Letters of Reference – How Does Your School Treat Them?

Please do not use this blog to evaluate a school. We ask that you stick to the topic.

letter-of-reference2233586 Not all schools treat letters of reference the same. One would think that after two years of dedicated service to school and community a simply request for a short letter expounding on your teaching talents would be readily forthcoming. At many schools  this is the norm. At others, the norm is to use the coveted letter of reference as a tool to coerce and bully staff.  Our featured article related to this blog offers tips about asking for and receiving your letter of reference. Have a look at this article and then retun and blog your comments. Go to Article

19 thoughts on “Letters of Reference – How Does Your School Treat Them?

  1. I was at a school where the Head of School, nor the Middle School Head have ever evaluated any of the teachers in the school. I do not have a reference letter, but a statement of employment. Will this affect my ability to get a job at a good school overseas?


  2. Hi!
    Apart from the letter of recommendation, I find that most of the jobs ask directly for 3 references AND NOT FOR THE LETTER. So, when to use the letter, and how?
    And of course, if the new school contacts a Director, that maybe has changed 5 times school, and you don,t know his new contact details, and you are not sure which kind of references will give about you…
    Which are your recommendations when the new school don,t ask for the letter of recommendation, but for direct reference contacts?


    1. Interesting question. I ran into this problem some years ago. The school asked for three contacts. Two of my contacts had switched schools. One of them had switched more than once. I was not able to contact either of them. I did still have letters of reference from them and submitted them along with the contact information that had for them at their original schools. No one ever asked me for updated information. Did they even try to contact the? I’ll never know.


  3. Thank you Dan. This is the only school I have worked in without any conflict resolution policy or professional managerial skills.


  4. Is your principle supportive of your teaching career? I would find a supportive administrator to fill out your evaluation or recommendation. If anyone requires the director’s recommendation, you can easily show any employer the vastly differing viewpoint within the same school. Your Sup. will stand out like he is carrying a chip on his shoulder, not an impartial evaluator. I believe principals are more in tuned with your teaching practices. I hope this advice fits your situation.


  5. I have a new director this year whose goal appears to be ousting staff he has not hired himself. He claims that I am not a team player as there is an ongoing conflict with another teacher who has serious anger management (and other) issues and is trying to sabotage my professional career by refusing to speak or work with me. The director attends church with the ding bat, allows this behavior to continue and has refused to attempt any conflict resolution. Although I excel in all other areas he is claiming this will cost me a good reference. Advice please.


  6. I’ve also had this happen, and after reading one of that administrator’s poorly written, generic letters, wrote my own and offered to change anything he didn’t agree with. He signed it, we both were happy.


  7. I just left a school where I was given a very good letter of recommendation from my Head of Department, but when I asked the principal for a letter, she told me to write it and she´d sign it. (she cited her poor English skills as an excuse). I refused to participate in her fraud.


    1. I’ve had this happen to me previously, and I wrote myself a letter. My principal read it over, agreed and signed it. I had my letter and we were all happy.


    2. If they give you the opportunity to write your own letter, take it! You know your strengths and accomplishments best, and you know what your other letters talk about. You will be able to include new things that you would like to highlight. It’s not fraud…it’s an opportunity!


  8. I have a question, what about a letter where you do not know the contents of the letter from an administrator that had questionable judgment?

    My former principal choose to keep my letter of reference confidential and I am not so sure it was positive.

    I have been teaching for 10+ years and all my other references and evaluations are glowing, but this one I am not so sure. The principal in question was fired the year after I left the school for her gross incompetence including her treatment of the staff, students, and teachers. Should I remove this possibly bad letter and have a gap as I have letters from all my previous employers or simply allow this letter to remain in my file?

    I am concerned that this person’s skewed perception of me will prevent me from advancing my professional career and getting a job at the school of my choice.


    1. I’d remove it from your portfolio given the circumstances. If asked about it, explain it like you did here.


  9. One Director told me that he wanted me to think of my strengths and my weaknesses, write them down for him, and we met to discuss my list, which I then gave to him. After the meeting, he wrote me a letter of recommendation which he then shared with me. We agreed on its contents and I now have a wonderful letter of reference from him. This is not the first Director/Superintendent I have had use this method, and I really enjoy the process because I really get to reflect on myself as an educator as well, which is, I think, the whole point.

    A few words of advice: As it says in the article, make sure you are getting a good letter of reference, not just a letter. By using the format I wrote about above, I knew that what was being written about me was a true reflection of me as a person and as a teacher. Also, ask the person writing the letter for their personal email address, not just their work address. That way, when they change schools, you can still reach them through their personal address. Generally, people don’t change their personal emails that often. Try to get a letter or two from parents of students you have taught. A parent’s perspective can be highly valuable to you and to future employers. Finally, when you ask someone for a letter, make sure they have actually been in your classroom and have seen you in action! I have a couple of letters from Heads of Schools I have taught at who have never set foot in my classroom. I was specifically asked about this during an interview. As a result, that letter is no longer in my professional portfolio and I make a point of having anyone I want as a reference come and observe me at least twice.


  10. I worked for one year at a public school in the US and had little contact with the principal as it was a large staff. When I decided I was leaving at the end of that year, I did not ask for a letter since I did not feel she knew me as an educator and she has now since retired. Will it be a poor reflection on me if I do not have a letter for one year of work from 6 years ago? We are registered with ISS and they said I should try to get one, but at this point I feel it is near impossible. What should I say if asked about it in an interview? Any suggestions are appreciated.


    1. I think if you’ve got a few letters of reference for these past 6 years, that’s enough. If someone asks about it during an interview (which I doubt they will), you can mention exactly what you’ve said here. It’s a perfectly legitimate reason for not having a letter of reference from this principal. Good luck in your search!


  11. My principal insists on keeping his letter of recommendation for me closed. He claims it are more valid if I never get to see the letter and most schools only consider these recommendations. He got very defensive when I inquired about a written copy. I have done nothing to doubt a positive evaluation. Is this a new trend?


    1. No, there is no new trend in keeping letters private. Letters should be open for you to read and put into your professional portfolio. Search asks for confidential references, but my references have all shared their comments with me before they send in the forms. ISS letters don’t have to be confidential at all. Schools do not hold more or less weight on confidentiality of letters, they look at the person as a whole. Many schools don’t even look at letters, to be frank, and chose instead to based on interviews with the prospective teacher and their referees. But, in general, if your principal won’t let you see the letter, they may be a good reason he doesn’t want to share it, and an even better reason why you don’t want him as a referee.


  12. When anyone asks me for a letter of reference, I consider it an honor and thus, take it seriously and write it from a professional point-of-view. Unless the person has done something outrageous and unethical, I will write a sound and supportive letter for them. If they have done things at the school that merit more than that, then I will, of course, make mention of it.

    Focusing on the staff, in a letter, is a duty and a professional responsibility for the one who is writing a letter of reference. It should be taken seriously and completed in a timely manner AND NEVER be used as a threat or as a “carrot.”

    Staff members are people first, not animals to train or “things” to hold back because keeping the staff benefits your own school. Administrators must help staff to move on and guide them toward professional development and advancement. If that means saying things about them because they will get a new job elsewhere, then the supervisor must put their own school needs a side and help their staff obtain a new job.

    A generic letter that mentions more about the school profile is of no use to a candidate. The letter may briefly introduce the school profile but the letter is for the staff, not a moment to promote the glory of the school.

    I believe it’s the utmost DUTY of supervisors to write letters of reference and anyone administrator that does not write at least a decent letter or give a good reference on the phone is acting unprofessionally. If the staff member is not worthy of a good referral, then why are they employed? Even references from a past employer, again, do the right thing and say good things. People change and deserve a good reference. A reference is not about the referee; it’s about the candidate.

    Supervisors must do the right thing. Aside from exceptional circumstances, they must give good referrals and always help their staff to move on.


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