01/07/2015 03:46 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2015

Top 5 Essential Skills for Teachers

I sent an email to all of my student teachers recently, asked them to please hit reply, and then quickly list the five most important soft skills needed by teachers. Immediately I received several reply emails that read, "What are soft skills?"

Oh goodness, I thought... "WHAT are soft skills?" I realized that we obviously had done a poor job of using that term during their pre-service training. I responded by email with a definition that said something about people skills or the "other" skills that teachers must possess to be successful.

When I met with them on campus a few weeks later, I asked the question a second time and asked someone to define the term. One student teacher said, "Soft skills are all of the things a teacher needs outside of the content area." I liked that! I told the students that they would be hired based almost entirely on these "other" skills, and I truly believe that. Yes, it is important to know how to teach for success, but I believe the soft skills will be crucial in getting that first job and keeping it!

This topic must be current because about the time I sent the original email to the student teachers, I heard a local superintendent discuss soft skills needed by teachers, but she said she preferred the term "essential skills." When a superintendent of a large school district believes these skills are important, then I believe we should sit up, listen and take note.

The list of essential skills below was generated by my fall semester student teachers, and you will see that communication deserves the No. 1 spot.

1. Good communication skills:
a. Positive Body language - students are good at reading a teacher by observing facial expressions, rolling of the eyes, hands on hips, and many other gestures that show feelings.
b. Speech and voice tone - correct grammar and appropriate tone are essential.
c. How things are said over emails/text.
d. Warm smiles are contagious and show kind hearts.
e. Encouraging and positive words.
2. An obvious enthusiasm and passion for teaching.
3. A good sense of humor and be able to laugh with students.
4. Time to listen to students.
5. Respect for students and other teachers.

I think my student teachers are on target. What do you think?