Monday, April 25, 2011

References and Letters of Recommendation

A reference is someone you select for an employer to call and/or someone who writes a letter of recommendation in support of your application. References convey to employers their judgments about your knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to different aspects of teaching (e.g., interactive functions of teaching, building and maintaining a learning community, classroom management, materials management, long and short-term planning for instruction and assessment, school leadership and collaboration with colleagues, parent-guardians, and other members of the school community.

Select your references carefully. Ask permission before listing a reference on job applications. Provide your references your résumé, the job qualifications, and aspects of teaching to address in a letter of recommendation.

Below are responses to questions about selecting and working with your references:

How many references are required for an application? How do employers use references and letters of recommendation?

Typically, employers require applicants to identify 3 -5 references and include letters of recommendations with applications. During the screening phase, references are viewed briefly. If you’re selected as a finalist, your letters of recommendation are reviewed more carefully and references may be called for further information. Employers seek other opinions about you as a teacher. Employers expect positive letters of recommendation. However, the content of the letter (or phone conversation with a reference) often reveals unique personal qualities, knowledge, and skills related to effective teaching.

Who should serve as references?

The best references are experienced educators who have observed you teach recently.

If you’re a recent graduate, ask your cooperating teacher, college supervisor to serve as a reference. 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.

The reference does not need to be a professional educator. 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). Parents of students you’ve taught can serve as references, especially if they can write about how you positively influenced their students and actions you took to build partnerships between the school, classroom and home. And, consider other professional teachers you have worked with and supervisors from previous careers can speak to your personal qualities related to effective teaching (e.g., interpersonal skills, leadership, organization).

Before listing the references in the job application, it is customary to ask your references if they would be willing serve as a reference. If they agree, request their contact information (e.g., mailing address, phone, email) 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 should I ask for letters of references? How should I work with my references in order to receive great letters of recommendations?

When you ask people to serve as a reference and/or write a letter of recommendation, send them your résumé and a job description. Next, request an appointment to talk about the teaching position, criteria for selecting applicants, and your qualifications. When you meet in person or talk on the phone, talk enthusiastically about the teaching position 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. If you have a hiring portfolio, show them evidence of your abilities. This is also good practice for the job interview.

How much advance notice should I give my references?

Contact your references a month before you plan to submit your application. They need adequate time to write the letter. Inform them of a due date - when you need the reference so you can submit your application materials. If you haven’t received the letter, politely remind them and explain that you would be glad to pick up the letter.

Do I list the references on my résumé?

At the end of your résumé, type “References available upon request.” If an employer requests contact information for references, you can attach a separate file to the résumé or enter into the section of the online application. Include the reference’s title (e.g., Dr., Ms., Mr.), first and last name, role (e.g., cooperating teacher, college supervisor, principal, parent of student), school, organization, or company, mailing address, phone, and email.

How are references handled when I’m applying online at a teacher recruitment and hiring system?

You will need to learn about the process at your teacher recruitment and hiring system web site. At, you enter the names and contact information of references. After granting permission, 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. Monitor your account. Follow up with your references to see if they received the email requesting submission or verification of the letter. If the 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 to your references shortly after they write the letter of recommendation. Later, contact them when you win a teaching position!

BOOKNOTE: See The Guide for additional advice about working with your references to write winning letters of recommendations. You can view an examples of a letter requesting a letter of recommendation and an example of a thank you letter to a reference.