References and Letters of Recommendation for Job Applications
References are people you identify for an employer to contact for opinions about you as a teacher. When you apply for teaching positions, employers typically require job applicants to submit 3-5 names of references and letters of recommendations. Employers expect positive letters of recommendation. However, the content of the letters (or phone conversations with references) often reveals unique personal qualities, knowledge, and skills related to effective teaching that can set you apart from other job applicants.
How employers review letters of recommendation
During the initial screening phase, letters of recommendation are logged in and viewed briefly by school personnel in the human resources department. If they recommend you for an interview and/or you are selected as a finalist, hiring committee members review your letters of recommendation more carefully. Committee member may be assigned to call a reference for additional information and insights about you as a teacher.
What references can communicate
Your reference can convey judgments about you related to employer's selection criteria (e.g., critical thinking, ability to set and achieve goals, personal responsibility, commitment to the professional, disposition towards constant learning, interpersonal skills, quality of written and verbal communication). They can speak or write about what sets you apart from other job applicants - your unique skills, knowledge, and experiences.
Select your references carefully. Consider a set of references who can speak about different personal qualities, abilities or accomplishments and help you build a strong case for your candidacy as a professional teacher. Some of the best references are experienced educators who have observed you teach recently. If you're a recent graduate, ask your cooperating teacher and college supervisor to serve as references. Invite your principal to observe you and then ask them to serve as a reference. Other pre-student teaching professors and clinical instructors can serve as references. Professional teachers with whom you have worked can speak about your professionalism, ability to set and achieve goals, interpersonal skills, collaboration, leadership, and organization.
However, not all of your references need to be professional educators. For instance, a supervisor in another job who observed you in a leadership role can speak to qualities related to effective teaching (e.g., ability to communicate, organize, plan strategically, take initiative, delegate responsibilities, motivate, actively listen and respond). A parent of one of your students can serve as reference. A parent can write about how you positively influenced his/her child and actions you took to build partnerships between the school, classroom and home.
Working with references - building a case for your candidacy
Before listing names of references in your job application materials, it is customary to ask if they would agree to serve as a reference. If your references agree, request their contact information - during the academic year and the summer. Employers may contact the reference by phone or email during the summer when they are not on the college campus or in school.
When you ask people to serve as a reference and/or write a letter of recommendation, provide your résumé and a job posting. Next, request an appointment to talk about the teaching position, the employer's criteria for selecting applicants, and your qualifications for the position. Advocate for yourself. Talk enthusiastically about the job posting and why you believe you're a good fit for the position. Draw attention to your unique skills, knowledge and experiences. Refer to your résumé. Show your reference your hiring portfolio and other evidence of your abilities. This meeting is good preparation for future job interviews and provides your reference with plenty of fuel for writing a convincing letter of recommendation.
A reference needs adequate time to write the letter. Contact your references at least a month before you plan to submit your application. Tell the reference when you expect to submit the application. Gently suggest a date to complete the letter so you can submit your application materials on time or early. If you haven't received the letter by the proposed due date, politely remind them and explain that you would be glad to pick up the letter.
Submitting letters of recommendation - printed and electronic
For schools or districts requiring printed letters of recommendation, submit clean copies of signed letters of recommendation. When applying online at teacher recruitment and hiring websites, you will submit electronic letters. Your employers access the e-letters when reviewing your online job application. For example, at SchoolSpring.com, you enter the names and contact information of references in your account. After granting permission, SchoolSpring.com sends your reference an email for online submission or verification. References enter the letter as text (i.e., copied and pasted from Word document). References cannot insert scanned JPEG or PDF files. You need to monitor your account. Follow up with your references to see if they receive the email requesting submission or verification of the letter. If your references do not receive an email with the link to the applicant's page, you can re-send it.
Stay in touch with your references. Send thank you letters shortly after they write the letter of recommendation. Later, contact them when you win a teaching position and share the great news!
To learn more about winning a teaching job, read my blog and book, Winning a Teaching Position in Any Job Market at http://www.winateachingjob.com
- MacGregor Kniseley, Professor
Department of Elementary Education
Rhode Island College, Providence, RI