An unsung genius once noted that "skill is successfully walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Intelligence is not trying." Teaching can be like walking a tightrope, and teachers who have the interpersonal skills to successfully navigate their path -- or choose when to take an entirely different approach altogether -- are generally more effective and have an easier time dealing with the many challenges that a teaching job presents.
Almost everyone can remember having a teacher who simply didn't "get" the students. This poor soul was often the result of numerous pranks because she didn't understand how to build relationships with her students or could not discern when her students' eyes glazed over from boredom or a lack of comprehension. A simple skill such as realizing the importance of learning students' names can go a long way towards making the teaching process run more smoothly and effectively.
While parental involvement in the schools is always welcome, some parents become a bit too involved or can otherwise present challenges for a teacher. A teacher must possess the skill to gently let a mother know that her 15-year-old son cannot turn a month's worth of homework one day prior to the end of a grading period. She must also be able to comfort a mother who is crying because her son is failing Algebra -- again. Some parents take out their frustration on a teacher. When this happens, the teacher must possess the interpersonal skills necessary to avoid being drawn into an unproductive conflict and resolve or exit the situation gracefully.
Teaching in a middle school is like, well, being in middle school. The same is true of teaching jobs at other levels as well. Gossip and power-struggles are everywhere, and it's not always the students initiating these socially-challenging situations. Dealing with a teaching colleague who is preoccupied with becoming department chair or a bossy administrative secretary can be challenging for a teacher with poor interpersonal skills. A teacher must be able to walk the fine line between advocating for their students' best interests and keeping the peace with her coworkers.
The goals of a teacher and a principal are often at odds with one another. A teacher may believe a disruptive student needs to be suspended, while the principal is satisfied with sending him back to class after a stern talking to. A teacher may want to stick with tried and true teaching methods, while the administrator is gung-ho to implement the new methodology he heard about at the conference he recently attended. Any teacher who attempts to deal with these and similar situations without effective interpersonal skills is likely to not only alienate the administration, but accomplish very little of what she sets out to do in the educational environment.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.