Search form

What Qualities Do Principals Look for in a New Teacher?

What will school principals be looking for in the new teachers they hire? That's what Education World asked a group of school principals. The principals' responses might help others—principals and candidates for teaching jobs—as they focus their thoughts on the interviews ahead.

Passion. Enthusiasm. Sensitivity. Heart. Humor.

Those are some of the qualities that principals say they're looking for when interviewing candidates for open teaching positions.

In the weeks ahead, principals will be interviewing hordes of candidates as they seek to fill staff openings. That's why Education World posed these questions to a group of principals:

What are you looking for when you interview a candidate for a teaching position? What is the one essential characteristic you desire most?

I Want It All!

"It's impossible to select one characteristic that sets a teacher candidate apart from others," said Gary Cardwell, principal at Crockett Elementary School (Wichita Falls, Texas). "I would never use a single characteristic to employ a teacher, rather I consider many characteristics as parts of a mosaic that make up an entire picture."

Many principals echoed Cardwell's sentiments—but we persisted, so principals offered their thoughts....

Passion Is the Key

If there's one word that was repeated over and over by principals, it was the word passion.

Passion for knowledge. Passion for teaching. Passion for kids.

"I look for an individual with a passion to receive and impart knowledge, someone who can relay the information they receive to students with diverse abilities," says Sylvia Hooker, newly appointed principal at Fairmount Alternative School in Newnan, Georgia.

"This one quality also includes heart," Hooker adds. "There is a scriptural passage that states 'As a man thinketh in his heart so is he' and also 'Where one's heart lies so shall their treasures be.' I look for one whose heart is open and receptive to teaching children—a person who knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that teaching is the greatest of all professions."

Passion is one of those qualities that can come across clearly in an interview situation, says Bonita Henderson, assistant principal at Pleasant Ridge School, a K-8 school in Cincinnati.

"Passion can be seen in body language, the eyes, gestures, chosen words of speech, and speech inflection," Henderson says. "I look for those things when words are mentioned regarding children, teaching, and learning."

"I feel very passionate about my job and children," Henderson adds, "so I think I know what it feels and looks like."

"I want a teacher with passion and a desire to charge into the 21st Century," says Thomas Beckett, principal at Westminster Primary School in Perth, Western Australia. "I would employ teachers who are keen to change their students lives through education."

"In my school we have a saying that 'learning from a teacher who has stopped learning is like drinking from a stagnant pond,'" adds Beckett. "I want staff that do not avoid change but see it as a challenge. [I want staff who see] technology as a tool that needs to be mastered."

Enthusiasm for teaching is one of the keys, agrees Wendy Clary, principal at the K-5 Mossville (Illinois) Elementary School. "I feel the students need this type of excitement in their classrooms," she says, "and they deserve to be taught by someone who will create a positive, exciting atmosphere for learning."

"A candidate who shows enthusiasm for teaching during the interview shows that he or she will be enthusiastic in their teaching," adds Clary. "This is a difficult skill to acquire. It may be an innate trait."

"I Want ... a 'Kid Magnet'"

"The one quality I try to find is a teacher who will be a 'Kid magnet,'" says Steven Podd, principal at Islip (N.Y.) Middle School. "Once a student really connects emotionally to the teacher, then the rest will follow!"

So what qualities do "kid magnets" possess? How can a principal determine whether a candidate has those magnetic qualities that will attract kids?

"Many things might lead me to believe that the candidate is a 'kid magnet,'" says Podd. "Some are based on instinct—a feeling that I get from a young, enthusiastic person who has that je ne sais quoi, that intangible spark that would attract kids. I also look for people who are involved with kids outside of the school setting, especially music groups, theater, and sports. If I ask the right kinds of questions to let the personality of the candidate emerge, I can usually find this quality if it's there."

"Our committee just finished interviewing 26 candidates, and we found three or four with those qualities," Podd adds. "All agreed that the candidates have that special something to become superstars—and we will settle for nothing less!"

Gail Graham, principal at the Whitney Institute Middle School in Bermuda, agrees that a candidate's enthusiasm and their involvement and interest in outside activities can be strong indicators of their success as a teacher. Outside interests are especially important in Graham's school, where the activities/advisory program is a key element of the school's success.

"At the interview stage, the candidate should be interested in the activities program at the school and should respond positively with suggestions of where they would like to be involved," says Graham. "A candidate who says, 'I enjoy skiing, rugby, needlework, singing, whatever...' and then asks how he or she can engage with students in the pursuit of the activity will always rate highly."

"I am also always impressed by a record of volunteer work, especially that which involves young people," adds Graham. "And I also I also try to elicit a willingness to put in extra time before or after the regular school day."

Passion ... and Compassion too

"What I've discovered to be the single most important characteristic [in a teacher] would be their compassion for children, as that is the essence of the profession," said Paul McCarty, vice principal at Martins' Achievement School in Sacramento.

"The rest can be learned with time," adds McCarty.

"Compassion" is up there near the top of Gary Cardwell's list too.

"It's obvious that one must have many traits to be a good teacher, but the ability to place oneself in another's place is critical to achieving positive results," says Cardwell. "If a teacher has no understanding of another's feelings, the teacher will most likely be ineffective."

"When empathy and compassion are present along with intelligence, training, knowledge of subject, creativity..." Cardwell adds, "the learning environment is enhanced."

And how can a principal determine whether a candidate has the necessary compassion and empathy?

"I ask leading questions to determine if a teacher has empathy," says Cardwell. "I ask How would you handle a situation where one child is always chosen last? or What would you do for a child who always sits alone at lunch?...."

Strong Interpersonal Skills ... and a Sense of Humor

"Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) says that any job is twenty percent knowledge and eighty percent interpersonal skills," says Mary Ellen Imbo, principal at Westwood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. "I am interested in discerning what interpersonal skills a candidate possesses that will 'connect' with the student. This connection—this caring attitude—motivates learners to learn."

"I ask one particular question which seems to separate the wheat from the chaff," Imbo adds. "I ask, 'What do you do to make students successful?'"

"I am interested in a teaching candidate that addresses the whole child," says Imbo. "If the candidate answers the question with a strictly curricular answer, I disqualify him/her."

Paul D'Astoli agrees. D'Astoli—principal at Thomas Carr College (for secondary years 7-8, equivalent to a U.S. middle school) in Tarneit, Victoria, Australia—says: "What I look for when employing staff is the ability to inspire students with the importance of the learning."

"I also look for enthusiasm and for a person who will work as part of a team," adds D'Astoli.

Gary Cardwell agrees. Flexibility is a very important skill, another of those skills that helps to enhance the learning environment, he says.

And a good sense of humor can't hurt!

"Experience in the related field and humor are essential," says John J. Stone, principal at the K-5 Rindge (New Hampshire) Memorial School. "I really feel that an educator needs to have a keen sense of humor in order to keep students and colleagues learning and motivated. Someone who can't take a joke or give one, someone who can't lighten up, someone who is too serious will not survive."

"Teaching can be stressful enough without having someone who can't break the ice at the right time with parents, kids, or other teachers," adds Stone.

Related Articles


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2017 Education World


Last Updated 04/06/2017