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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Teaching—How to Know, Show, and Tell That You Have What it Takes

teacher in class
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Not all teachers start out with mini chalkboards, offering spelling tutorials to their stuffed animal students, at age 5. Sure, some future educators’ fates were sealed early on by a teacher they loved to imitate, but many arrive in the classroom after starting down different paths.

Whether you’re newly inspired or have been training since kindergarten, how will you—or those hiring—know you’re right for the job?

It seems natural for service-oriented folks with great people skills to consider teaching, especially if they’re already an amazing aunt or fun uncle. But what if you’re nothing like the dynamic teacher who galloped into fourth grade on a hobby horse, sporting a powdered wig?

We’ve got the advice you need to evaluate whether teaching is right for you and tips for polishing up your skills if you decide it is.

Evaluate Your Skills

Not every teacher needs to be that over the top singing and dancing educator to be great. Many skills and attributes you already possess have prepared you to make the life-changing commitment to teach—sans props and costume.

Your best qualities, whatever form they take, are needed in classrooms everywhere. Whether you submit that resume tomorrow or years from now, you can make your unique skill set practically pop off the page. Check out the skills below to see if any sound like you.

Effective Communication

Not all great communicators are able to get up in front of a group and improvise. But, just because you’re not a ham, doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes. Are you an active listener, who engages deeply? You might be just the right person to encourage a struggling student, respond with humor, or point out a dynamic no one else has noticed. Education means “to draw out,” and introverts have a knack for allowing others to open up.

Creative Problem Solving

Are you a creative type who’s always finding an alternative solution? Your resourcefulness will make for a more interesting classroom experience that engages kids with different learning styles. When you integrate music, nature, movement, or visual arts into your lessons, you’ll motivate students—and interviewers, too.

Strong Organizational Skills

One of the best teachers I've ever worked with started as a substitute. She impressed others, too, with her color-coded planner replete with goals. She toted multi-colored highlighters and wore a smart watch. Her penchant for planning and organization, impeccable time management and purposeful use of technology (and stylish way of showing it), along with her passion for teaching, made her incredibly effective in the classroom. Needless to say, my school offered her a full-time position as soon as one became available.

There are many skills and traits personified by accomplished educators. When it comes to your resume, those that come naturally will be easy to highlight as you outline your experiences with clubs, activities, and work.

Fill in the Gaps

I’m not normally an organized person (to put it mildly), but I took a risk volunteering as Historian of my college’s Education Club. It paid off when I managed to keep it together, actually improve, and present myself as a really organized person on my resume.

Prior to aiming for head of the class, attempt to fill any gaps in your skill set. For example, if you haven’t worked with children, now’s the time to volunteer to read to kids or become a Big Brother or Sister.

And, as you go through the hiring process, highlight what you’ve already got—even if your winning attributes don’t seem all that brag-worthy. Graduated from a great school? Worked for the same company for years? Earned a certificate? Surely you’ve gained skills essential to teaching. What are the ones that make you, you? Highlight those on your resume.

Make the Most of Your Cover Letter (and Interview)

Your cover letter is another chance to convey anything your work experience doesn’t show. Teachers often excel at leadership, flexibility, and management, and are adept at monitoring, assessment, reflecting, and evaluating. Chances are, you boast some of these traits and skills, even if your resume doesn’t. So, utilize your cover letter to highlight those traits.

And remember, your interview is a great opportunity to demonstrate your collaborative spirit or willingness to learn. Read up on positive teacher characteristics, and put yours on full display as you answer questions and share (rehearsed) anecdotes.

It’s never too soon—or too late—to shore up your credentials with quality experiences. I bet once you evaluate your skills, you’ll find you already have tons of teacher-worthy traits. And you just might learn you were meant to do this all along!