Do future teachers choose wisely: a study of pre-service teachers’ personality preference profiles

Bill Thornton

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that all teachers in core academic subjects to be “highly qualified” by the end of the 2005-06 school year. New teacher leave the profession at an alarming rate–research indicates that 50% have left within five years of their first job. This article explores the personality types of pre-service teachers and non-education majors. The authors suggest that more appropriate screening procedures should be used by teacher preparation programs. Personality types may relate to teacher success and length of service.


The teaching profession is a very stressful occupation, and beginning teachers leave the profession at a rate far above the attrition rate experienced in private industry. Norton (1999) reported that 25% of teachers have left the profession by the end of their first year and only 50% of beginning teachers remain on the job after five years. In an earlier study, Karge (1993) reported that up to 40% of new teachers leave the profession by the end of two years. In contrast, private sector corporations lose approximately 6% of staff per year. This ongoing attrition of educators has a significant impact on efforts to place a quality teacher in every classroom.

Thus, an issue of paramount importance is how to increase the long-term success of new teachers. One approach would be to determine if personality profiles of pre-service teachers could be helpful in this regard. Several questions related to pre-service teachers and future successes arise. What are the personality profiles of people who elect to become teachers? Are the personality profiles of potential teachers different from the profiles of other undergraduate students? Can personality profiles of pre-service teachers be used to determine future success and longevity of classroom teachers? The following section presents a brief summary of relevant research related to the above questions.

Summary of Research

Ducharme and Ducharme (1996) identified the need to study the psychological characteristics of pre-service teachers and suggested that the psychological traits of pre-service teachers may be predictive of future success. Studies have been conducted to establish relationships between teacher characteristics and students’ learning. Early studies by Doyal and Forsyth (1973) and Zimmerman (1970) found that teachers’ psychological states, particularly teacher anxiety, affected the psychological states of their students. Mackiel (1979) found that students tend to model the psychological and physical states of their teachers. More recent research indicates that personality traits of teachers relate to effective classroom performance (Czubaj, 1996; Fisher & Kent, 1998; Hawkes, 1991; Howey & Strom, 1982). For example, teacher personality profiles have been linked to many characteristics associated with effective schools: classroom management style (Martin, 1998); types of learning environments and patterns of teacher and student interactions (Fisher & Kent, 1998); student achievement (Lessen & Frankiewicz, 1992); and teacher attrition (Marso & Pigge, 1997).

Unfortunately, common practice within schools and colleges of education is to allow open enrollment into most teacher preparation programs. Colleges tend to establish minimal entry requirements such as grade point average and interviews by faculty. As a result, prospective teachers in colleges of education make significant life decision with limited data. Colleges of education could improve the quality of new teachers by developing better selection processes for pre-service teachers. Personality type may be an important factor to consider if more restrictive entry requirements are put in place. Personality type may also relate to teachers’ decisions to leave the profession early in their careers.

Personality Temperaments”

Carl Jung (1923), the renowned Swiss psychologist, developed a theory of personality types based on individual preferences. Jung’s theory identified three dichotomous dimensions: Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I), Sensing (S) vs. iNtuitve (N), and Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F). Based on Jung’s theory, Myers and Briggs developed a forced-choice instrument that provides the basis for the identification of personality types that characterize an individual’s predisposition to act. They also identified a fourth dimension: Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P) (Quenk, 2000). It is common practice to identify these personality profiles by a combination of the above key letters. For example, ENTP would denote Extaversion-iNtuitive-Thinking-Perceiving.

Based on the work of Jung and Myers and Briggs, the Keirsey Sorter II was developed. This 70-item questionnaire groups individuals based on the four well-known dichotomous general categories and the resulting 16 personality types (Keirsey, 1998). DavidKeirsey has provided descriptions of each personality type and identified well known icons for each type. Because the Keirsey Sorter II is widely used, quickly and easily administered, and has an extensive set of norms, it was used to collect data for this research.

At a basic level, people with a given personality type are more similar to members of their group than to people of another group; this group acts and thinks similarly but acts and thinks differently from people with another personality type. As people develop, they develop patterns of behaviors and habits that support their individual personality type. The way people focus their energy toward the world can be either Extroverted or Introverted. People gather data for decision-making by sensing or by intuition. The iNtuitive person gathers data through hunches, gut feelings, and insight while the Sensing person gathers data through the five senses. The Thinking vs. Feeling dimension refers to the way in which people process information to make decisions. Thinking persons arrive at a conclusion through a logical, step-wise, more impersonal process whereas Feeling individuals always consider the emotional human factors while making a decision. The Judging-Perceiving dimension contrasts people who plan and organize to people who prefer flexibility and spontaneity.

The four dichotomous dimensions provide a typology of 16 possible personality types ranging from Extraversion-Sensing-Thinking-Judgmental (ESTJ) to Introversion-iNtuitive-Feeling-Perceptive (INFP). These types are not uniformly distributed across a population; the proportions of each personality type vary greatly.

Research on teacher personality type types

Lawrence (1979) attempted to determine the personality type(s) of prospective educators. In an extensive study involving 5,366 teachers, Lawrence reported that the primary typology was ESFJ (Extraversion-Sensing-Feeling-Judgmental). Rojewski and Holder (1990) found that 58 percent of students in teacher-preparation programs were Sensing-Judging types.

More recently, Hinton and Stockburger (1991) found that the personality profiles of small groups of pre-service teachers were predominately ESFJ types. From a survey of 79 student teachers, McCutcheon, Schmidt, and Bolden (1991) founds the ESFJ type predominate among future elementary student teachers but secondary student teachers did not have the same predominant personality profiles.

In a large study that included 886 education majors, Sears and Kennedy (1997) tracked entering college freshmen until graduation. They found that elementary education majors were primarily Sensing-Feeling-Judgmental (SFJ) and they labeled Sensing-Thinking-Perceiving (STP) and Sensing-Thinking-Judgmental (STJ) types as the “anti-types” for elementary teachers. They found that NTJ and NFP profiles were predominant in secondary teachers and SFJ profiles were the anti-types for secondary teachers. Thus, their findings suggest that people with SFJ profiles were attracted to elementary teaching but were not interested in teaching at the secondary level.


This study investigated the personality profiles of 175 students enrolled in multiple sections of an educational leadership capstone class over a two semester time-frame. Capstone classes are a university requirement for graduation and are open to juniors and seniors of any major. The group in the study had 87 education majors who were predominately elementary majors or dual majors–elementary and special education majors. Secondary education majors enroll in capstone courses that correspond with their major areas of study. From this group, 72 (83%) indicated that they planned to seek teaching jobs after graduation. Fifteen (17%) of the education majors indicated that they did not plan to seek a job in education. The study group also included 19 students majoring in health sciences, 16 in criminal justice, and smaller numbers from different academic fields. The data are summarized in table 1.

For this study, only the students who indicated that they planned to seek teaching jobs were considered to represent future teachers. Of those students, 25 (35%) were ESFJ (Extrovert-Sensing-Feeling-Judging); this is the predominate personality type for both elementary teachers and pre-service teachers.

However, Keirsey and Bates (1984) reported that teachers are mostly ENFJs. Keirsey has identified ENFJs as “teachers” and reports that ENFJs have the following general characteristics:

* People are highest importance and priority.

* Loyalty, commitment, and responsibility are important values.

* ENFJs prefer a work setting that focuses on changing things for the betterment of others.

Interestingly, Keirsey reports that ENFJs represent only 7.5% of the general population; in our study group of pre-service teachers only 10% were ENFJs. In the Sears and Kennedy study (1997), only 9% of the pre-service elementary teachers were ENFJs. In contrast, in our study group, 41 or 57% of the pre-service teachers were SFJs while in the Sears and Kennedy study 42% of the pre-service elementary teachers were SFJs. As discussed above, the findings of McCutcheon, Schmidt, and Bolden (1991), Lawrence (1979) and Hilton and Stockburger (1991) indicated that pre-service teachers and teachers were predominately SFJs–irrespective of their E or I preferences. Thus the research indicates that to some extent occupational choices of pre-service teachers are related to their personality types.

Sears and Kennedy identified STPs and STJs as anti-types for elementary teachers. Our study group had no STJs and 7 STPs which represented 10% of the pre-service teachers, a finding similar to that of Sears and Kennedy who found 9% of the pre-service elementary teacher were elementary anti-types. Thus, our findings for pre-service elementary teacher are parallel to the research reported by Sears and Kennedy (1997)–elementary teachers are predominately SFJs and the anti-types are STPs or STJs.

Goodness-of-fit chi square analyses were conducted to determine if the above observations were statistically significant. The data were grouped into two classifications–pre-service teachers with SFJ preference and those with other preference types. Because the data were regrouped and to reduce the probability of a type one error, alpha was established to be 0.01 for this study. The results from this study were compared to the results of the Sears and Kennedy study and the Keirsey Personality Type Distribution for the Keirsey Sorter II (Keirsey, 2004). No significant difference was found when the results were compared to the pre-service elementary teacher in the Sears and Kennedy study. When the results of our study were compared to the Distribution for the Keirsey Sorter II, a chi square of 52.80 was obtained which was significant at the 0.01 level. Thus our pre-service teachers are similar to the Sears and Kennedy pre-service elementary teachers but different from the general distribution for the Keirsey Sorter II.


Myers and McCaulley (1985) advocate that personality assessment and students’ interests could be useful in career counseling because similar occupations have similar type distributions. We advocate that better selection procedures are needed for entry into the education profession. Personality assessment of pre-service teachers could provide valuable feedback to students. The research indicates that ENFJs personality type types tend to be associated with teachers. If feedback were provided to students early in college careers, it could be used to either support their career choices or to suggest alternative career paths. Personality type could be an important factor in determining whether or not these education students should continue as education majors. In the long run, more precise selection of known teacher types entering the profession could well increase job satisfaction and prevent attrition for future teachers. Additional research is needed to determine characteristics of pre-service teachers that relate to future success as teachers.

A further implication is that many pre-service teachers are undecided about the appropriate level of education: elementary, middle, or secondary. Because they must choose a level and plan their program of studies accordingly, knowledge of their personality type could help them make occupational decisions related to the teaching level.

However, the implications of the use of a personality assessment as a gate keeper for entry into or exclusion from a profession must be carefully considered. Stereotypes could drive selection, perpetuate biases, and promote self-fulfilling prophecies. Additional research is necessary to evaluate the potential benefits, risks, and relationships to key outcomes for teacher preparation programs.

Personality type and job satisfaction

Research also suggests that relationships may exist between an individual’s personality type and learning styles, maturity, skill, and job performance issues.

Extensive research has been conducted in the area of job satisfaction and motivation to work. Additional factors in future success of pre-service teachers may reflect their personality type. Berens (1998) described the interactions between an individual’s pattern of personality and the environment to satisfy needs. As such, personality types would help to explain why two teachers respond differently to similar classroom situations, teacher-team meetings, or parent-teacher conferences.

Teachers’ satisfaction with work related factors is important to their long term success as well as to the viability of continuous school improvement required by the No Child Left Behind Act. If predictive characteristics can be identified by assessing both pre-service teacher and teacher satisfaction, those characteristics would be important for future teacher education programs. Significant proportions of both pre-service teachers and teachers are classified as idealist and have ESTJ personality type profiles. In our study, 35% of the pre-service teachers were ESTJ while only 7.5% of the general population is of this personality type. These observations lead to the conclusion that ESTJs often become teachers; however, this does not predict success or satisfaction.

Recommendations for future study

This study was restricted to the discussion of the personality type of pre-service teachers. A recommendation is that personality type research be expanded to study both measures of satisfaction and measures of long-term success. Because the large scale attrition of new teachers from the profession significantly affects current and future programs, the identification of such predictive factors holds merit. Looking beyond personality type to other desirable long-term outcomes of the learning community–such as student achievement, quality of instruction, and motivation to work–would contribute significantly to the improvement of education in our public schools.


Berens, L. (1998). Understanding yourself and others: An introduction to personality type. Hunting Beach, CA: Telos.

Czubaj, C. (1996). Maintaining teacher motivation. Education, 116, 1, 372-379.

Doyal, G., & Forsyth, R. (1973). Relationship between teacher and student anxiety levels. Psychology in the Schools, 46(2), 231-233.

Ducharme, E., & Ducharme, M. (1996). Needed research in teacher education. In J. Sikula, T.J. Buttery, & E. Guyton (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 10301046). New York: Macmillan.

Fisher, D., & Kent, H. (1998). Associations between teacher personality and classroom environment. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 33, 5-13.

Hawkes, B. (1991). Teacher locus of control: Who’s responsible? Education, 111, 475-479.

Hinton, S., & Stockburger, M. (1991). Personality trait and professional choice among pre-service teachers in Eastern Kentucky (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 341672).

Howey, K., & Strom, S. (1982). Teacher selection reconsidered. In K. Howey, & W. Gardner (Eds.). The education of teachers: A look ahead (pp. 1-34). New York: Longman.

Jung, C. (1923). Psychological types. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Karge, B. (1993). Beginning teachers: In danger of attrition, (Report No. SP 034 633). Atlanta, GA: American Educational Research Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED3600281)

Keirsey, D. & Bates, M. (1984). Please understand me. (4th ed.). Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.

Keirsey, D. (1998). Please understand me II. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.

Kersey, D. (2004) Keirsey personality type distribution. At

Lawrence, G. (1979). People types and tiger stripes (2nd ed.). Gainsville, FL: Center for Applications Psychological Types.

Lessen, E., & Frankiewicz, L., (1992). Personal attributes and characteristics of effective special education teachers: Considerations for teacher educators. Teacher Education and Special Education 15(2): 124-32.

Martin, N., (1998). Construct validation of the attitudes & beliefs on classroom control inventory. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 33(2), 6-15.

Marso, R., & Pigge, F. (1997). A longitudinal study of persisting and nonpersisting teachers’ academic and personal characteristics. The Journal of Experimental Education, 65, 243-254.

Mackiel, J. (1979). Positive mental health for teachers. The Clearing House, 52, 307-310.

McCutcheon, J., Schmidt, C., & Bolden, S. (1991). Relationship among selected personality variables, academic achievement, and student teaching behaviors. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 24, 24-44.

Myers, I., & McCaulley, M. (1985). Manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Norton, M. (1999). Teacher retention: Reducing costly teacher turnover. Contemporary Education, 70(3), 52-55.

Quenk, N. (2000). Essentials of Myers-Briggs type indicator assessment. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Rojewski, J., & Holder, B. (1990). Personality type profiles of students in vocational education teacher preparation programs. Journal of Vocational Education Research, 15(2): 77-91.

Sears. S., & Kennedy, J. (1997). Myers-Briggs personality profiles of prospective educators. Journal of Education Research, 90(4), 195203.

Zimmerman, B. (1970). The relationship between teacher classroom behavior and student school anxiety levels. Psychology in the Schools, 7, 89-93.




Department of Educational Leadership /283

University of Nevada

Table 1

Summary of Data and Selected Comparison Groups


Pre- Pre-

Service service Total Percent

Personality Types Teacher Teacher Study Total

Defined by Keirsey (1) (2) Group Group

ESTJ-Supervisor 4 6% 24 14%

ISTJ-Inspector 3 4% 12 7%

ESFJ-Provider 25 35% 53 30%

ISFJ-Protector 16 22% 29 17%

ENFJ-Teacher 7 10% 13 7%

ENFP-Champion 4 6% 7 4%

INFJ-Counselor 3 4% 6 3%

INFP-Healer 3 4% 5 3%

ENTJ-Fieldmarshal 0 0% 3 2%

ENTP-Inventor 0 0% 0 0%

INTJ-Mastermind 0 0% 2 1%

INTP-Architect 0 0% 0 0%

ESTP-Promoter 0 0% 2 1%

ISTP-Operator 0 0% 3 2%

ESFP-Performer 3 4% 9 5%

ISFP-Composer 4 6% 7 4%

Total 72 100% 175 100%

Sears % Percent

Sears Study Elementary from

Personality Types # Teachers by Keirsey

Defined by Keirsey Elementary (3) Type (4) Norms (5)

ESTJ-Supervisor 22 4% 11.26

ISTJ-Inspector 16 3% 10.57

ESFJ-Provider 146 28% 12.16

ISFJ-Protector 73 14% 9.55

ENFJ-Teacher 46 9% 7.48

ENFP-Champion 54 11% 8.61

INFJ-Counselor 14 3% 7.24

INFP-Healer 24 5% 6.74

ENTJ-Fieldmarshal 11 2% 3.32

ENTP-Inventor 12 2% 2.27

INTJ-Mastermind 3 1% 5.23

INTP-Architect 6 1% 3.05

ESTP-Promoter 6 1% 2.7

ISTP-Operator 1 0% 2.13

ESFP-Performer 48 9% 4.75

ISFP-Composer 32 6% 2.93

Total 514 100% 99.99

Note (1) : Numbers are pre-service teacher from our study.

Note (2) : Percentages are of pre-service teacher in our study.

Note (3) : Numbers are of pre-service elementary teachers by

personality type in the Sears and Kennedy Study.

Note (4) : Percentages are of pre-service elementary by personality

type in the Sears and Kennedy Study.

Note (5) : Percentages are of general group by personality type

from the Keirsey Sorter II website that represents a norm group

(n = 6,461,119).

COPYRIGHT 2005 Project Innovation (Alabama)

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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