Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cover Letters - "Get a Teaching Job!" Series

I had an incredible experience applying for jobs – learned A LOT – and now I am excited to share some of my experience with you! Several teacher friends have asked for advice and tips with applying for jobs and the interview process, so by the third request I thought it might be easier to put it all in one place and not have to give it a go every time someone asks! Hence, my series titled “Get a Teaching Job!” (my motto throughout the entire spring of this year).

The first installment in my series is about your cover letter. I believe the key to a great cover letter is to first stalk the school's website and/or promotional things to get an idea for what is valued within the school culture. Then, carefully adjust your template letter to include this important thing with a brief reason why you should qualify for it.

Here is what I suggest:
1.)  Write a cover letter that you could send to any district human resources person, principal, or school.
2.)  Find a section within the letter that you can state what you know is important to a specific school. State that important thing and…
3.)  Describe how you are capable of contributing to that goal.

You may be reading this and thinking, “That will take a lot of time. Surely I don’t have to create a new cover letter for each school?”
Yes, you do!
Isn’t the point of a cover letter to catch the principal’s or interview team’s attention? You stand out when you show that you genuinely think you can contribute to the school’s culture. Knowing your strengths and being capable of fine-tuning those strengths into the right place, in the right way, is also key, but that takes time and lots of editing. 

Each school has a mission statement, right? Well, pull a couple key words from the school’s mission statement and then create a list of things you do that meet that.
Let’s take a look at some examples.

School 1: Motto statement includes phrasing, “challenging and innovative curriculum” -- My response: “…strive to incorporate higher-order thinking skills and standards-driven instruction by engaging my students in collaborative problem-solving units.” – Notice how I didn’t use the exact words from their motto? I applied my knowledge of best practices and stated honestly elements within my teaching style that meets their school goals.
School 2: Website had the word “differentiation” all over it! I also had prior knowledge about this school having high standards. -- My response: “School Name’s reputation for academic excellence and a focus on differentiation aligns closely with my own philosophy of education.” – Simple, yes. But notice how I lightly seasoned the statement with a compliment and their key word?

To help you with this I recommend you write down a list of things you know you do well. What are some best practices you use? What do you truly believe makes for awesome teaching and REAL learning?
Next, and I can’t say this enough… Be honest with yourself! If you include a statement about how much you LOVE cooperative group work but really you just stick the kids’ desks into groups of four or five… you might find yourself in a pickle when they ask you to “describe your application of cooperative group work in your teaching” during the interview!

Now that you have your list, keep it close by. Each and every time you see a position at a school come open: hop over to their website, find one or two key goals to the school, analyze your list about your strengths, and go from there to develop the one statement that you believe works best.

Individualized cover letters make a difference. So go forth and individualize those cover letters like you individualize instruction!

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