5 Essential Teacher Traits Recruiters Are Looking For

Written by: Elizabeth Heubeck
Published on: May 27, 2020

 5 Essential Teacher Traitscredit: iStock/Getty

The COVID-19 pandemic has required teachers to rethink the way they do their jobs—in a matter of weeks. Many recruiters and hiring managers suspect that, even when brick-and-mortar schools do re-open, a “new normal” will emerge.

Teaching candidates, what does this mean for you?

While recruiters will look for the same tried-and-true skills they always have, some teacher traits are fast gaining traction as more critical as it becomes clear that the need to teach and connect with students could continue, at least in part, in a remote environment.

Education Week picked the brains of some seasoned pros to find out just what they are. Based on their responses, be prepared to wax eloquently—or at least earnestly—about the following characteristics and how you would apply them in your next teaching position.
Growth Mindset 
When asked what she wants to see in new hires, recruiter Larisa Shambaugh didn’t hesitate. “They have to have that growth mindset. It’s always been important, but now more than ever,” said Shambaugh, chief talent officer at the School District of Philadelphia. As the pandemic has challenged all teachers to recalibrate how they do their jobs, a growth mindset—the belief in one’s own ability to make improvements through dedication and hard work—is essential to continue thriving as a teacher in any given environment.   

Most teaching candidates, if asked, would claim to be student-centered. But the pandemic has exposed challenges inherent to exhibiting this essential trait. “It [the pandemic] has really required all of us to recognize that the most important aspect in learning is the learner. The content, the curriculum—these are things we use to develop that learner,” said Patricia Deklotz, superintendent of the Kettle Moraine School District in southeastern Wisconsin. 

With the possibility of returning to online learning in the fall or beyond, prepare to explain what teaching in a student-centric manner means to you—whether students are sitting in front of you or in their homes. Deklotz poses some relevant questions you may be expected to answer: “How do you develop relationships with students through a virtual environment? How do you check for understanding?”

Comfort With Technology
Many recruiters acknowledge that, pre-pandemic, a teacher candidate’s willingness or ability to tackle new technology might not have been a deal-breaker. That’s no longer the case. “There’s no room for waiting,” said John A. Mirra, chief human resources officer of Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Teachers must be willing to acclimate to new technology, he stresses, suggesting that recruiters ask candidates to submit a sample lesson they’ve prepared in a virtual environment as part of the application process. 

The ability to conduct a class in a virtual environment is one test of a candidate’s technology skills. A related skill, but tougher to assess, is how to reach students when you’re not in the same room. Kettle Moraine’s Deklotz drives home this challenge with the query: “How do you engage the disengaged student?” 

The pandemic has exposed gaping inequities among students, oftentimes within the same school districts. In many such cases, teachers have had to act as first responders, identifying and attempting to resolve the challenges created by these inequities. That said, expect to prepare a response to this question, advises Virginia Beach’s Mirra: “What are you doing to accommodate a child who doesn’t have the technology access level that is needed?” 

Student inequities may stretch well beyond technology access. Issues like food insecurity, parents’ loss of employment, and exposure to violence may be exacerbated during this stressful period, notes School District of Philadelphia’s Shambaugh. 
“We’ve always looked for employees with a recognition of and a desire to work with a population that may have greater needs than in other districts. That is true more than ever now. Our students need someone who understands the struggles they may be facing,” she said.  

Imagine taking a teaching job and not knowing whether or not you’ll meet your students in person at the start of the school year. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this a very real possibility—with an equally real impact on next year’s hires. “Because we know we can’t say exactly what that will look like, we need people comfortable living in that gray period,” explained Shambaugh.

It’s not enough to say that you’re flexible. You have to be able to answer questions that demonstrate your adaptability like this one, suggested by University of Louisville education professor Ann Larson: Do you possess the knowledge and skills to design and plan instruction for multiple environments: face-to-face, virtual, hybrid? “You should be able to articulate your response to that in a clear and convincing manner,” urged Larson, board of directors chairperson to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. 

Ideally, candidates will be able to demonstrate flexibility, both past and future. “I would want to know how they have adapted since March,” Mirra said. “And I would want to hear how they’re anticipating the unknown.”