Health Teacher Certification

Everyone wants to be happy and healthy. Lifestyle choices made in childhood can have a tremendous impact on a person’s health and wellness throughout their lifetime. Having a basic understanding of health and human wellness can lead children and adolescents toward smarter, healthier choices growing up.

Certified health education teachers work in elementary, middle, and high schools to teach children the basics of human health and wellness. Teachers provide relevant, important knowledge and help influence students’ behaviors and choices throughout their school-aged years to help them achieve lifelong happiness and good health.

A certified health education professional is able to take complex scientific and social concepts and transform them into easy-to-understand lessons for students of all ages. They lead primary- and secondary-level students through age-appropriate activities on topics such as healthy dietary habits and eating disorders, diseases and prevention, human sexuality, substance abuse, and stress prevention.

What is certification?

Advanced certification is available for teachers wishing to specialize in health education and establishes a national standard of practice for health education instruction. Certification shows that teachers have demonstrated command of a broad spectrum of subject matter and subscribe to the viewpoint that health education is an ongoing, comprehensive, and sequential endeavor.

The process of attaining certification as a health teacher differs by each state. At a minimum, candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree in health science and education from a program accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and a teaching certificate approved by the state's Department of Education teach the K-12 grade levels. Some states may also require a master’s degree in health teacher education or advanced certifications.

The certification process culminates in a competency-based, multiple-choice exam that highlights a teacher’s ability to possess, interpret, and apply information in key areas of study. A passing grade indicates that a health education instructor is proficient in creating and implementing sound, comprehensive instructional activities and teaching practices that promote the development of health-literate students.

You can learn about your state’s certification process by clicking here.

Change at an early age

According to surveys conducted by Gallup on behalf of the American Cancer Society, nearly nine out of ten adolescents and more than 80% of parents feel health information and skills are as important as traditional subjects taught in schools.

Studies show that students who have health knowledge and skills enjoy better health statuses as adults and are better prepared to succeed in their careers because they work more effectively and miss fewer days of work due to illness or injury.

Given their daily interaction with children and adolescents, certified health teachers are in an ideal situation for educating students on myths and facts about various aspects of health. Through a creative mix of lectures, hands-on activities, guest speakers, and other teaching techniques, teachers can arm students with the tools they need to make better choices for their health.

Making health personal

Students want and need a teacher who can personally relate to classroom content and displays equal parts expertise and a passion for health. Certified health educators have extensive knowledge of personal health matters and able to immerse students in an enriching learning environment that develops critical-thinking, interpersonal, and social skills that will guide them toward healthy behaviors.

Before becoming certified, teachers must demonstrate a working knowledge of nutrition and a cursory understanding of nutrients, the effects of caloric intake and food quality on metabolic rates, recommended daily allowances (RDAs), common eating plans, and food labels.

Effective teachers use creative approaches to bring wellness concepts to life by directly involving students in lessons for the greatest impact. For example, a teacher may take students through a food or exercise journaling activity in which students record their daily exercise and calorie intake and make notes about how it makes them feel.

Other activities may include presentations in which students bring food items into the classroom from home and explain for the class why the product is a healthy choice based on the nutritional information provided on the food label.

During certification, prospective teachers will also be tested on eating disorders, food-related illness risks, and the benefits of supplementation. In the classroom, a teacher may invite a friend or colleague to speak to the class about their struggles with anorexia or bulimia and give students the opportunity to ask questions about the experience of dealing eating disorders.

Discussing personal experiences and providing students the opportunity to see real-life examples of health topics outside the classroom can have a tremendous impact on their ability to grasp, process, and understand concepts.

Illness and substance abuse

To pass certification standards, teachers must understand the scope and impact of substance abuse on health. With underage alcohol and drug use a consistent hot topic in schools, health teachers are challenged to explore alternatives to lectures for describing and demonstrating the harmful effects of alcohol and drug abuse. One of the most powerful tools available to teachers is an experiential lesson that allows students to see first hand what a future of drug and alcohol abuse can look like.

Imaginative teachers may organize a field trip to a rehabilitation and treatment clinic where students can interact with patients and learn more about how peer pressure and stress led to substance dependence and solicit advice on how to avoid taking a similar path. After returning to the classroom, teachers can engage with students in a discussion about their experience and what they learned to continue the lesson and solidify to importance of the content.

Teachers pursuing certification must also exhibit an extensive understanding of communicable and non-communicable diseases and how they’re transmitted. Knowledgeable teachers will recognize the best sources of information on these illnesses and help their students become skilled at sourcing and understanding essential data.

For example, students may be tasked with creating an illness awareness campaign featuring marketing materials, informational pamphlets, and a fund-raising program. Interactive projects teach students how to conduct research to find important information, improve interpersonal communications skills by working in teams, and enhance confidence and self-esteem by enabling students to make valuable contributions to their class and community under the leadership of their teacher.

Ahead of the curve

Certified teachers need to stay abreast of the latest, most relevant information on health and human wellness. In addition to attending continuing education workshops and classes, teachers should expect to consistently read industry trade magazines and periodically review legislative documents from their local governments.

Teachers can also be more proactive in learning about new discoveries or health breakthroughs by involving their students in the research. Using technology in the classroom such as Internet-enabled computers allows students to become an integral part of a teacher’s efforts to stay informed.

Leveraging available classroom technologies, teacher’s can create a blog that discusses current health issues and allow students to contribute findings from their own research to produce content. Students benefit from a structured, controlled research environment that enhances their learning experience, while teachers get help in scouring different information sources to stay current on health trends and news.

The Costs of Poor Education

Healthcare costs in the United States continue to rise. The average cost of healthcare for an American family has more than doubled in the last decade. While some view political policy as the way to stem the tide, most others agree that changes in attitudes and behaviors will have a longer-lasting, more sustainable impact.

Forming healthy habits and learning how to make healthier choices begins in childhood and continues on through adulthood. The need for qualified health education teachers in public and private schools continues to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2010 and 2020, certified health educator jobs will grow by as much as 37%, with many of those jobs being filled by elementary, middle, and high school health teachers. The job outlook greatly outpaces similar occupations, including middle school and high school teaching positions in other disciplines.

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop programs and materials to encourage students to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families that can impact society as a whole.

Academic health education programs can help reduce youth health risk behaviors such as poor nutrition and lack of physical activities that contribute to childhood obesity and, ostensibly, to increased healthcare costs across the board. Since behaviors are open to change—especially at an early age—certified health education teachers at the elementary and middle school levels provide the best opportunity to promote healthier lifestyles among children and adolescents.

Studies show that promoting and establishing healthy behaviors for younger people is more effective, and often easier, than efforts to change unhealthy behaviors in adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Youth initiative and the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, schools play a pivotal role in establishing healthy behavior habits early in life.

Improving students’ health and safety knowledge through qualified health education has been shown to benefit academic performance, reduce absenteeism, and improve overall health school wide.

For example, a study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System found that after implementing a robust health education curriculum in middle schools, students displayed positive healthy behaviors that made an impact on improving lipid profiles, cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides. The results prove that children can learn, understand, and implement healthy behaviors for cardiovascular risk reduction.

Health education is a critical component of effective school health interventions and of a quality learning experience. Programs facilitated by certified health teachers incorporate social skills training, parental involvement, in-depth study of subject matter, and school-wide environmental support activities to provide students with a well-rounded health education that benefits them immediately and in the future.

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