The Coveted Letter of Recommendation: How & When to Ask for One
Discuss Schools that are great and not so great about supplying them
An outstanding letter of reference can be a non-stop ticket to a choice position in the location of your dreams. A lousy letter of reference, or none at all, doesn’t necessarily have to spell doom. Here’s some ideas to help you with your requests for letters of reference. We’ve also supplied a Discussion Board where teachers can share information about schools that readily supply letters of reference, and about those that hold these letters over teachers’ heads to keep them “in line”.
Don’t leave school without one
Directors, like teachers, move from school to school, and tracking individuals down for a letter of reference at a future date may be nearly impossible. Always ask for, and receive a letter of recommendation prior to departing your present school. At ISR we receive emails on a regular basis from teachers asking if we know how or where to find a particular director. Rule of thumb: Always make every effort to get a letter of recommendation at the close of your term of service.
Timing is important in life, love and getting a letter of reference
We strongly recommend you don’t ask for a recommendation letter by email, or immediately before/ after a class, or while passing an administrator in the hall, or at any other random moment. The best approach is to arrange a time to meet with your chosen letter writer. This demonstrates you place a high level of importance on the letter, their time constraints, and helps them prioritize your request. At this brief meeting you can hand over a short page outlining your accomplishments and contributions to the school–let’s call it an outline of high points in your work at the school that may have been forgotten or overlooked by your supervisor. Do whatever you can to make the job of writing you a letter quick, easy, and efficient for your busy administrator.
Popping the question
“Can you write a letter of reference for me?” is not how to ask for what you hope to be a glowing report. The problem with this approach is you have no idea what will be written about you. Experience shows it’s better to be definitive and say something like; “Do you feel you know my work well enough to write a good letter of recommendation?” or, “Do you feel you could give me a good reference?” By asking in this way, your referee has an easy way out if they’re not comfortable writing a letter for you. If the answer is “yes”, you’re assured they’re enthusiastic about your teaching skills and will write a positive letter.
Letters usually come from the top, but not always
International schools, like most entities, tend to be run by the one or two individuals at the top. As teachers, school directors hold our futures in their hands–or so they may like to think. After two years in Africa, a teacher reports he had repeatedly upset the school director and principal with his endless suggestions for school improvement. “You’re the type of person that’s never happy!” was the admin’s response to suggestions. Our teacher reports, “I knew one thing for sure, I wouldn’t be happy with my letter of reference”.
Finding yourself saddled with a poor letter, or not receiving a letter of reference at all, does not always spell doom. Some schools have countless poor reviews on ISR. Pointing out you have been working at one of these schools may lead an enlightened interviewer to understand why you don’t have a letter of reference from your immediate employer. Just the fact you will actually stick it out to the end of your current contract may speak volumes about you. Honesty is the best policy in such situations. Simply stating that you didn’t fit in well with your previous director may suffice. Avoid details unless specifically asked. Strong letters from parents, a board member, principal, or school counselor may serve as a substitute for a director’s letter in such cases.
Networking may be a good alternative to a poor letter of reference
Networking is a viable way around a lack of, or poor letter of reference. A director with whom you had a favorable experience in the past may have moved to a location that interests you and a phone call or email may land you a position. It has worked for me in the past, more than once.
Does your school treat letters of recommendation like a carrot on a stick?
Reviews on the ISR web site tell of schools holding letters of recommendation over teachers’ heads to keep them “in line”. Other reviews report on schools that have refused to supply letters until teachers submit formal resignations. One director even refused all letter requests because his staff was posting negative reviews about him on ISR. Then there are school directors who have been reported to drag their feet and require repeated reminders while others just never deliver. Prior knowledge of such poor practices is important when choosing a school. That’s why we created a special Discussion Board where you can share just such information.
Share and read about how various schools treat letters of recommendation
Has your school been forthright in supplying letters of reference for faculty, or have you found the opposite to be true? Here’s an opportunity to share this information with colleagues. Teachers keeping each other informed is what International Schools Review is all about! Go to Discussion Board