Move Your Career Forward With a Physical Education Master’s Degree

August 31, 2023

Jack Kern
Jack Kern

Teachers who earn a physical education master's degree open doors to more career opportunities, higher job satisfaction and a bigger paycheck. In addition to teaching physical education, they may be eligible for promotions to administrative positions such as athletic director.

The University of Arkansas' Master of Education in physical education delivered online ranks high in three major categories. It has received praise for its flexibility, affordability and academic reputation.

Jack Kern, professor of physical education, has been teaching at the U of A since 1996. There are about five faculty who teach in the nationally recognized online physical education master's program, he notes. Kern oversees student capstone projects, which often include research into grant writing, a major area of focus for P.E. teachers in today's public school systems, Kern says.

"Most of our grads majoring in physical education work in public schools, and they need to know how to obtain funding for after-school sports, equipment and other projects not necessarily funded by the school or their (department) budget."

When U of A started the physical education master's program in 2009, it was more research-heavy, Kern says.

"It was not a good fit for our students as very few of them go on to get a Ph.D. We still offer a research class — "Conducting Research in Physical Education" — but it's more focused on gaining an understanding of in-the-field topics and reading.

The grant-writing class — "Project Implementation and Data Analysis" — and the capstone projects students undertake give them a firm grasp of the grant-writing process. They learn how to identify funding sources, develop a proposal and then how to submit it.


What Is Physical Education?

Physical education, also known as P.E., is a subject that is usually taught in primary and secondary schools. P.E. promotes health and physical fitness by encouraging psychomotor learning through play and movement.

To help P.E. teachers keep pace with physical education trends, the U of A's physical education master's degree offers courses such as "Professional Issues in Physical Education and Sport" and "The Physical Education Curriculum."

Kern says one change is that outdoor education is becoming more popular in public schools. Such classes, he says, are nontraditional, combining P.E. with science courses, for example. He adds that today's students might take P.E. classes in mountain biking, fishing, orienteering, archery and backpacking.

"Forty years ago, physical education teachers were focused on basketball, football and a little bit of fitness training," he says. "Offering alternative activities levels the playing field because some students do not thrive in the environment of traditional sports. Spectator sports were the norm 40 years ago, but it's not the best fit now."

Why is physical education important? Students pursuing a physical education master's degree know the answer. Through P.E., students not only increase their physical activity but also gain a wide range of life skills.

By majoring in physical education, undergraduates who become teachers are conscious of building physical fitness alongside the traditional values of cooperation and teamwork. Today's P.E. teachers also help students and community members gain an appreciation for the value of exercise as a means of taking good care of the body's physical and mental health. Yes, that happens in school-based programs, but those students seeking advanced physical education degrees also work in other settings, such as YMCAs, YWCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, fitness centers and corporate fitness programs, Kern points out.

To keep up with all students' needs, the U of A asks graduates to participate in a survey about the courses they took and what was most effective for their careers.

"We've updated our offerings over the past few years to address changing trends," he says. "Two classes — "Sport Psychology" and "Professional Issues in Physical Education and Sport" — address mental health and mental wellness, again things we never discussed 20 years ago and have certainly incorporated into our classes now. Physical education teachers now are interacting with a diversity of student needs and interests. If you don't keep up with the trends, you're playing from behind."


View short video

Graduates Kalie McKinley and Jake Bracken discuss their experiences in the physical education master’s degree program.


Students Thrive in U of A  Physical Education Master's Degree

When the U of A first offered the online physical education master's program in 2009, students did their assignments and were graded, Kern says.

"I didn't really get to know the students, but now with the Blackboard program, our classes are very interactive," he says, noting that students submit video assignments and the discussion board format is very active. A big plus for working graduate students is that online programs offer classes more frequently, giving students more flexibility while pursuing their education master's degree, he adds.

"They can log in when they want to, and they interact with students and faculty," he says. "It feels more like being in a class."

Kern does a great deal of online and face-to-face recruiting for U of A's physical education degrees.

"I enjoy getting out there and am not the only one of our professors who does so," he says. "We do a really good job of getting the word out about our program. I do recruiting at state education conventions each fall, which allows me to connect with prospective and current students. I visit them at their schools and promote the U of A online physical education master's program to their colleagues in different parts of the country."

One thing that distinguishes the U of A online program from other physical education degrees a prospective physical education teacher might consider is the personal attention Kern and other faculty members provide.

"I interact with them personally, and that's of great benefit to them," Kern says. "I can speak to them about any part of our program from the perspective of someone who is actually in it. Students appreciate this from the very beginning. They talk with me or other faculty members directly and feel really connected to the program. We answer the phone."

Another big reason P.E. teachers are attracted to the U of A program: "We're the Razorbacks," Kern says. "Our mascot is unique, and many of our students are looking forward to being a Razorback."


Learn More About the Physical Education Master's Degree

Visit the U of A ONLINE website for more information about the Master of Education in physical education program and how it can help move your career forward.

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Master of Education in Physical Education

The M.Ed. in Physical Education program allows practicing physical education professionals an opportunity to receive advanced training in their field, along with a Master’s degree. Advanced degrees are factors that determine pay grades in many schools.

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