12/19/2014 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Who Should Write My Reference Letters?

Zoomed in on woman's hand completing a form

When it comes to the slew of materials you'll need to prepare and submit when applying for a job, asking for letters of recommendation can be the most awkward. Whom should you ask to write them? A college professor you’ve fallen out of touch with? Your first “real” boss? The headmaster of your school?

The answer? It depends. The appropriate references for you depend on where you are in your teaching or administrative career.

Above all, stick to one rule of thumb: ask people who know you well to refer you. You want your references to echo what you’ve already said in your personal statement and what’s reflected in your resume—and only people who actually know you can testify to who you are. Besides, a letter of recommendation will only hold weight if it comes from a reputable source.

Here are some suggestions for the right types of people to ask—for your particular job search.

If You’re…

A Rookie Teaching Candidate

If you’re a college senior, your list of reference writers will look a little different than that of a veteran teacher. In your application materials, you should strive to answer this question with a resounding “yes”: Do you want to be a teacher?

Use your references to show that you do. If you tutored in your school’s writing or academic center, ask your adviser to be a reference. If you spent the summer teaching through a summer school program (like Breakthrough, for example, or the Andover Summer Session), ask your boss or the summer school dean to refer you. Additionally, recruit professors who can highlight your expertise in a subject. For example, if you wrote a thesis, ask your adviser—who can attest to your work ethic and skill in your chosen subject—to be a reference.

A Veteran Teacher

As a veteran teacher, you should enlist references who can help demonstrate your teaching skills: your academic prowess, your ability to connect with kids, and your contributions to the school’s community. If you co-teach a classroom, ask your co-teacher. If you advise a club, ask your co-adviser. These people should understand your passion for the career.

Your references should also demonstrate your ability to work well with others and take initiative. Make sure you solicit a letter from a senior administrator at your current school—a head of school, department chair, or Dean, for example. These leaders can help paint a broader picture of you—as classroom teacher, community member, and employee.

A Teacher-Turned-Admin

If you’re looking to take the next step in your educational career from teacher to full-time administrator, make sure you ask people who can confirm that you’re ready to take the next step and explain why you are.

Engage reference writers who can attest to your past and current successes as a leader in addition to your successes as a teacher. Letters should be written by colleagues who know you well and who understand your ambitions. Make sure to ask a school administrator with several years of experience–he or she will understand the requirements of the position for which you’re applying and can describe how you are personally suited to meet those requirements.

A Current School Administrator

If you are a current administrator at a school, your references should understand the granular strategies you’ve taken to implement initiatives at your school. Ask your direct supervisor and one or two colleagues on your administrative team to refer you. Additionally, your head of school should at least appear on your reference list.

Consider asking former administrative colleagues who are now leaders at other schools to write a reference. These people might offer a glimpse of your evolution throughout your career.

A Career-Changer

Trying to break into teaching from another industry? You won’t be able to demonstrate years of experience in the field, but you can still show two important things: your interest in teaching and your character.

If you’ve volunteered with children or in any educational capacity—as a tutor or an analyst at an educational non-profit, for example—ask your supervisor to write a letter. If you ask a boss, make sure that he or she understands your motivation for teaching and explains why you’d succeed as an educator, highlighting your ability to explain concepts to peers, to stay organized, and to connect with others, for example. If your boss can write about your skills in your current industry and your underlying passion for education, that’s perfect.

Further, if you know anyone who works in education, solicit their help—their “insider knowledge” could be helpful to you as you make this switch.

In Summary (and where to send your letters)

Tell your references that all they have to do is draft a one-to-two page letter that discusses the content above. If they wish for their letter to remain confidential (i.e. they don’t want to send it directly to you for your file), they can send their letters to your Placement Associate.

If you need help navigating this tricky process, feel free to get in touch with questions. Not an active candidate with CS&A? Apply now.

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Applicant_2022 1/27/2022 at 7:34am

It is a good idea to ask the person for a copy of their resume or CV, even if you have known them for a long time. They may have new accreditation or achievements that merit highlighting, and you should provide as much current information as possible. This will also help give you guidelines to use when composing the letter.

Antonia 7/30/2022 at 9:48am

I have older written reference letters from administrators in my past. Can I use these without having to ask them to write a reference letter again?

    Julie Landis 8/1/2022 at 11:52am

    Hi Antonia, thanks for your question. If your letters are older than a year or two, or if they don’t reflect the type of role you currently work in or are aspiring to land (ex. if they talk about teaching but you’re now a dean or you’re aspiring to a non-classroom role) then we do recommend you provide some updated letters of recommendation.