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How to develop the 10 key skills you need to work in Education

Book open Reading time: 7 mins

There are a lot of different roles in education, requiring different skills. Here we look at why you should consider a career in teaching and the skills you need to be a teacher, trainer or tutor.

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Why work in teaching?

  • Variety: The routine is constantly being broken up with sports days and school trips, celebrations, holidays and occasionally something completely unexpected. It’s an ideal career for people who don’t want to sit at a desk all day.
  • Making a difference: A great teacher can be literally life-changing to children. Some teachers go into teaching because they loved their time at school and want to pass that on. For others, it’s the opposite – they felt let down by poor teaching and want to give other kids a better experience.
  • Financial support while you train: With some in-demand subjects you can get bursaries that amount to a good salary while you train.
  • Using your degree: Outside academia, teaching is one of the few careers where you get to make real use of everything you learned during your degree. While graduates in all subjects are welcome in city jobs, it’s only in teaching that you can pass on your enthusiasm for rock formations, Greek philosophers or right angle triangles. 
  • Decent salary: Teaching will never make you a millionaire, but if you excel and take on responsibility you can build up to a salary of £50,000 or even more. 
  • Some teachers are loud and energetic, others quiet and dedicated, and all can make a difference in their own way. You don’t have to fit the mould perfectly to be a great teacher. See education roles other than teaching.

Here are the top teaching skills:

1. Communication

A huge part of teaching is communicating information. It might be verbal, written, or via any other route from practical demonstrations to artistic interpretation – whatever gets your point across.

How to develop it: 

  • Telephone jobs, such as calling alumni for donations or volunteering for a peer support line, develop your verbal communication skills and build your confidence. 
  • Join a debating society, a student council,  or even an improv group.
  • Join a student magazine or take responsibility for a society website. 

Learn more about working in teaching from Ark Teacher Training with this Bright Network Academy Teaching Sector 101.

2. Patience

People learn at all different rates. If you have to explain something seven times in seven different ways before it sticks, that’s just part of the job. And when faced with challenging behaviour, you need to stay calm and patient and not lose your temper.

How to develop it:

  • Patience is one of those inherent character traits – but it is possible to improve yours. Practise thinking before you speak, or make patience your goal for the day.
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3. Creativity

colouring pencils - creativity

People learn best when they’re doing something fun and interesting. It’s up to you to be creative in your approach, finding novel and enjoyable ways for your students to learn.

How to develop it:

  • Take up an artistic hobby, like painting, music or drama.
  • Get used to sharing ideas and brainstorming when you have a problem – it’s a skill that will help you connect with your colleagues in future and come up with more creative solutions.
  • Get inspiration. Take any opportunity to volunteer in a classroom and learn from the teacher’s approach.

4. Enthusiasm

Your enthusiasm is infectious. If you love your subject and your job, you’ll be able to engage the people you teach.

How to develop it:

  • It’s hard to fake enthusiasm, so aim to teach a subject you love.
  • If you have to do something boring, turn it into something you can be enthusiastic about – make a game of data entry, or write poems to help you memorise facts.
  • In your studies, look for ways you can go above and beyond. Read books that aren’t on the reading list, take on extra projects, and show that you love what you do.

5. Confidence

Children can smell fear… no, just kidding. Confidence helps you when you’re standing up and directing a class, whether your students are kids or adults. A lot of education sector jobs involve public speaking, so confidence is a must.

How to develop it:

  • Try new things and set yourself challenges. If you can do things that scare you, you can handle anything.
  • Confident people can be themselves without worrying about pleasing others and fitting in. If you find this hard, experiment with saying the words, ‘No,’ and ‘I disagree’.

6. Dedication

There’s no denying that teaching can be tough at times. If you’re dedicated to helping your students succeed, you’ll be able to keep up your energy levels and avoid getting discouraged.

How to develop it:

  • Work on your empathy. When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes you can better understand why they’re struggling.

7. Conflict resolution

Especially in secondary schools, this can be a big part of the job. If you can defuse tense situations before they explode, you be able to handle it when teenagers upset each other or test your authority. 

How to develop it:

  • You’ll learn behaviour management skills during your teacher training, but there’s no harm in getting a head start. Find a workshop, or read up on tips online and try to apply them in everyday life.
  • Many volunteering positions will offer you conflict resolution training, particularly if you’ll be working with children or teenagers.
  • Be aware of how you act. If you end up in a conflict at work, with your friends or during a project, sit down afterwards and think about how you reacted and what you might do differently next time.

8. Organisation

organised files - organisation

If you’re a schoolteacher, organisation skills will help you to fit marking and lesson planning around your school hours, and file and reuse the resources you develop.

How to develop it:

  • Practise organisation while you study. If a friend asked to borrow your lecture notes, would you know where to find them straight away? If not, sit down and work out a system.
  • Keep your calendar up-to-date and plan out how you’ll fit your to-do list items into each day. (Don’t have a to-do list? That’s another thing to work on.)

9. Leadership

Teachers need to be able to lead a classroom and inspire confidence in their students. They also need to be able to deal with lots of different students with different, and sometimes competing needs. If you're not a natural-born leader, don't worry, leadership is a skill you can develop.

How to develop it:

  • When it comes to leadership, practice makes perfect. Try putting yourself in situations where you're required to take on a leadership role. Why not volunteer to head up a group project or become more involved in a society at university?

  • You can also take our Bright Network Academy course on leadership skills to learn more about how you can develop your own leadership qualities.

10. Adaptability

Working in teaching can present challenges on a daily basis. While these keep the career exciting, a certain amount of adaptability is important. You may have a great lesson plan, only to realise you need to switch gears depending on the level of understanding your students have. 

How to develop it: 

  • Plan, but be open to your plans going awry. While it's important to be well prepared, be sure to leave room for change and modify your plans accordingly.
  • Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process. If you do make a mistake, it's important to be able to adapt and learn from it rather than letting it de-rail your hard work.

Are there any downsides to teaching?

  • Heavy workload. As well as a full teaching schedule, you’ll need to find time for lesson planning, creating resources, marking books and tests, documenting your work, doing admin, and writing reports for every student. For teachers, a 40-hour week is a beautiful but unrealistic dream.
  • Constant changes. In teaching, guidelines, targets and government attitudes never seem to stay the same for more than a year.  Teachers can be left struggling to keep up, or suffering metaphorical whiplash from unexpected U-turns.
  • Challenging behaviour. Every teacher has been in this situation –twenty-eight kids who work hard and behave well, and the other two who take up 90% of your time and energy and colour the whole teaching experience. Teachers learn behaviour management techniques and develop thick skins, but you’ll run across a real challenge now and then.
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