To Succeed as a Teacher, You Need These 4 Essential Career Skills

To succeed, you need to complement your teaching skills with a group of workplace skills that help people thrive in every kind of career.

This point became clear recently when I met with the CEO of a midsized tech firm who hires teachers for part-time teaching positions. While he was generally pleased with the quality of job applicants, he noted four areas that require special emphasis:

Work ethic

There is no replacement for pouring yourself into your work. A willingness and ability to put in long hours, keep learning and pay attention to the work of others are invaluable skills in today’s workplace.

The growth of our connected culture, and the easy access to any topic (yes, any topic … amazing), gives you the ability to learn deeply about anything — there is no excuse to claim ignorance anymore. Being able to connecting this access to a strong work ethic is an invaluable skillset when you begin teaching. The near-obsessive pursuit of learning will serve you well as you go through the growing pains of being a new teacher.

There is also a pragmatic benefit to hard work. Your supervisor will recognize you are new to the profession and understand the lack of classroom instructional skill and lesson planning (as that only comes with experience), but your effort isn’t contingent upon anything but your desire. A strong work ethic has saved many a first-year teacher.

Attention to detail

Attention to the finer points of your work — submitting clear and concise lesson plans, communicating well with parents and creating worthwhile assessments — are crucial when you begin. Tending to the little things, and making sure they are the best they can be, helps to “plow the road” of your work.

Be warned this is one of those skills you can’t fake: Sloppy work is a clear indicator that something is wrong in your professional practice.

You also have to be completely attentive to your work. Leave the phone off and in your bag, and avoid the temptation of tending to personal matters during school time. Save that for your lunch or prep period. Be wholly present in your classroom, both physically and mentally.

Communication skills

Conveying what you mean, either verbally or in writing, is a skill my CEO friend found lacking in many teacher applicants. This isn’t just the simple conventions of daily conversations and interaction, but also the ability to convey complex thoughts in writing and to reduce long or complicated ideas to their simplest essence.

This is honed only through repeated practice, by asking for feedback from your mentors and reading clear and concise writing.

When it comes to verbal communication, practice repeating back what you just learned from the other person, ask probing questions and confirm your understanding before proceeding. I’ve seen far too many simple issues spiral out of control because of miscommunication.

Resilience

You’re going to make mistakes. That’s the nature of being new at something. Your success will be based far more on your ability to rebound from these errors and avoid repeating them. This is more important than avoiding mistakes altogether.

After all, a desire to avoid mistakes will limit your actions and hurt your overall performance. It’s not about avoiding failure, but about failing and then rising from that error to be a better teacher.

Making a simple decision to work hard, pay attention, connect well and recover from mistakes will prove incredibly helpful to your work. Aside from satisfying the expectations of your school, you’ll be poised to grow quickly in the teaching profession.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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