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.)

Teacher Assistant or Aide Positions: An Overlooked Stepping Stone to Success in the Teacher Interview

EDU Edge friend (Dan) at West Virginia University sent us a question via email … “I’m going to graduate in May and there are very few teaching jobs open in the state that I am originally from. There is a teaching assistant position available near my home town. If I’m unable to land a teaching job, are these positions good to take? Can they be stepping stones to fulltime teaching positions?”

Dan, thanks for contacting The EDU Edge. Yes … yes … yes! We think you’re smart to consider a teaching assistant or teacher aide position to start if you are unable to find a teaching position. Subbing is certainly an option that gets you in the door, gaining contacts and meeting people who can help you in your goal of securing a full time teaching position. But an idea that is often overlooked is taking a teaching assistant or teacher aide position. Many people don’t even consider this as an option, perhaps because they see it as beneath them, but we feel that this is a big mistake.

When times are tough and the teaching positions are limited, working as a teaching assistant or aide has become a legitimate and smart option. The administrators in The EDU Edge consortium can point to literally hundreds of examples where individuals with teaching degrees have taken a teaching assistant position and then jumped into the next available teacher position in that school or district. The same thing happened as if I they had been a substitute teacher. They:

• took advantage of their opportunity

• proved their competence, value and talent

• interacted with the teachers and administration, who got to know and like them and then, voila, they were in the candidate pool and being recommended for the next available position.

Yes, many times these positions pay a lot less than a full time teaching position would, but they do come with benefits and most importantly, opportunity. They also provide daily employment at the same location each day.

We have never seen a perfect teacher who was firing on all cylinders right out of college. Everyone needs time to grow and hone their practice. Like subbing, these positions provide great opportunities to refine your skills. As teacher aide and assistant positions have less to do with basic student supervision and are increasingly oriented toward instructional support over the past fifteen years, we have seen more and more examples of students right out of teaching schools taking these positions as a pathway to full time teaching positions. They also provide a great insider view of how schools operate with less pressure while you are getting acclimated to working in an educational workplace. This understanding and ease with school operations will come in handy at interview time.

Finally, if you feel there is a stigma attached to working as an aide or assistant, get with the times and get over it. While you are sitting by the phone day after day waiting for the chance for a mere interview, your competition is working as a teacher assistant proving themselves and making contacts. They are also earning wages, benefits and possibly service credits toward a pension. They are doing what it takes to get ‘the edge’ in landing a teaching position.

Good luck to you Dan! And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge. Please come back and let us know how it went 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 we welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)


Student Teaching Right Now? To Ask or Not to Ask Your Principal to do an Observation… That is the Question.

EDU Edge friend (Melissa) at Penn State sent us a question via email … “I’m presently doing my student teaching and a few people have suggested that I should ask the principal of my school to do an observation of me before I leave.  Why should I do this?  Do you think this is a good idea?”

Melissa, what these people are getting at is that having a formal observation done by the principal of your school would:

A. be excellent feedback and benefit your personal and professional development
B. be an excellent artifact to put into your interview portfolio
C. could potentially result in the principal being a quality reference on your resume. 

At first glance, appear to be some pretty reasonable assumptions here, but are they valid?  To test drive them, we forwarded your questions to the school administrators in The EDU Edge consortium.  We received mixed responses with mixed emotions.  Half responded that it was perfectly fine, but the other half worried about their own professional time constraints to do this for student teachers. 

The principalship is a very demanding position.  Time is always scarce and if classroom observations are done well, they take time.  For a typical observation, the principal would have to:

  • schedule a pre-observation conference
  • review your lesson plan
  • take the time to discuss it with you
  • actually observe you in action for at least a class period
  • write up the observation itself
  • give you specific written feedback
  • meet with you afterward to discuss the lesson
  • suggest how it could be improved upon, etc, etc.

Our point is that you need to know that, as a student teacher, you are not a permanent member of the principal’s faculty yet.  With all the other responsibilities the principal has to take care of, this is asking a lot, even of the most willing and generous school leader.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t ask (we’ll get to that in a second) but please know that it is not a small favor.  The fact that you are questioning the advice that you are getting, shows us that you are considerate and respectful and we commend you for this. 

With the input of our EDU Edge colleagues, a quality answer on whether to ask or not hinges on a couple variables:

1.  Do you know the principal?  Not just who he or she is, but do you know and have a relationship with them?
2.  How comprehensive and time consuming is the school’s/district’s teacher observation process?  The process that we described above is an example of the process that principals work with in many schools and districts across the country.  Not all are this time consuming though.  If they are check boxes or your school has a process that can be done more efficiently, this definitely helps.
3.  How large is the school?  Our EDU Edge consortium members state that a 200 student K-3 Elementary building is going to have a much more intimate feel and be easier for that principal to do a full-blown observation than a high school of 3000 students and a faculty of 200 teachers.  We’re not saying one job is easier than the other, simply stating that the ability to extend this opportunity to a student teacher may be different.
4.  How are the responsibilities of the administrative team divided?  If there is an assistant principal for curriculum and instruction or one who supervises all of the teachers in your content area, then asking the principal is unlikely to produce the best observation or one at all.

Many people may disagree with us on this one Melissa.  But our advice comes directly from the consortium of administrators that make up The EDU Edge so it is important to weigh these variables in your specific situation and then go from there. 

Another option suggested by The EDU Edge consortium, was to plan an innovative lesson and invite the principal to come by to see their students in action.  If you decide to go this route, you want to ensure that the principal is seeing you at your best.  With an advanced invitation, the principal can easily add the visit to her normal walkthroughs observations.  Once she’s seen you in action, you can then more comfortably ask her to be a phone reference for you.  Ultimately, this is a much less time consuming option for the principal and you don’t put them in a tough spot.  At the same time, you get an administrative reference on your resume.  Chapter 4 of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview ©2012 discusses selection of appropriate teacher references in detail as well as how to keep them useful for your job searches during many years to come.

Good luck to you Melissa!  And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge.  Please come back and let us know how it went 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 we welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)

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