Essay – What character traits suit a teacher best?
Teaching is a profession that most can agree is highly stressful, time consuming and exhausting. But it also one of the most fulfilling, rewarding and exciting jobs to those that love it. For a person to become successful in teaching, and last the course, it is expected that they are effective classroom managers who deliver insightful, thought-provoking lessons, where students can not only gain the academic grades they deserve, but have happy, positive relationships with teachers and their peers.. But what is the difference between a teacher who loves their work and develops meaningful relationships with their students, and those that end up leaving the profession through stress and burn out? The teacher plays a vital part in the educational outcome of a student, but very little is known about what characteristics are important in helping students to achieve their best outcome (Harris & Sass, 2007). Many believe it is the personality and character traits of the teacher that help determine if they become a teacher who hates their job, or one that is happy and settled in their role. A happier teacher is going to a have a much better influence on their students.
Teacher retention is a major problem in the UK. There is a shortage currently of newly qualified teachers staying in their posts past a year. Once a teacher gets past the 2-year mark there is a trend for teacher retention to increase. The number of retiring teachers is currently on a decline, due to the increase in pension age. Due to cuts in funding for trainee teachers, there is also a current decline in the number of individuals joining teacher training courses (GOV.UK, 2021). If a teacher is more likely to stay once they have hit the two-year mark, maybe there is a link between pre-service personality type and retention. When recruiting for new teachers, schools look for characteristics including teaching-specific content knowledge, personality traits, cognitive ability, feelings of self-efficacy, and scores on a teacher selection instrument which is commercially available (Rockoff et al, 2011). It is found that only a few of these predictors have statistically significant relationships with student and teacher outcomes. The personality traits that have been associated with higher attrition rates once a teacher is in service and are able to pass the 2-year rate are, conscientiousness, self-efficacy, good subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (Bastian et al, 2017).
There are many studies that have looked for a definitive answer to what traits are best for a teacher, although there has currently not been an over all agreed upon conclusion. Trait-based theories of teacher effectiveness—for example, effective teachers are outgoing, agreeable and conscientious, have been investigated and written about. A meta-analysis conducted by Kim, Jorg and Klassen (2019) looked at the relationships between 5 personality domains; openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability, and how they related to teacher effectiveness and burn out. In the studies used, the effectiveness of teaching was evaluated using student performance self-efficacy, classroom observations and academic achievements, and the source of their personality report was self-reported. Apart from agreeableness, all of the 5 traits were seen as positive in regards to teacher effectiveness. Furthermore extraversion, conscientiousness and emotional stability were all negatively associated with teacher burn-out (Kim, Jorg & Klassen, 2019). It has been concluded by many that teachers with high levels of an appealing personality trait may be more effective within a classroom setting; but it is not the trait alone that explains how the teacher, and therefore the students perform. It is however, how the traits have an influence on the teacher’s behaviour, their decision-making skills, and learning that matters (Bastian et al 2017). A study by Hughes (2012) found that it is not only the teacher which is a deciding factor on the retention of staff, but the socioeconomic status (SES) of the school area, salary and workload, parent and student relationships, and technology availability. Surprisingly, areas of low SES were found to have higher retention rates than those schools in an area with higher SES.
To be able to fully ascertain how the personality traits of the teacher is utilised for effective learning, there are many control variables to consider. For example, if a school has ample resources, with excellent leadership and from an area where socio economic influences aren’t an issue, it is more likely that using student grades as markers towards effectiveness are going to be of little value in determining the traits of teachers. In comparison, a school that is known to suffer from poor leadership, under resourced and from an area of high deprivation, in term of socio economic status, the ability of the teacher to get high grades is going to be more influential. A study by Duckworth et al, (2009), carried out an investigation in an under resourced inner city public school. They asked novice teachers to complete measures of optimistic explanatory style, grit, and life satisfaction prior to the school year. By the end of the year, it was determined that all 3 were positive predictors of student academic gains. However, grit and life satisfaction were the only two to have high significance on the outcomes of the students, so they concluded these traits should be sought by recruiting agencies.
In conclusion, there have been many studies that have looked at how the personality and character traits of a teacher have an effect on the academic outcomes of a student. For a school to make sure that they are employing someone who will have the ability to positively effect their students and remain in education as a teacher for a substantial time, the personality traits that are desirable are contentiousness, subject knowledge, optimistic explanatory style, grit and self-efficacy. But all these are not effective on their own. There needs to be a working relationship with the school itself, from number of resources, to the leadership and running of the school. Only together can an effective teacher flourish and positively enhance the chances of their students gaining their best from education.
Bastian, K. C., McCord, D. M., Marks, J. T. & Carpenter, D. (2017) A Temperament for Teaching? Associations Between Personality Traits and Beginning Teacher Performance and Retention, AERA Open. doi:10.1177/2332858416684764
Duckworth, A. L., Quinn, P. D. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009) Positive predictors of teacher effectiveness, The Journal of Positive Psychology, volume 4, issue 6, pp 540-547.
Gov.UK: Education statistics (2021), found online at: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england, Accessed on 11/10/2021.
Hughes, G. D. (2012) Teacher Retention: Teacher Characteristics, School Characteristics, Organizational Characteristics, and Teacher Efficacy, The Journal of Educational Research, Volume 105, issue 4, pp 254 – 255.
Harris, N. H & Sass, T. R. (2007) What makes for a good teacher and who can tell?, U.S. Department of Education, July 10, 2007.
Kim, L. E., Jörg, V. & Klassen, R. M. (2019) A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Teacher Personality on Teacher Effectiveness and Burnout. Education Psychology Review, volume 31, pp 163–195.
Rockoff, J. E., Jacob, B. A., Kane, T. A & Staiger, D. O. (2011) Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?, Education Finance and Policy, volume 6, issue 1: pp 43–74.