12/06/2012 by Leslie Dickinson |

4 (and a Half) Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement

Female student close up writing in notebook with pen

For many job-seekers, there is one piece of their candidate file that plagues and puzzles: the Personal Statement. The guidelines we provide for this document are deliberately open-ended because, of all of your materials, these 1-2 pages of your file should be the ones that follow no template. It’s your chance to tell your story. And you know that tale far better than we do.

While what you write is up to you, here are 4 (and a half) things to avoid in your personal statement.

1. Treating the personal statement like a term paper from your M.Ed. Program

You’ve spent a couple of years learning all about 21st century curricula, flipped classrooms, and the history of education, and you have a perfectly crafted, uber-academic teaching philosophy that you’re tempted to copy-and-paste. Don’t.

When discussing your pedagogical approach to teaching, be cautious: you don’t want industry buzzwords and others’ opinions to overshadow your own experience-based insights.

Plus, you’ve already provided copies of your academic transcripts, which include coursework. Use the personal statement to share not just what you know about teaching, but what you love about it.

2. Making the statement all about YOU

It sounds counter-intuitive—it is a personal statement, after all. But your statement shouldn’t only say “Here’s who I am” but also “Here’s what I’ll do for you.”

The folks reading your personal statement are trying to determine what added value you’ll bring to their school, and to gauge whether you’ll thrive as a part of their community. That’s right: this statement is actually about them.

So spend your 500 words applying your past experiences to what you hope to do next. Show schools that you understand what they’re looking for and that you fit the bill.

3. Writing a bit-TOO-personal statement

We know the job search is inevitably fraught with certain realities. Maybe your current school culture just doesn’t jive with yours, or you’re looking to break from internal tensions with faculty or administration. Or perhaps you’ve just finished that 7-year doctorate, only to discover a dismal university job market.

Life happens. But your personal statement isn’t the appropriate place to air these grievances. Emphasizing motivations in your search that have nothing to do with either students or the school to which you’re applying to can be detrimental. Keep your statement focused on your commitment to the craft of teaching, your passions, and your applicable anecdotes, and leave the nitty-gritty truth for later.

4. Failing to go beyond the classroom

That said, a personal story that demonstrates who you are can make your statement shine. It’s important to represent yourself as a well-rounded person with authentic interests, for your role in an independent school will extend past the classroom. At an independent school, you are not only an educator but an advisor, coach, and mentor. As you frame who you are to your potential employer, don’t forget to go beyond the four walls of your classroom.

Did you work as a wilderness guide for teenagers during your summers in college? Did your Model UN team make it to nationals? Were you the team captain of your varsity rugby team? Do you spend your weekends trail running, cycling, or doing community theater? Let them know!

4 ½ . Not bothering to write/update your personal statement

I can’t stress enough the value of your personal statement in your search. Choosing not to include one (or not updating it periodically) automatically places you at a disadvantage. For one thing, you can bet that other candidates vying for the same job have submitted comparable personal statements.

And again – competition aside – the personal statement is a rare opportunity to:

  • close gaps in your candidacy
  • draw attention to details about you that might be overlooked in your resume bullets
  • proactively show hiring contacts that you are serious about wanting to teach at an independent school.

Have any more tips for crafting the perfect personal statement? Weigh in below! And, if you’re searching for an independent school teaching or administrative position, let us help you — apply online today.

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