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Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher

Greetings! I’d like to welcome all of you who are currently applying for jobs in education and wish you the best of luck. My name is Steve and I am the host here at Teach42.

A few years ago, I wrote a post last year about how surprised I was that so many people arrived at my blog by doing a search for the question “Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.” I didn’t really think about it at the time, but that post had all the right keywords, and now when you do a Google search for that phrase, Teach42 is both number three and number four! So I thought I’d put up a new post this year, both to try to lock in the number one slot and to also offer some advice to all of you that are doing these searches.

First of all, I do understand why you’re doing the search. You are passionate, you have the skills, you KNOW you’ll make a great teacher. But how do you get your foot in the door when all you have are those silly short answer questions? And also, while you may make an amazing teacher, maybe you aren’t the most eloquent writer. Surely somebody has come up with a great answer to that fairly generic question already, and you can just ‘borrow’ from their answer, right?

I have two thoughts on this. The first is that you aren’t alone. I’m getting hundreds of hits per month on this site alone from people who are arriving here by searching those terms. They’re all finding the same responses that you are and I’d imagine many of them are basing their answers on them. Now, just imagine that you’re the one who is reviewing applications from people and reading hundreds of responses to this question. They’re going to recognize those responses from people who grabbed their answers from Google and Yahoo. So by ‘borrowing’ from there, you’re doing yourself more harm than good. Instead of getting a solid, thoughtful, insightful answer, you’re getting the same answers that thousands of other people are putting on their application. That won’t help you land that job!

The second thought is that maybe you really will find something that genuinely vibes with you. The perfect answer that describes just how you feel about outstanding teachers. Exactly what you need to base your answer on. Do you plan to cite it? If not, why not? Isn’t that what an outstanding teacher would do? I strongly suggest that if you do find something on the internet that you plan to use, do the smart thing and give that person credit. Go ahead, use a direct quote. Nobody ever said that you can’t include footnotes in those essay questions. Don’t start your career with a minor in plagiarism. If you’re going to do any ‘borrowing’, do a 180 and turn it into actual research instead. Give credit where credit is due.

That’s it for this year. I hope that you find the perfect job for you to start (or continue) your educational career and spend many many years doing the most rewarding job in the world. Not monetarily of course, but those vacations sure are nice (boy do I miss those).

Good luck!

Updated with Wordle of this post. Thanks Cathy!

  • That post deserves a WORDLE!!

    Cathy Nelson’s most recent blog post.. Being Smart – 21st Century Style

    Cathy Nelson


  • good posts - no time to comment…

    here are three posts that I have been saving in my bloglines account intending to comment on or write about here, however I find that I don't have the time and instead am just going to share. Go read them.

    Web 2.0 in 64 seconds

    Is reading to st…

  • “First of all, I do understand why you’re doing the search. You are passionate, you have the skills, you KNOW you’ll make a great teacher. ”

    The problem as I see it is that none of that matters. After talking to several school administrators privately, it seems to me that they are looking not so much for “good teachers” as they are for individuals who have certain psychological profiles.

    Socrates, Jesus, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and all the great teachers of the past would not fit the current paradigm demanded of teachers today; in fact, they would be specifically screened out. The only proper teacher would be the likes of John Dewy, Sigmund Freud, and Vegotsky.

    In otherwords — non-constructivists need not apply.

    If you look closer at the kinds of questions that are being asked on these applications, you may begin to notice that they have less to do with pedagogy and more to do with the applicants psychological make-up.

    The reality is that these questions are constructed to favor the kind of psychopaths — I mean that in a specific clinical sense — who “manage” their students in specific kinds of ways rather than “educate” them.

    I believe that most applicants look for answers to these questions after encountering web-based applications in attempting to “fool the program” and hopefully “sell themselves” once they get a face-to-face interview.

    Unfortuantely, computer programs and assessment tools are like a psychopath bereft of feeling or emotion that stand as gatekeepers.

    The reason for the search of these questions is the suspicion that no matter how honest, correct, “good,” and realistic a human might answer a question — the psychopathic computerized gatekeeper will screen them out if the “correct” psychological profile is not detected.

    My two-cents.



  • I am doing this search because I’m applying for cook/server position with the local public school district and for some reason I’m not able to skip over this question even though it pertains to a teaching or coaching position. I was extremely suprised to see many people, probably teacher applicants, have done this as well. I am now going answer the question to the best of my knowledge.

    thanks ?? i guess



  • My guess is that people see a blank box with no parameters on what exactly they are suppose to write and they panic and want to see an example. I know I did.

    As a result there are many opportunities I passed up just simple because I thought they wanted a full statement. Already working full time at that point, I just didn’t have time to write one five paragraph essay for each of three questions. And districts seem to be adding more all the time making the whole process seem far more daunting then it real is.

    They don’t even tell you it is short answer. Therefore, I thank you for clarifying what they have not. It has just taken a huge weight off my shoulders.



  • Every year, around this time, this blog post gets an increase in hits Teacher application season

    Steve Dembo


  • RT @teach42: Every year, around this time, this blog post gets an increase in hits Teacher application season

    Scott Meech


  • Thanks for the great advice.. To be honest I started to question if researching this question was a good idea the moment i saw it pop up before i even finished typing the word “attributes”.. I like the idea of citing.. didn’t know I could do that.. thanks again,,