The HPE Teacher Recruitment Dilemma and How You Can Help

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Across the United States, health and physical education teacher education (PETE/HETE) programs are facing significant challenges when it comes to HPE teacher recruitment and retention. 

We’ve seen this firsthand. In the past 5-10 years, our own PETE programs — and those of many of our colleagues — have shrunk.

So, although we teach at universities in different areas of the country, we have something in common: We are both working hard on recruitment for our respective PETE programs so we can rebuild our student numbers and ultimately increase HPE teacher recruitment.

This, of course, is not in the job description for a pedagogy professor. Recently, we were scrolling through job advertisements in higher education and not one of them listed “recruitment of students” as a requirement for the job.

However, if we want our programs to thrive, this is exactly the focus we need to take.

In order to combat this decline in numbers we recently started a small group of higher education faculty who are meeting and working together to:

  • Develop strategies to successfully recruit teacher candidates;
  • Pool our resources;
  • Reach out to national organizations such as SHAPE America and NAKHE to spread the word about teaching as a viable profession; and
  • Collaborate with our local state organizations, school districts, and administrators.

If this sounds like a lot, it is. This is an “all hands on deck” crisis for the health and physical education profession — and it should be addressed that way! 

Challenges to HPE Teacher Recruitment

There are certainly hurdles to overcome when it comes to HPE teacher recruitment. One major issue is a lack of marketing training and support for PETE/HETE faculty.

Most of us have no training in recruitment, yet we find ourselves responsible for 100% of the recruitment efforts for our programs. Not only are we not prepared for this aspect of the job but many of us don’t receive support or guidance on how to successfully navigate this task.

Another major issue are the generational differences between university faculty and the typical 18-year-old first-year student or even 21-year-old transfer student.

Many PETE programs rely on flyers, brochures, and their website to advertise their program, yet college students spend much of their time watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts and music — often while simultaneously checking out their social media accounts.

There’s no doubt about it: Most PETE program recruitment methods are old school and ineffective. 

PETE students at Grand Valley State University

Recruitment Tips for PETE/HETE Programs

In the article “If You Build It, They Will Come (or Not): Going the Distance in Teacher Candidate Recruitment,” the authors provide helpful tactics and best practices for recruitment, including:

  • Focus attention on what your program provides to prospective teachers. Do you offer multiple teaching certifications? What do your field work experiences look like? Do PETE/HETE majors get to work in local schools with real students? 
  • Address the needs of Millennials, Generation Z students and their Gen-X parents. Parents are more involved than ever in their child’s college experience. We must share with them the values, benefits and expectations of our programs early in the decision-making process. 
  • Get students and their parents to your campus. Instead of providing them with lectures or brochures create experiences that allow them to have a greater understanding of your program: Hold an open house, invite them to a class, or have them follow a current PETE/HETE student around for an afternoon.
Coach on soccer field

How K-12 Teachers and Coaches Can Help

Our call to action is simple: PETE/HETE educators need your help in the recruitment of quality health and physical education teacher candidates. Here are some easy ways to help:

  • If you’re a high school teacher or coach who has students completing college applications, simply ask them, “Have you thought about teaching?” 
  • Talk to all your students and suggest they consider public school teaching as a viable career option. Teaching as a profession has lost the public support, and many students don’t realize that the education profession can be a fulfilling career path.
  • The next time you see a student who is passionate about movement (dance, running, sports, swimming, breakdancing, jiu-jitsu, etc.) ask them if they’ve ever considered a career as a health and physical education teacher.
  • If you work with students after school, through coaching, or in summer camps, ask them about their future plans and suggest teaching as a path.
  • Share your enthusiasm and passion for a career in teaching with your students.
  • If you find someone who is interested in learning more, give them a list of your local in-state programs for physical education licensure

Altogether, these small steps will lead to more applicants considering the health and physical education profession.

There are quality programs in every state — we’ve built them. Now we need your help in getting the students here.

Together we can shape the future of HPE by finding and training quality health and physical educators! 

Additional Resources


Ingrid Johnson
Ingrid Johnson

Ingrid L. Johnson, Ph.D., is an associate professor of movement science at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI. Follow her on Twitter @IJ_PEProf or reach her through email at johnsoi@gvsu.edu.

Risto Marttinen
Risto Marttinen

Risto Marttinen, Ed.D., is an assistant professor of pedagogy at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. His research focuses on after-school PA programs in urban intensive communities, integration of technology and academic subjects into PE, and research on teaching in PE. Follow him on Twitter @RistoMarttinen or reach him through email at rmarttin@gmu.edu.