teaching “mission critical” skills to students, but that he isn’t discounting the importance of a gym teacher.

Really?

Let’s clarify a few things for T-Paw.  In fact, let’s start with the notion of “mission critical.” Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are three epidemics that have the power to ultimately destroy our health care system. Additionally, this generation of children could be the first that do not outlive their parents.  I’d call that mission critical.

All of these epidemics can be addressed with lessons learned from physical education teachers, i.e., MOVEMENT! I’m not discounting physics teachers at all. However, the students will perform better in physics if there is a physical education teacher at the school. Studies have repeatedly shown than movement is critical to cognitive development. It has to do with BDNF; a chemical that is released during physical activity. John Ratey, author of Spark, calls it “Miracle Grow for the brain.”

Ratey decidedly proved in his book Spark that students engaging in physical activity not only were healthier, but also scored higher on standardized tests. Honestly, what is more
important than teaching kids about their own health and well-being? Clearly enough of it isn’t being done when over 30% of youth are overweight or obese.

I’d like to direct Tim to the many libraries available at the University of Minnesota that house multiple research articles indicating that vigorous exercise leads to improved academic achievement.  Or check out the Star Tribune’s recent article about Meadowview Elementary School’s successful integration of physical activity in the classroom.

I have to wholeheartedly disagree with the former governor. To me, physical education teachers are worth their weight in gold.