Teachers have the power to change their students' lives for the better. The best of them inspire their students toward greatness and show them what they are capable of.
When most people think of teachers, someone who teaches children in primary or secondary school comes to mind. However, the jobs that call for teaching skills include college professors, private tutors, camp counselors, park rangers, and CPR instructors. Learn the skills you need to impart lessons and inspire students of all ages and how you can highlight these skills in cover letters, your resume, and interviews.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Teacher?
To be a great teacher, you should be an effective communicator and a critical thinker. You should also exhibit patience, organization, and creativity. The schools to which you're applying will want to see these traits along with a genuine desire to better the lives of students in lasting and meaningful ways. Helping others succeed is a central component to teaching, and trust, knowledge, and commitment are essential traits.
To be a public school teacher, you need to earn certification according to the state in which you reside. Some private schools, however, have their own criteria to qualify. Teachers must also maintain current professional development standards by taking regular refresher courses and tests.
The best teachers are the ones who communicate frequently and effectively with their students, so teachers must have excellent communication skills. These include both verbal and written communication, professional yet friendly body language, and the ability to actively listen. You must be able to explain the material in terms that are both accessible and meaningful to the students.
You must be able to adapt your communication style to the needs of different students depending on their age, culture, ability, and learning style. Clarity, accuracy, and professionalism with parents, colleagues, and administrators is imperative. The most important communication skills for teachers include:
- Advocating for others
- Being aware of body language
- Building communities
- Building relationships
- Communicating with parents and the community
- Collaborating with students, colleagues, and administrators
- Forging and maintaining interpersonal relationships
- Knowing and adapting to an audience
- Setting boundaries
- Speaking with clarity and avoiding jargon
- Writing reports, instructions, and correspondence
Teachers are tasked with solving a variety of problems, often under a tight deadline. They answer difficult questions from students on the spot, solve conflicts between students, revise lesson plans, and deal with issues among colleagues.
Being a teacher requires the ability to synthesize the information you have available to you at any given time and make sound decisions quickly by relying on your critical thinking skills. Effective teachers think critically in the following ways:
- Adapting to the changing needs of students
- Asking the hard questions and addressing the "what ifs"
- Collecting information
- Creating and maintaining a comfortable learning environment
- Defining your classroom style
- Developing and delivering lessons appropriate for your audience
- Managing student behavior
- Observing students and colleagues and predicting their needs
- Proactively addressing issues with students and colleagues
- Setting expectations and goals
- Solving problems and creating solutions
- Supporting students appropriately
- Synthesizing data
As a teacher, you'll be called upon to juggle many tasks, from classroom teaching to attending meetings, and from lesson planning to grading. To manage all of these things effectively, you'll need to be organized both mentally and physically. Organizational skills for teachers include:
- Adhering to strict schedules and deadlines
- Attending and running meetings with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators
- Creating assignments and exams
- Keeping and maintaining records
- Managing time in and out of the classroom
- Planning and preparing lessons
- Seeing issues ahead of time and knowing where to get help
- Setting up the classroom and creating methods to keep it orderly
To keep the students engaged, enthusiasm is essential when teaching any age group. Being creative when planning and presenting lessons is integral to keeping your students’ attention. You should be flexible, keep your sense of humor, and understand that what works for one student or class won't necessarily work for others. Building creativity as a teacher also means being:
- Able to embrace ambiguity
- Confidence building
- Not afraid to fail
- Passionate about learning
- Willing to try new things
Teachers need to demonstrate patience, particularly when dealing with difficult classroom situations. They often have to explain concepts multiple times and manage students who act up or have a difficult time in class. Dealing with parents, colleagues, and administrators will also call upon a teacher's patience.
A teacher must handle all of it with a calm, professional demeanor and pay careful attention to the challenge of the moment. While some people are naturally more patient than others, the emotional control and maturity that go into patience can be learned and must be practiced. To achieve patience as a skill, teachers should:
- Be a positive role model
- Be respectful
- Be supportive
- Be a team player
- Be understanding
- Have a positive attitude
- Have compassion and empathy
Teachers must understand the material they teach. Naturally, different positions require various types and levels of skill, but even teachers of very young children need significant expertise. It is not enough for a first-grade math teacher to know how to perform basic arithmetic, for example. They must have a deep understanding of numbers and numeric relationships in order to be able to explain the material in a thorough and responsive way.
Teachers must be able to perform the core technical responsibilities involved in the role, from comfortably using Microsoft Office to create materials to troubleshooting when the smart board stops working.
Technical skills for teachers include good general computer skills and the ability to understand, use, or conduct:
- Classroom management software and systems
- Electronic presentations
- Spreadsheet creation and management
- Virtual meetings
- Electronic performance evaluations
- Microsoft Office software
- Web navigation
More Teaching Skills
While teachers spend years in college gaining the skills and knowledge they need to be effective in the classroom, there are some soft skills that they can continue to cultivate as they gain confidence and expertise. These soft skills include:
- Emotionally intelligence
- Being relatable
- Caring about the details
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
ADD YOUR MOST RELEVANT SKILLS TO YOUR RESUME: Review lists of the top skills employers of teachers look for when evaluating job applicants. Adapt the best skills to put on your resume to the teaching environment to help you get hired.
HIGHLIGHT YOUR SKILLS IN YOUR COVER LETTER: Use your cover letter to show school administrators you're a strong match for the job by describing your strongest skills and how they make you a great teacher. Use concrete examples.
USE SKILL WORDS DURING JOB INTERVIEWS: Keep the top teaching skills in mind during your interview, be prepared to give examples of how you've used each one, and practice answering common teacher interview questions.
How Do You Improve Teaching Skills?
Some teaching skills come with practice and being in a teaching environment full time, but there are some concrete ways to improve teaching skills.
- Spend time observing other teachers, especially those who seem to connect well with the students.
- Ask colleagues you admire to observe your teaching skills and offer tips for improvement along with things you're doing well.
- Ask students open-ended questions to get a good idea of how they feel about your teaching skills. Encourage dialog regarding their experiences in your classroom.