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.)

How to Deal with ‘The Price is Right Effect’ After the Successful Teacher Interview

EDU Edge friend Jennifer tweeted us a question … “Any advice on when you know the job is right for you and when you should wait for another offer?” … “I’m struggling with the size and location of the school.  I want to make sure I secure a job, but I also want to wait for larger school districts to complete their interview processes.”

Jennifer- Congratulations!  Teaching jobs are hard to come by these days.  The fact that you have an opportunity is absolutely fantastic!  It is likely that you have worked very hard to arrive at this point and you should view it as an accomplishment.

Although it may be taboo for many administrators or college professors to discuss such topics, it is a legitimate issues that many teaching candidates are faced with.  We like to refer to it as ‘The Price is Right Effect.’  You remember when Bob Barker would open up door number one or two, revealing a decent grilling and patio table combo?  The contestant was then faced with the decision of going with the grill combo, which was pretty good, or taking what was behind door number three.  If they went with number three, they risked getting a pack of tube socks, but they also had the possibility of winning a new Cadillac.  It can be a truly gut wrenching situation. You want to make the right call and we understand your anxiety.

So here is our view on these situations.  First, if the position is so detestable to you that you would be absolutely depressed getting out of bed every day to go to work, you should not do it.  Now keep in mind, this had better be a seriously uncomfortable situation for you to back away from a position.  This is not a threshold to take lightly.  You are giving up a lot by walking away from a job in hand including:

  • The opportunity to build your resume, experience and references
  • Regular income
  • Possible service credits in a state pension system or 401k savings
  • Years of experience that would translate to extra teaching steps if you eventually move to another school
  • And much more

If you walk away with it, you must also be completely at peace with the possibility that you may go another year or few years without another opportunity.  In other words, you better have opened the door with the tube socks in order to consider walking away from a job.

Ok, so we answered your basic question and now we can hear all the “Edgies” tweeting their next question already, so we might as well tackle it right now: Assuming the job you take is not completely detestable, can you still keep an eye out for your dream job in the same hiring season?  We say yes, with some VERY significant asterisks added.  Here they are:

*One: You must first research the laws in your state about leaving a teaching job once you have made a verbal or written commitment to an employer.  These vary from state to state and can vary within state for private, charter and traditional public schools.  In some states, you do not have to have the blessing of the school you are leaving, but they can choose to impose a waiting period (usually around thirty to forty-five days).  In other states, you cannot leave at all during that school year unless released by the school or district.  If you are not released and you leave, you could face the school filing a complaint with the state education department and suspending your certification for a period of time.  Be sure to also carefully read the language of any contract you sign.  You may face certain financial penalties for an early departure.  If you are not familiar or comfortable with the repercussions, do not explore another position during the same hiring season.

*Two: Do not apply or interview for any job after you have secured the first unless you are confident it is your dream job.  Your moment for taking any interview just for the experience has ended.  You should only look at something you consider to be a significant upgrade from what you have been offered. 

*Three: Be sure if you are offered an interview, you are upfront about the fact that you have already accepted a position at another school.  Any surprises could be viewed as deceit.  You need to be honest at the right moment and let them know about the other offer.  They need to weigh this as a part of their decision because there may be implications for how soon they would be able to employ you.  This must be done delicately and worded very carefully.

*Four: Be prepared for the possibility that the school you have committed to may find out you are interviewing, and if they have the ability, may separate with you.  Unofficially it could play a role in your tenure status and relationships with colleagues.  Again, the laws of when and the thresholds for employers to separate from teachers vary from state-to-state and you should become acquainted with the risks.

There is no doubt this is a dicey affair.  Only enter into it if you have calculated all of the risks and benefits.  At the same time, our experience has been that most, but certainly not all, administrators would rather move on to another candidate than force a person who does not want to work for them to be at their building or district.  Forcing people to work for you does not generally yield a highly motivated employee or an effective addition to the team dynamic.

Finally, it is certainly a difficult decision to decide whether your current offer is a fit for you and the safe bet to take.  But, teachers become attracted to different settings for different reasons.  Some people aspire to teach in small rural schools, others city schools, and still others in suburban school districts.  Some feel a calling to teach in schools with faith communities, while others are energized and rewarded by serving in public or non-sectarian settings.  While you may have that perfect setting in mind, be sure you are evaluating the setting based on what satisfies your needs and preferences and not what other people tell you is important. And do not forget that multitudes of teachers out there found themselves being forced to accept a teaching job in a school they thought they would be less than perfect … and now could never be dragged away by a team of a thousand horses.  If you take the job offered and that dream job does not come by this hiring season, it is likely you will know by year two or three whether you have fallen in love with your current setting with all its imperfections or whether you need to more aggressively search for another position.  In the end, if you do leave, you will have gained many benefits for having worked a full-time teaching job prior to the dream job.

Good luck to you Jennifer!  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.  We welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)

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.)


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