Stellar Letters of Recommendation
Principals and teachers offer tips on how to craft a standout letter.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
A letter of recommendation can be a very important factor in determining whether or not a prospective teacher gets an interview. To help determine what ingredients are essential in a shining letter of recommendation, Scholastic.com talked to both principals and teachers.
What Principals Look for
- I'm impressed when I feel the writer really knows the person. I look for one or two anecdotes about the person's strengths, as well as how they interact with children. I expect them from supervisors, cooperating teachers, a former principal, a colleague. The more specific the letter, the better it is.
- I've had to write letters for teachers who were good, but not great — so I've learned to read them with a keen eye. It needs specific examples — such as, "Jim is a creative curriculum developer," and then gives an example. It should cover a wide range of skills, such as instructional technique, classroom management, creativity, how he/she works with others, classroom climate. What's missing is revealing, too.
- I am not impressed by letters from parents. I don't know what they mean out of context, and under what circumstances they initially arrived. I want letters from supervisors, with specifics about how well a teacher gets along with colleagues, is a hard worker, and is diligent. You can see when a candidate is being damned by faint praise. There's a kind of code to these letters. I look for the phrase: "I highly recommend."
- I like specifics, not just "this teacher is a nice person." The letter should describe a particular experience or relationship with the writer; it means the writer really cares about and knows the candidate well. Remember, the committee is trying to project how this teacher performs. A good letter should address that. A letter from a principal holds the most weight for me, but a letter from a parent whose child had the teacher can also be very nice.
What Teachers Suggest
- In letters of recommendation, I feel it is important to include how well the applicant works with others. Is the applicant a team player? Creative? Flexible? Likes people? Finishes tasks? Is able to accept criticism, both positive and negative? A good role model? Organized?
- I believe that one of the most important skills a new teacher can have is that of classroom management and discipline. The letter of recommendation should illustrate how the student teacher employed a good classroom management scheme. Organization is also a skill necessary for success in the first years of teaching. How the student teacher handled the time in the classroom effectively should also be spoken of in the letter.
- Mention the new teacher's leadership qualities or skills, enthusiasm, professionalism, interpersonal skills with staff and community, and his/her ability to create a student-centered classroom environment where active learning takes place. To the student teacher: It is very important to ask for letters of recommendation from people other than your cooperative teacher as well. Ask the principal or another person (a reading specialist, for example) in the building to observe you and write a letter on your behalf. The more positive data you gather on yourself, the better! It will make you stand out from the rest of the applicants!
- Today, most administrators want to know that the teacher can use technology successfully with students. Letters of recommendation should list specific examples of the candidate's strong points.