Top Strategies for Selecting References for a Teacher Interview

Here’s a question via Twitter from our EDU Edge friend Sadie Wilson @sawilson3, an aspiring teacher finishing up student teaching and preparing for the teacher interview process.

“Who should I get letters of recommendations from?
Are there some that are more important to get than others?”

Sadie – We think your question is an important one.  The EDU Edge cadre of school administrators across the country sees thousands of candidates’ credential files, applications, cover letters, resumes, etc and we believe that selection of references is something that is often times approached too casually by teaching candidates.

We see that candidates (especially those with limited teaching experience – like those just out of student teaching) will sometimes lean toward using friends or coworkers because they feel the closest with these people and believe they will say the kindest things about them. Moreover, there is also a tendency to list or submit letters from supervisors who they have worked for in jobs that were not related to teaching children. Our EDU Edge principals and central office administrators report that they give these types of references much less weight.

We believe it is essential to have at least two references from those individuals who have directly supervised you while you have been teaching and working with students.  If you are limited in who you can list or are prioritizing your list, the general rule of thumb is to include references who have witnessed you working with students above those who have not.  Student teaching supervisors who have observed you in the classroom can certainly be valuable references, but they can be trumped by other references as their interest in seeing their college’s graduates secure work can affect their perceived level of objectivity among potential employers.

Among those who have witnessed you working with students, it can be advantageous to have an administrator serve as reference over another teacher in the building, but only if the administrator has substantial experience observing your work.  THE golden ticket is a references from an administrator who has conducted one or more full formal observation cycles with you. However, given the tremendously demanding schedules of administrators, it is not always possible to get this when working as a substitute teacher, temporary teacher or student teacher.

In Chapter 4 of their book, The Insider’s Guide to the Teaching Interview (2012), authors and EDU Edge consortium members, Bill Kresse and Mike Vallely offer a detailed ‘Hierarchy of References’ chart to decipher how to select and list references when applying for a teaching position.  If you want to get your reference list down to a science, this is a really useful resource.

Good luck to you Sadie!  Good luck to all of you following the EDU Edge.  Please come back and let us know how you make out so we can all learn together. 

Yours in a Partnership in Learning,
The EDU Edge

(Please feel free to contact us with additional questions … we’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at  Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome.  We’ll do our best to respond and try our best to help you.)

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