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Character(istics) Count!
What Principals Look for
When Hiring New Teachers


The Teaching for Excellence Web site discusses what school principals look for in the new teachers they hire. Which of 15 "can-do" characteristics they list is most important? Education World asks the Principal Files principals. Included: The Education World "P-Files" team ranks the top qualities of new teachers.

In "Admirable Teaching Traits," Robert E. Glenn identifies 15 characteristics that principals look for in the new teachers they hire.

  • Flexibility
  • Organization
  • Ability to build success into the class
  • Ability to communicate clearly
  • Ability to create a pleasant atmosphere
  • Ability to differentiate instruction
  • Ability to establish successful classroom management
  • Enthusiasm
  • High expectations
  • Content knowledge
  • Good people skills (with students, staff, parents)
  • Ability to pace instruction.
  • Ability to ask effective questions.
  • Good attitude
  • Ability to teach actively

Ten Tenets for New Teachers

Some of the Ed World Principal Files principals share the ten most-important qualities they look for in new teachers. Principals want teachers who
* establish successful classroom management.
* hold high expectations of students.
* know their content.
* maintain good people skills with students, staff, and parents.
* teach actively.
* exhibit enthusiasm.
* can be flexible.
* build success into their classes.
* are organized.
* create a pleasant atmosphere.

Which trait do principals feel is most important? That's what we asked the P-Files principals this month.

"That list of characteristics for a new teacher is great, but my favorite is not there," says principal Betty Luckett. "The number-one characteristic I look for in new teachers is a true love of children. If a teacher has that, all the rest will fall in place."

"A true love of children" probably would be tops on many principals' charts -- but when pushed to choose from the list, two characteristics came up most often. Those two traits were "hold high expectations" and "establish successful classroom management."

Principal Tony Pallija put "hold high expectations" at the top of his list of desired teacher traits. "I believe holding high expectations is the most important trait because it carries over to many of the others," says Pallija. "I have observed too many new teachers who lower their expectations because it is such a tough fight with the students, parents, and even some staff members."


Many other principals listed "hold high expectations" among their top five teacher traits, but fully two-thirds of the principals who responded to our survey included "establish successful classroom management" on their lists -- and nearly one-third of the principals put classroom management at the top of their lists of desirable teacher traits.

"Without the ability to establish successful classroom management, teachers are in for major trouble," says principal Patricia Green. That goes for new teachers and experienced teachers, she adds.

"If a teacher has good classroom management, that teacher is also flexible, organized, actively teaching, pacing instruction. Bottom line: good classroom management is the bottom line!" states Green.

"Classroom management is the sum of all the traits on the list," says principal Marguerite McNeely. "When a new teacher steps into a classroom, students immediately assess him or her." Good management means students know what is expected of them, adds McNeely.

Principal Marie Kostick agrees. "A teacher may be extremely knowledgeable in his or her content area, but if classroom management is not there, the subject matter cannot be appropriately taught," she says.

"Successful classroom management means that discipline is under control," principal Jim DeGenova tells Education World. "That discipline includes teacher- or school-directed discipline and self-control, which needs to be taught."

"I find teachers cannot excel in other areas [on the list] if good classroom management isn't in place," says principal Betty Peltier. Many resources are available to help teachers develop into solid classroom managers, Peltier continues. A new teacher who needs to develop that skill needs to work closely with a mentor or the school principal.


Read more about teacher quality on Education World. See Admirable Teaching Traits, a reprint of an article by Robert E. Glenn, the founder and publisher of Teaching for Excellence.
"Since 'a genuine caring attitude' is not on the list of choices, I guess 'show a good attitude' has to be my choice [as the most important trait]," principal Jim Jordan tells Education World. "If the teacher has a positive caring attitude, classroom climate is affected, diversity of learning styles is accommodated, and students experience success.

"Attitude creates altitude in students," adds Jordan. "The teacher's attitude -- his or her approach to life, to students, and to teaching -- has a great deal to do with how successful students will be."

Principal Carol Roebuck agrees. "A good attitude spills over to students, teachers, and parents," says Roebuck. "If a teacher goes into a classroom with a poor attitude, there is no way he or she will have a positive effect on students.

"When I see a teacher with a good attitude, I know he or she is open to suggestions and to change; I know [the person] will be a team player," Roebuck continues. "Many of the other characteristics will fall into place if a person has a good attitude."

"If new teachers have a good attitude -- if they have a willingness to learn and take correction -- they can go places," agrees Chris Rose. "If they have a good attitude, they will get along with parents and staff. If they have a good attitude, they will cope with management problems or be willing to seek and follow advice. If they have a good attitude, they will implement curriculum changes without whining and sniveling.

"If a teacher has a bad attitude, he or she might as well leave the profession now and save us all a lot of misery," Rose adds.

"A positive classroom climate starts with the teacher's attitude and ends with the students' attitudes toward learning," comments Jim Jordan. "Teachers have no control over which students walk into their classes, what goes on outside school, or other external factors, but teachers can control how they react to those things that happen. Throughout my 30-plus years in education, I have seen master teachers who always maintain a positive attitude toward teaching and learning -- and they always get results."


Enthusiasm is the characteristic assistant principal Bonita Henderson looks for when making a new hire. "If there is obvious passion, that passion will become contagious and extend to the children," says Henderson, adding, "An enthusiastic person is usually a positive person who wants things to go well and, consequently, does whatever it takes to achieve positive results."

All other things fall into line if teachers have a genuine enthusiasm for what they do, says principal William Sheehan. "I believe that all students have a strong desire to learn, but they must see that the material is important to them. Taking the lead from an enthusiastic teacher, students approach new content with equal fervor. Attempts to achieve are positively recognized and successes celebrated. Active interchanges and engagement become rewards in and of themselves."

"Nothing generates an effective learning and working environment better than enthusiasm," agrees administrator Lyn McCarty. "The art of teaching is a mix of showmanship, technical skills, craft, and circumstance -- but without a deeply rooted belief in the value of what we do, teaching can be just another job."

When it comes to facing daily challenges in the classroom -- from the very pragmatic ones to the slippery political ones -- enthusiasm stands teachers in good stead, McCarty continues. "If a teacher needs additional support, enthusiasm will prompt that teacher to pro-actively seek it, and that enthusiasm will naturally draw support that teacher's way."


Flexibility Is Key

"Far too often, new teachers come out of teacher preparation programs with a death-grip on what they have been trained to do. Unfortunately, the student teaching experience will never equate to being the sage on your own stage."

--Principal Laura Crochet

"Every teacher comes with excellent teaching credentials that reflect his or her knowledge of their subject area," principal Larry Davis tells Education World. So success comes down to how well organized that teacher can be. "Organization keeps students on task between the first day of school and the end of the school year."

All the requirements that need to be met, and all the standards that must be achieved, require an organized teacher who reflects weekly on which material has been covered, adds Davis. "Being organized in that way is essential to the success of the class."

Principal Terry Farley tries to hire new teachers who are prepared to allow for individuality in their instruction. "Every student is different. Students learn in different ways and at different speeds," he says. "A teacher needs to consider students' diverse backgrounds, understand that multiple strategies are needed to reach all students, and include all students no matter what their strengths and weaknesses."

When interviewing, "I look for comments that demonstrate acceptance, tolerance, sincerity, and a willingness to understand the child," adds Farley.

Principal Teri Stokes looks for teachers who are able to build student success into their classrooms. "From my perspective, and my definition of success, it would be impossible to build success into your class without every one of the other characteristics being present," Stokes tells Education World. "A successful classroom is flexible, yet organized, and pleasant to be in. Communication is great, and there are no unpleasant surprises. All children are successful because they are learning at their differentiated levels -- not every day in every subject, mind you, or the teachers would kill themselves, but enough of the time that the child is progressing in a healthy way. The teacher is prepared and enthusiastic about learning and the class and is a master at getting along because it is in the best interests of the kids!"

Principal Bill Myers tells Education World that he feels people skill is the most important trait for new teachers to possess. "The most effective teachers -- and administrators -- establish positive relationships with their students, parents, colleagues, and the school administration," says Myers. "Students work harder and want to achieve more for a teacher they like and respect. And there are fewer discipline problems in and out of the classroom too.

"Parents also have a stronger positive attitude about schools when they have a good relationship with their children's teachers," Myers continues. "Staff members who work together to develop lesson plans, teaching strategies, and creative ideas set the stage for higher student achievement; those who refuse to work collaboratively with their colleagues lose the benefits of collective wisdom.

"Our school district is considering a tax referendum for the future," Myers adds. "Our success will depend on the relationship that we all have with our former students -- who are now parents -- and the community.

"Relationships count!" concludes Myers. "Adversarial relationships benefit no one, especially children."

'Principal' Contributors to This Article


  • Laura B. Crochet, principal, Genesis Alternative High School, Houma, Louisiana
  • Larry Davis, principal, Doctors Inlet Elementary School, Middleburg, Florida
  • Jim DeGenova, principal, Reed Middle School, Hubbard, Ohio
  • Terry W. Farley, principal, Coal City Elementary School, Coal City, West Virginia
  • Dr. Patricia Green, principal, Cedar Heights Junior High School, Port Orchard, Washington
  • Bonita Henderson, assistant principal, Roselawn Condon School, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Dr. James W. Jordan, principal, Buford High School, Lancaster, South Carolina
  • Marie Kostick, principal, Goodwyn Junior High School, Montgomery, Alabama
  • Betty Luckett, principal, Oakes Elementary School, Okemah, Oklahoma
  • Lyn McCarty, coordinator of special education services, Sacramento, California
  • Marguerite McNeely, principal, Oak Hill High School, Hineston, Louisiana
  • Bill Myers, principal, Lincoln Elementary School, Sterling, Illinois
  • Tony Pallija, principal, Max Hayes Vocational High School, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Betty Peltier, principal, Southdown Elementary School, Houma, Louisiana
  • Carol Roebuck, principal, Briarcrest Christian School, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Chris Rose, Plymouth School, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia (Canada)
  • William A. Sheehan, principal, Allen Avenue School, North Attleborough, Massachusetts
  • Teri Stokes, principal, Weatherly Heights Elementary, Huntsville, Alabama

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 02/19/2002
Last updateg 10/27/2008