Do You Know the Teacher Candidate Selection Criteria?

Principals and administrators look for a range of different skills in a potential teaching candidate, and no matter where you apply, you’ll likely be evaluated on several, if not all of the following criteria.


If you’re a brand new teacher fresh out of school, you may worry that you don’t have any relevant experience to include on your résumé. However, a strong applicant can show teaching potential in a number of ways. Your ability to connect seemingly unrelated experience to the work of teaching is one way to show your potential to administrators. In your cover letter and interview, be sure to talk about what you learned during your previous jobs and/or volunteer experience. Principals want to see that you know how to stick with a challenge, work well with your peers, and try new approaches to solving problems. You can—and should—refer to any student teaching experience, but you can also think creatively about previous positions that may have helped you develop the skills you’ll ultimately bring to bear in the classroom.

Be creative by showing your competitive edge and standing out from the rest!

My strengths:

  • I can teach more than one subject.
  • I am bilingual.
  • I was a school athlete and can coach a sport.
  • I used to work in advertising, so I can contribute to the yearbook team.

Securing the necessary credentials is a key part of any teaching application process, but don’t worry if you didn’t complete your undergraduate degree in education. Many principals, especially those in middle and high school, value an undergraduate or graduate degree in a different field because it can show a greater level of content mastery. Your application materials should clearly communicate your current path toward certification if you apply before you’re fully certified. Some principals in high-needs areas will accept teachers with high scores on their standardized assessments who have yet to complete their certification. If that’s the case, be sure to include documentation of your test scores and mention your current qualifications in your cover letter.


Many schools and teaching programs want to see a sample lesson as part of the interview process. Be sure to find out if you’ll be required to teach an entire class or a shortened lesson. If it’s the latter, you should plan a complete lesson with a beginning, middle, and end as opposed to a curtailed version of a longer lesson. Principals want to see whether you can introduce an objective and guide students towards mastery of that objective. Worry less about pulling out all the stops and making a highly entertaining lesson, and focus more on building in checks for understanding along the way that will show your attentiveness toward student understanding.


While each of these different criteria is an opportunity to showcase your unique talents and personality, the interview is your chance to have a real conversation with your potential future boss. Here, you can let your personality shine while highlighting the experiences that have shaped you into the teacher you are today. Principals want to see applicants with clear commitments to the classroom and good heads on their shoulders. Respond to questions— especially those involving student scenarios—with care. Don’t be afraid to take a moment for “think time”; this will show that you value reflection as well as accuracy. Where appropriate, a little humor can also show your personality, but be sure to use humor only if it feels natural. The interview is a chance for principals to get to know your best professional self, so stay true to your values while putting your best foot forward.


Caitlin Corrigan is a former public school teacher who currently writes full time and teaches composition at the university level.  Her writing has been published in local and national outlets, including The New York Times’ education blog.  She has also consulted on state level curriculum development and helped screen teacher applicants for a competitive alternative certification program.