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Before You Even Think About Applying for a Teaching Job...

written by: Doc Smith•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 8/27/2012

One of the biggest parts of getting your foot in the door and scoring that coveted teaching job interview is to make sure that you have really good letters of reference for your teaching file. Good reference letters do not happen overnight, nor magically appear within hours of asking for them.

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    Steps in Getting Those Top Reference Letters

    Here are some tried and true tips from a college professor who is asked to write many, many, many reference letters for wanna-be teachers.

    First: Before you even ask someone to write a reference letter, scrub-up your resume.

    I mean get that resume to sparkle and shine. Have others review your resume for typos, misspellings, grammar, and clarity. This is not the time for inserting those cute teacher apple graphics or using anything but totally professional language and paper. In short, does your resume look like the professional teacher you want to be? Or does it look like a Kindergartener created it? You are the teacher – not the Kindergarten student.

    Second: Know the title and name of the person that you are asking for a reference letter.

    In academia there are huge differences in titles. For example, there are Professors, Associate Professors, Assistant Professors, Instructors, and of course Mr. Mrs. Ms and Miss titles. If in doubt, then access the college’s web page to find out the exact title of the person you are going to ask for a reference letter. The same goes for the person’s name. You would be amazed how many teachers-to-be do not do this simple step.

    Third: Make your request in writing to the person.

    Think of this like business. In fact, applying for a teaching job is part of the business of education. You will need to write a brief cover letter that explains who you are, what you are asking for, the time line you need the letter, and in what ways do you know the person.

    Be brief, but be clear. Enclose your sparkly resume with your request. Of course, you can snail mail all of this or email it to the person.

    Note: Always include directions for the reference writer so that the reference letter will get to where it should be! If the reference letter is to be mailed to another place, include an addressed envelope with enough stamps to get it there. Again, you would be amazed to know how many teachers-to-be neglect to include an addressed envelope with a couple of stamps.

    One more word of warning: Do NOT hand write anything; that includes the return envelope.

    Fourth: Remember that not everyone will want to write a positive recommendation letter for you.

    That is a true fact. One of the last things you want in your professional teaching file is a plain vanilla form letter for a reference. In addition, you really don’t want anything in a letter that would say something like this: The person who asked me to write a reference letter was a student sometime within the last 10 years.

    Always ask the would-be reference writer: Would you be able to write a positive recommendation letter for teaching for me?

    Fifth: Be totally aware that not everyone has the time to write you a reference letter.

    Time is a critical issue for many of us. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time. Always ask the person:If you have time, would you write a positive reference letter for me? This is just one of those facts of life in teaching. Time does matter.

    Sixth: Always take the time to write a brief thank you note – snail mail or email – to the person who wrote your reference letter.

    Seventh: Always let the reference letter writer know when you score the interview – and of course when and where you get the job. We love success!

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    Sample Letter Asking for a Reference

    Here is an example letter from a preservice teacher asking for a reference letter. I wrote the reference letter and she did get an interview. By the way, she did get the job after her first interview.


    Home Address




    Dear Dr. C. Smith,

    I was a student enrolled in your elementary science teaching methods class for the spring semester of 2008. Since that time I have completed my student teaching. I am actively searching for a teaching position. I am in the process of obtaining reference letters for my teaching file.

    If you have time, and are comfortable writing a positive letter of recommendation for my teaching files, would you let me know by phone or email? In hopes that you do have the time and are able to do so by May 31, 2009, I am enclosing a copy of my resume, the reference letter form to complete, and an addressed and stamped envelope for you to use. The completed reference form can be mailed in the enclosed envelope to the Career Center for Teachers.

    Thank you for considering doing this for me. If there is anything else that I could provide, please feel free to contact me by phone or email. I will be in touch to let you know my progress.

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    Good luck in your career search, and remember, always keep in touch with the reference letter writer and let them know how you made out! Keep your networking skills active and up to date. You never know when you will need to reach out to this reference again in the future.