Diversity Matters: Recruitment Into the Health and Physical Education Profession

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Recently, recruitment into the health and physical education profession has been the topic of much discussion among physical education teacher education (PETE) professionals.

In fact, the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education published an entire special issue on the topic of recruitment, which includes an article titled “Will PETE Survive in the 21st Century?”

The reality is that across the country, many PETE programs are being cut due to low enrollment, and the health and physical education profession is now faced with a teacher shortage in many states. Of course, there are definitely some programs that are thriving, but more and more, university faculty are being asked to focus on recruitment.

Another layer to this charge, and one that we believe deeply matters, encourages faculty to be purposefully focusing on recruiting diverse teacher candidates. Given that the profile of a PETE major has largely been described as “white, middle class, with strong sport and physical activity influences,” this is a worthy endeavor.

It is important to acknowledge that diversity is an inclusive term that recognizes aspects such as race, religion, gender, athletic ability, and other characteristics that lend themselves to one’s uniqueness.

Recruiting more diverse health and physical education teachers — that more resemble the students they will teach — is a complex issue, and we look forward to starting the discussion!

PETE Students posing for photo with Jaimie McMulen

Questions to Consider on Diversity in HPE

As a recognized expert on diversity and inclusion who is in schools often and trains physical education teachers, Brian is frequently asked to contribute to discussions relating to how we can better diversify the health and physical education teaching profession; and as a PETE faculty member who feels the recruitment pressure, this topic deeply matters to Jaimie.

There is not one easy solution to this effort, as it is contingent on several factors and it is not something that can be done by just one group of people (i.e., higher education faculty). We need to work together to solve this problem, therefore, we would like to start the conversation by asking you to consider some questions:

  1. Do you look like you are happy in your job? Teaching is a grind. We are often undervalued and underappreciated. The physical education teacher is arguably one of the most important people in the school based on the number of people they interact with. Given this, it’s important that we understand our importance in setting the standard, even on the days when it feels like our head is on fire. The gift of happiness is one we can all work to share, particularly as we are notoriously typecast by society. It’s tough to demonstrate happiness all of the time, but realistically, would you follow someone who doesn’t look like they are enjoying what they self-selected as a profession?
  2. In attracting diverse people, it is helpful if we express a commitment to diversity in our practices. Almost all teachers have a rule that everyone in their class is treated the same. Rules however are not always a reflection of one’s teaching philosophy and that philosophy may not intentionally express a commitment to diversity. Therefore, diversity must be infused in routines, lessons and curriculum, and seen as a positive. Make sure your gymnasium is “designed to inspire” — with quotes, pictures and other expressions of students’ diversity.
  3. How do you work to express physical education as a journey of discovery? Good teachers see the value of impressing upon their students the art of being autodidactic, which essentially requires students to switch perspectives often, reflect, and be curious about the world and others around them.In this, the teacher is sensitive to the student being a whole person. When education like this takes place, students move from merely existing in a classroom, to becoming learners who help construct knowledge while seeing the value in others and their perspectives.
  4. Are you visible and memorable? To address this question Brian shares the following memories of his first physical education teacher, Mrs. Williams:

She was a Black woman and she was transformational. I remember Mrs. Williams not just for teaching, but for the way she helped fight inequities in the community and the way she spoke to her students when she taught. She always expressed high expectations and she had empathy when we were having trouble.

After struggling my first year of college with what I wanted to do with my life, I thought about people who made a difference. Mrs. Williams was one of the first people I thought of. Subsequently, I became a physical educator. Later, in graduate school, I met other professionals of color and was implored to ‘send the elevator back down’ and aid in the success of others. When I think about Mrs. Williams, I’m reminded that she was someone who positively influenced others that she came in contact with.” 

PETE Students

How Health & Physical Educators Can Help

There are many things we can’t control in education. However, we can control being our personal best — and we can help influence organizations to make diversity more of a priority.

If you’re a teacher, we need your help! Here’s what you can do:

  • Show your students how much you enjoy your job and give them the opportunity to envision themselves as health and physical educators, regardless of their gender, race, religion and/or physical ability!
  • Commit to diversity in your practice by making sure that diverse individuals are represented on task cards, in the gymnasium, throughout the curriculum, and in multiple learning environments.
  • Inspire students to think critically and engage in practices that help them value one another.
  • Positively influence others by committing to high expectations and doing whatever you can to make a difference in their lives of students – ALL students!

Additional Resources


Brian Culp
Brian Culp

Brian Culp is a professor at Kennesaw State University who teaches courses in PETE. He has been a recipient of several awards from SHAPE America for his scholarship and program work on issues related to diversity and inclusion. Brian has held licenses as a K-12 physical educator in Georgia and Indiana. For more information visit www.culturenmotion.com.

Jaimie McMullen
Jaimie McMullen

Jaimie McMullen is an associate professor of physical education and physical activity leadership at the University of Northern Colorado. Jaimie has held many leadership positions within the health and physical education profession and is well traveled. If she is not at the university, she can most likely be found in the mountains. Reach her at Jaimie.McMullen@unco.edu or on Twitter @DrJMcM.