What do employers want from a letter of reference?

My master teachers submitted two very different letters, perhaps owing to their two very different perspectives on teaching. One master teacher wrote mostly about my abilities and techniques in the classroom. He even threw in a specific example, bless his heart.

My other master teacher wrote on some of that, too, but also stuck in these grafs.

Benjamin has a journalism degree and experience including currently serving as a copy editor for his college paper. This has enriched his teaching perspective and the students have benefited greatly. He is also working with our journalism teacher to present some instruction and work with her students as he is able. He also has 10 years of band experience and particularly enjoys marching bands. …

Benjamin has the 9th grade English clearance and is completing his English credential in addition to Social Studies. Because of his own background in AP classes he hopes to eventually teach AP US History. He would do well in Academic Decathalon or Mock UN.

Isn’t this background stuff I should touch on during the interview? Or does she include these details in case I forget them during the interview?

Given that this is in the recommendation letter, what should I put in the cover letter that some districts insist on? What is interview etiquette on this measure?

Moreover, will the inclusion of AP U.S. History brand me as one of those elitists? If that’s the case, I’ll never be able to run for president.

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  1. Depends on the person interviewing you
    Perspective #1
    “This kid isn’t going to understand our low level kids.”
    You won’t be teaching AP the first year, new teachers usually get a nice chunk of the lower classes.

    Perspective #2
    This is super — “he will push our low level kids because he is used to high archivers and is himself a high archiver.” It is not easy to find teachers who can teach AP courses, now we have someone who can.

    Yea…in your cover letter a line about being prepared and enjoying a variety of skill levels yada yada. You need to let them know you can understand the kids that were born and live at the bottom of the barrel, as well as the cream.

  2. In a cover letter, perhaps something about WHY you want the job in the first place. Why are you teaching? Why should they hire YOU? Training can only take you so far. Are you going to play nice with the other kids? Have new ideas?

    It comes across like you aren’t pleased with either of the letters of recommendation. What were you looking for in them?

  3. Keep in mind interview formats vary wildly, so it is quite possible that you won’t have an opportunity to run down your biography. I’ve done group interviews where every teacher in the department asked questions, I’ve done informal one-and-one interviews, and I’ve done rigid answer-these-specific-questions interviews. All of these were within the same district.

    Curiously enough, the only commonality is that none of them cared the slightest about my portfolio which my certification program took great pains to have everyone create.

  4. Mr. Bogush: Between all three letters — I had a previous employer chime in, too — I think I have that full picture.

    Ms. Jae: It isn’t that I’m not pleased with the letters. I just don’t know what to expect, or whether the usual stuff is exactly what employers are looking for.

    Do employers even read these letters, though?

    Mr. Dyer: I’m glad I don’t have to worry about a portfolio. I threw in a few extra pieces for flavor, and because nobody else did, it made me stand out. I think, at least.

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  6. Cool. I just added the button to my sidebar.

  7. crescentaluna

    I teach at a community college and write letters of rec. regularly (four in the last week). I also mentor both grad. students and fellow part-time teachers, advising on how to get that elusive full-time position, and have served on hiring committees (and will again). When I write a rec., I tend to the second type. It’s not that you’ll “forget” to say such things in an interview, but:

    1) you may not really have the chance: who knows the direction an interview may take?
    2) more (maybe many more) can read the letter than will speak to you
    3) your performance in the classroom – actually TEACHING – probably matters less than you think to an employer. Outstanding student teachers don’t always become outstanding teachers, and anyway, competent teaching is taken for granted – you made it through a grad program, right? Now what the employer wants is a sense of who you are, what intangibles and potentials you will bring to a department, what lasting impressions of you someone who’s worked with you has.

    As for the cover letter: Zero in on the qualifications and preferences in the job posting and address each one as precisely as possible. Bullet points are not a bad thing here. Don’t be shy about repeating, in abbreviated form, what’s stated on your CV. And *be concise*. Wordiness can be the kiss of death in a cover letter.

    Seemingly contradictory advice- sorry! – but doable, pretty much.

  8. – Bullet points.
    – Be concise.
    – Include intangibles, details.

    Got it.

  9. Joel

    I’ve screened hundreds of application packages and lead many interview team processes in hiring teachers and other school positions. Letters of recommendation are important as is the letter of application. I’d agree with the comments above about the letter of application speaking specifically to the job posting and desired qualifications. These letters — at least when I’ve run the process — are key steps in getting an interview. Although I read the letters from supervising teachers, and scanned those from university professors, I paid the most attention to those from building and district administrators. I’d look for positive staff members, who would be a good match for the position.

    The interview, and most importantly the phone reference calls, were the keys to making a hiring decision. Although the process often didn’t support a lengthy review of portfolios, those left behind that had been clearly linked to specific answers during the interview received careful review — and in a case or two were deciding factors.

  10. Great: I’ll keep it in mind.

  11. Roz

    I just wanted to say, well done guys! Lovely!.
    I am from Great and learning to write in English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Offering budget trips with online schedules, rates and reservation of flights, ferry, hotels and tours.”

    THX 8), Roz.

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