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Tips for substitute teaching in PE classes

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Subbing for a PE class comes with its own set of unique challenges. Tasked with wrangling and holding the attention of students who have been behind a desk since arriving at school, you may have to get creative to hold their attention.

But don’t worry! There are some very simple guidelines that will help you succeed as a PE substitute teacher by crafting a safe and fun environment for students of all ages.

According to SHAPE America, there are three grade-level groupings for Physical Education: K-5, 6-8, 9-12. Each grouping brings its own unique characteristics, challenges, and goals. We’re going to discuss safety, activities, and dos and don’ts, broken down into Warm Up (“Prep”), Game Time (“Class”), and Cool Down (“Follow Up”).

Even if athletics are not your thing, we’re here to guide you on how to have a successful day. Today’s modern gym class is more about helping students stay active and interactive. There may be a quiz now and then about the specifics of a sport, but no deeper knowledge or experience is needed. So, stay comfortable — wear sneakers/clothing appropriate for movement (and bring sunscreen if you’ll be outside) — and be confident in your ability to lead a gym class for any age group.

RELATED: Subbing in Math Class | Subbing in English Class | Subbing in Foreign Language Class

The first rules of subbing in PE

First and foremost, and this goes for all age groups, know your school’s safety protocol — i.e. nurse’s station, concussion protocol, CPR/AED, etc. If this information is not given to you by the absent teacher, then make certain to ask a school official prior to your first class. Remember, the students’ safety is your primary concern.

Additionally, if it’s not specified, seek information on how students (especially the young ones) are supposed to “play.” For example, some schools have strict guidelines around running.

For all PE classes, make sure to provide clear and concise directions for the activity. It’s even better if you can model how the activity should work as well as any time constraints. For example, you might say, “We are only playing this game for 15 minutes, so freeze and look at me when the timer goes off.”

Second, and this is a modern issue, know your school’s phone policy. Some schools allow students to access their phones freely throughout the day, while other schools have stricter rules regarding usage. It’s best if you know so that you can nip any potential issues in the bud.

Subbing in elementary school PE classes

Warm up

  • Young children crave structure, but they also thrive when they feel included, so consider giving the class a choice of games to play.

Game time

  • Two tried-and-true favorites are crab soccer and good ol’ fashioned kickball. They’re easy to set up, and they keep the kids engaged and moving.
  • Getting children of this age on the same page can take a while, so you’ll probably only have time for one game.

Cool down

  • Have stickers handy for each of the kids. Tell them they earned it for doing so well.
  • Leave a note for the teacher with updates on student behavior, participation, and any other important/relevant feedback.

Subbing in middle school PE classes

Warm up

  • Surprisingly, this age group will probably be your rowdiest bunch, so be ready. Have your class plan at-hand and get everyone settled and playing quickly.

Game time

  • Sharks & Minnows and capture the flag are two extremely enjoyable games for this age group, and you’ll probably be able to get through both in a single class.

Cool down

  • In a show of good sportsmanship, have all students line up and high-five each other or shake hands.
  • Leave a note for the teacher with updates on student behavior, participation, and any other important/relevant feedback.

Subbing in high school PE classes

Warm up

  • This time should be spent explaining expectations for the day.

Game time

  • You can’t go wrong with indoor boccer (yes, boccer!) and kickball (a favorite for all ages).

Cool down

  • Leave a note for the teacher with updates on student behavior, participation, and any other important/relevant feedback.
  • Let the teacher know if anyone stepped up as a leader to help you with the class. The teacher can choose to thank that student for their maturity.

These simple guidelines should help you succeed as a PE substitute teacher for any age group, regardless of your experience level. And remember, above all else, your job is to keep everyone safe and give them the opportunity to have fun.

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