Cover letter critique

Discussion in 'Job Seekers' started by msmac21, May 31, 2014.

  1. msmac21

    msmac21 Companion

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    May 31, 2014

    I have sent my cover letter to career services at the college I got my undergrad from and he says it's really good and he wouldn't make any changes. Wondering what all you guys think about it. It's a big too long but I'm not sure what I want to cut out because everything seems important! I've sent out almost 40 applications since April and have only had three interviews. Thinking maybe I can make my cover letter stand out a little more.

    Here it is..


    To Whom it May Concern:

    I wish to be considered for any available positions in elementary or special education in your school district. I am a Pennsylvania elementary certified teacher in grades K-6. I recently completed my Master’s degree and certification in special education Pre-K-8. Currently, I teach in the ABC DISTRICT as a long-term substitute in a fifth grade learning support classroom.

    As a teacher for the ABC DISTRICT, I utilize my skills and experiences in a variety of ways. Differentiating instruction occurs on a daily basis in math and language arts across varying academic levels. In math, I enjoy working with my fifth graders on operations with fractions using manipulatives and technology to meet our academic goals. A recent exciting memory for me was when a student that had been struggling with equivalent fractions began adding like fractions and said “Ms. M., this is so easy!”. Moments like that are the reasons I became a teacher.

    Prior to my position at ABC DISTRICT, I worked as a long-term substitute teacher for XYZ DISTRICT. Constant differentiation of material was necessary in this environment to service a wide range of academic met with emotional and behavioral challenges. My favorite part of the position was assisting my below-grade-level students to acquire basic skills. Many of my sixth grade students were struggling with learning long division. The most satisfying moment for me at XYZ DISTRICT was guiding them using tips and tricks until they finally reached their “aha” moment to master the concept!

    My student teaching experience also included working with a variety of student abilities. One project in which I used differentiation as an asset was in a Response-to-Intervention group mini-intervention for reading. After the intervention, I was proud to see my students using the strategies they had learned in our discussion on their own in the classroom. Additionally, I have used behavioral interventions with students with disabilities while working with children as a Therapeutic Staff Support (TSS). One memorable breakthrough I was able to make was with a child with autism. This child had virtually no play skills when we started working together. A year later he had gained at least ten skills that we liked to call “magic”. This experience helped me to gain an instinctual sense when it comes to struggling learners.

    As a teacher for your school district, I will use my passion for children and teaching to share curriculum with my students. Key components of my classroom will include hands-on learning experiences, real-life scenarios that enhance the curriculum, and development of a concise set of classroom expectations that all students can understand.

    My diverse experiences with differentiation, assisting students with disabilities, and in my positions at ABC AND XYZ will make me an asset to your district. I will use my knowledge of both elementary and special education to maximize learning opportunities for all students. Thank you in advance for considering me for any open positions. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



    SUGGESTIONS ARE MUCH APPRECIATED :):)
     
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  3. msmac21

    msmac21 Companion

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    Jun 3, 2014

    Please critique!
     
  4. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Jun 3, 2014

    It's long and wordy. Part of the problem is that you've written one letter that you expect to cover all the districts. It's better to, um differentiate your letters, unless the application process itself demands that you write just one letter for every district to read.

    Think about what it is that you think are your strongest selling points. What sets you apart from all the other applicants? That should drive your choice of anecdotes.

    The anecdotes are all right, but they're preceded by a fair bit of explanation that could be framed much more tersely.
     
  5. msmac21

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    Jun 4, 2014

    Thanks for the advice TeacherGroupie. I usually do differentiate the next to last paragraph for each individual district. This is my general letter I post on PA Educator, which calls for a "just one letter" type of situation.

    Any advice on specifics I should take out to make the letter less wordy and shorter? Should I remove the parts about student teaching and TSS work?

    Thank you!! :help::thanks:
     
  6. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Jun 4, 2014

    It really isn't necessary to rehearse your educational history in the first paragraph: that material should be in your resume. A first paragraph, once past the indispensable "I am applying for ___ in ___", is better used to to indicate that you know something of the school(s) to which you're applying and to introduce the ways in which you're suited to the job(s). At the end of the letter you mention "differentiation, assisting students with disabilities, and in my positions at ABC AND XYZ"; noting these at the beginning clues the reader in on what to look for, and then an organized letter covers these three points (if they're really the three you want to go with) in that order.

    For the record, the sentence "My diverse experiences with differentiation, assisting students with disabilities, and in my positions at ABC AND XYZ will make me an asset to your district" is clumsy and vague. First, "differentiation" is a noun phrase, and so is "assisting students" (in this use, "assisting" is a gerund, which is a verbal noun), but "in my positions" is a prepositional phrase, so in that form it doesn't go with the preceding two. Second - and throughout the letter - while you've noted your students' accomplishments, you haven't been at all specific about what YOU did to get 'em there.

    As for the rest, it's not so much that you should take out this or that bit of content but rather that it's possible to introduce the apposite anecdotes in fewer words.
     
  7. msmac21

    msmac21 Companion

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    Jun 5, 2014



    Thank you for the specifics TeacherGroupie! They helped a lot!

    Here is my revised letter- please tell me what you think!




    To Whom it May Concern:

    I wish to be considered for any available positions in elementary or special education in your school district. I am a Pennsylvania elementary K-6 and special education Pre-K-8 certified teacher. My classroom involvement with elementary and special education, unique experiences with differentiation, and commitment to meeting the needs of all students will make me an asset to your district.

    During my time as a long-term substitute teacher for the ABC School District, I utilized my skills and experiences in a variety of ways. By using models, manipulatives, and a Promethean Board to differentiate instruction, I created lessons that catered to individual learning styles. A recent exciting memory for me involved a student who is a visual learner. After struggling with equivalent fractions, he began adding like fractions using manipulatives as an aid and said “Ms. M., this is so easy!”. Moments like that are the reasons I became a teacher.

    Prior to my position at ABC, I worked as a long-term substitute teacher for XYZ Education. Constant differentiation of material was necessary in this environment to service a wide range of academic needs met with emotional and behavioral challenges. My favorite part of the position was assisting my below-grade-level students to acquire basic skills. Many of my sixth grade students were struggling with learning long division. The most satisfying moment for me at XYZ was guiding them using tips and tricks until they finally reached their “aha” moment to master the concept!

    My student teaching experience also included using differentiation as an asset in a reading intervention. After the intervention, I was proud to see my students using comprehension strategies they had learned in our discussion on their own in the classroom. Additionally, I have used behavioral interventions while working with children as a Therapeutic Staff Support. One memorable breakthrough I made involved a child with autism struggling with social interaction. A picture exchange system, redirection, and positive reinforcement enabled him to gain at least ten play skills that we liked to call “magic”. These experiences helped me to gain an instinctual sense when it comes to struggling learners.

    As a teacher for your school district, my passion for children and education will be evident as I share curriculum with my students. Key components of my classroom will include hands-on learning experiences, real-life scenarios that enhance the curriculum, and a concise set of classroom expectations that all students can understand. I will apply my knowledge of both elementary and special education to maximize learning opportunities for all students.

    Thank you in advance for considering me for any open positions. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
     
  8. Briana008

    Briana008 Companion

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    Jun 6, 2014

    Ok, I whittled it down some more, my apologies if I took too many liberties with it! :)

     
  9. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 6, 2014

    It's still long and wordy.

    Here's a for-instance: you have
    In the first place, these sentences, which begin their paragraph, should be introduced by something that ties them into the needs of the new district and its students. You're selling your ability to differentiate? Fine: make that point much sooner in the paragraph, then exemplify it.

    In the second place, all that verbiage can be boiled down to this:

    Then you tell the story that gives evidence of your point.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.
     
  10. msmac21

    msmac21 Companion

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    Jun 9, 2014

    Thank you SO MUCH Briana008! I really appreciate the time you took to actually re-write parts for me! You definitely did NOT take too many liberties with it- it's perfect!

    I think I was trying too hard to make my cover letter formal and that's where I ended up all wordy. You took what I was trying to say and made it a little less formal and now it sounds fantastic! Thanks again!
     
  11. msmac21

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    Jun 9, 2014

    TeacherGroupie, thanks for all the tips. I agree it is way too wordy and I liked your example. I think like I said above to Briana that I was just trying too hard to mention buzzwords and make it sound super formal. Instead, I could just get right to the point and stand out more!

    Thanks for taking the time to read my letter!
     
  12. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Jun 9, 2014

    You're welcome. "Buzzword-itis" is an ailment common to writers of cover letters for education jobs; it's easy to believe that one succeeds by showing off all the right terms. In my experience, however, buzzwords work best when deployed as part of an anecdote or illustration in which they make sense. That is, an "I can" statement larded with buzzwords isn't very interesting, but an "I did" statement in which the buzzwords are organic to what the teacher accomplished with a student shows the teacher off to much better advantage.

    This is a broad hint to you to make a bit more of your anecdotes.

    You're overusing the verb "struggle". Here's a writerly tip: Using BOTH a thesaurus AND a dictionary (or a thesaurus that gives definitions), find a couple of synonyms that express the meaning you're after. (That is, "exert oneself" is a possible synonym for "struggle", but that doesn't convey the connotation 'be in trouble', and that connotation is key here.)
     
  13. msmac21

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    Jun 10, 2014

    TeacherGroupie, I have no idea how I missed the whole "struggle" thing! I'm usually pretty obsessive with the whole thesaurus thing. I guess this goes to show about how motivated I am to write cover letters!

    Here's my revised version:


    To Whom it May Concern:

    I wish to be considered for any available positions in elementary or special education in your school district. I am a Pennsylvania elementary K-6 and special education Pre-K-8 certified teacher. My classroom involvement with elementary and special education, unique experiences with differentiation, and commitment to meeting the needs of all students will make me an asset to your district.

    During my time as a long-term substitute teacher for the ABC School District, I used models, manipulatives, and a Promethean Board to differentiate instruction. One student, a visual learner, had difficulty with comparing equivalent fractions. When I gave him manipulatives to use as an aid, once he began adding like fractions he said “Ms. M., this is so easy!” Moments like that are the reasons I became a teacher.

    Prior to my position at ABC, I worked as a long-term substitute teacher for XYZ Education. Constant differentiation of material was necessary in this environment to service a wide range of academic needs met with emotional and behavioral challenges. My favorite part of the position was assisting my below-grade-level students to acquire basic skills. Many of my sixth grade students were easily frustrated by learning long division, but with some guidance, plus a few tips and tricks, they finally reached their “aha” moment!

    Focusing on differentiation allows me to reach my students no matter what challenges they face. As a student teacher, I was proud to see my students take comprehension strategies they had learned in an a Response-to-Intervention discussion and use them when working independently. Behavioral interventions I used while working with children as a Therapeutic Staff Support led me to a memorable breakthrough involving a child with autism. His particular needs involved social interaction, so I used a picture exchange system, redirection, and positive reinforcement to enable him to gain at least ten play skills that we liked to call “magic." These experiences helped me to gain an instinctual sense when it comes to struggling learners.

    As a teacher for your school district, my passion for children and education will be evident as I explore the curriculum with my students. Key components of my classroom will include hands-on learning experiences, real-life scenarios that enhance the curriculum, and a concise set of classroom expectations that all students can understand. I will apply my knowledge of both elementary and special education to maximize learning opportunities for all students.

    Thank you in advance for considering me for any open positions. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



    THOUGHTS??
     
  14. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Jun 10, 2014

    You're struggling (!) to stay on message here.

    This sentence

    promises a letter that will discuss elementary/special ed, differentiation, and meeting student needs, in that order. What the next three paragraphs promise in their topic sentence, however, is differentiation. (The third of those paragraphs ends up delivering something different: behavioral intervention.) Your fifth paragraph is still a grab-bag of buzzwords.

    Please identify one or two reasons other than your ability to differentiate that you'd be an asset to a school district. Then write one paragraph for each.

    In addition, if you can possibly individualize each letter for the district to which you're sending it, you should. Show the district that you understand its strengths and challenges (the first paragraph is a good place to do that, briefly); then your letter can show how you've met similar challenges in the past.

    Oh, and please be less wordy. You don't "wish to be considered for"; you are applying for. Omit phrases like "During my time as" and "Prior to my position": they don't advance your story.
     
  15. msmac21

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    Jun 10, 2014


    Thank you TeacherGroupie. I am struggling (there it is again!) to come with a third reason. I think I can tie in differentiation to my first paragraph/first school, classroom management to my second paragraph/second school, but I'm trying to come up with something good to go with the paragraph on student teaching/TSS work. Any ideas?
     
  16. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 10, 2014

    I'm not seeing classroom management in your second anecdote as you've told it: that one's going to need reframing if that's where you want it to go. Get a little specific as to what you did, please. But what do you think is wrong with your third anecdote for TSS?
     
  17. msmac21

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    Jun 10, 2014

    Yeah I plan on reframing it, I should've mentioned that.

    My question was that you advised I change my sentence in the first paragraph that describes why I'm an asset (I said classroom experience in elem/sped, differentiation, and meeting needs of all students) to something else. You suggested I come up with one or two reasons to go along with differentiation right?

    So I chose classroom management, I was trying to come up with one for the TSS/stud. teaching paragraph as well. That's what I was getting at. If that makes sense :dizzy:
     
  18. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 10, 2014

    Try it this way: tell me what the student-with-autism anecdote reveals about you as a teacher, other than that you can differentiate. (Note, please, that "differentiating" usually refers to adjusting the level or delivery of academic content, but not so much the design or implementation of behavioral interventions.)
     
  19. msmac21

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    Jun 11, 2014

    I'll stop at nothing to make sure a kid succeeds, I share in their successes, I'm determined, committed, have the "whatever it takes" attitude. That's where I came up with the "commitment to meeting the needs of all students" in the last sentence of the first paragraph.

    Another thing about that is my ability to really "get" kids. Which I'm sure everyone else has to in this profession so I don't know if that's something I can swing. I have three younger siblings in elementary/middle/high school and I always felt like that was something that gave me an advantage to really understanding kids of all ages... Does that seem like something I can use?
     
  20. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 11, 2014

    The way you phrased it, I'm not getting the stop-at-nothing message. You may need to include more details to get that across.
     
  21. msmac21

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    Jun 11, 2014

    I'm not sure if that's really what I want to use, to be honest. I like my anecdotes but I'm having trouble coming up with some good statements for the last sentence in the first paragraph to go along with my anecdotes (besides differentiation!) that will work.

    Should I just eliminate that sentence?
     
  22. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 11, 2014

    Take a look at the post in which you said "stop at nothing". That's your most engaging and compelling writing, no? If you have anecdotes that can support that passion and skill, they'll serve you well, and if we can get that voice to come through in this letter, it should serve you very well.
     
  23. msmac21

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    Jun 12, 2014

    I agree 100% but I really can't think of any anecdotes that support that. The ones I have show that I continued to work with my students until they got it, no matter what it took, maybe I can just spin those a little better to go along with "stop at nothing"?

    I'm not sure I want to redo my entire cover letter because I do like it overall, even though I know it needs some work.

    Thanks for all your patience BTW TeacherGroupie!
     
  24. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 12, 2014

    Yes: use language that shows the effort you put into the students.
     
  25. msmac21

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    Jun 13, 2014


    Thanks, TG. I did some work with the first three paragraphs. Could you tell me what you think?


    To Whom it May Concern:

    I am applying for the position of special education K-6 teacher for your school district. I am a Pennsylvania elementary K-6 and special education Pre-K-8 certified teacher. My desire to help students succeed no matter what it takes makes me an asset to your district.

    As a long-term substitute teacher for the ABC School District, I used models, manipulatives, and a Promethean Board to differentiate instruction. One student, a visual learner, became frustrated with comparing equivalent fractions. I understood his frustrations and assured him that we would work together to make fractions a breeze. When I gave him manipulatives to use as an aid, he then began adding like fractions he said, “Ms. M., this is so easy!” Moments like that are the reasons I became a teacher.

    I also worked as a long-term substitute teacher for XYZ Education, where my students had a wide range of academic needs met with emotional and behavioral challenges. My favorite part of the position was assisting my below-grade-level students to acquire basic skills. Many of my sixth grade students were easily aggravated by learning long division, but with some guidance, plus a few tips and tricks, they finally reached their “aha” moment! I loved seeing the pride in their eyes when they conquered a new skill!



    :thanks::thanks:
     
  26. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 13, 2014

    Feeling better about this version?

    You need to polish up the grammar a little (there's a run-on sentence in the second paragraph, for example), and it's often useful to ensure that the letter reflects something that you know about the district to which you're applying. In addition, some kind of closing is good: two unoriginal sentences in which you express your availability to be contacted etc. should do it.
     
  27. msmac21

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    Jun 13, 2014

    Thanks TeacherGroupie! I do feel a lot better.

    How's this for the rest of the letter? (I didn't do much with the student teaching/TSS paragraph, seems like it flows okay anyways, but not entirely sure.)



    As a student teacher, I was proud to see my students take comprehension strategies they had learned in our Response-to-Intervention group and use them when working independently. Behavioral interventions I used while working with children as a Therapeutic Staff Support led me to a memorable breakthrough involving a child with autism. His particular needs involved social interaction, so I used a picture exchange system, redirection, and positive reinforcement to enable him to gain at least ten play skills that we liked to call “magic." These experiences helped me to gain an instinctual sense on how to help when it comes to struggling learners.

    As a teacher for your district, my passion for children and education will be evident as I work with my students. Key components of my classroom will include hands-on learning experiences, real-life scenarios that enhance my lessons, and a set of classroom expectations that all students can understand. I will apply my knowledge of both elementary and special education to maximize learning opportunities for all students.

    Thank you in advance for considering me for the position of elementary teacher. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


    I do feel like I've accomplished a lot on this cover letter! Thank you for all your help TeacherGroupie!
     
  28. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 14, 2014

    This is more of your letter? Um, no. First, that much more is once again going to make the letter way too long. Second, please revisit this paragraph:

    "As a student teacher, I was proud to see my students take comprehension strategies they had learned in our Response-to-Intervention group and use them when working independently. Behavioral interventions I used while working with children as a Therapeutic Staff Support led me to a memorable breakthrough involving a child with autism. His particular needs involved social interaction, so I used a picture exchange system, redirection, and positive reinforcement to enable him to gain at least ten play skills that we liked to call “magic." These experiences helped me to gain an instinctual sense on how to help when it comes to struggling learners."

    Your first sentence promises a paragraph about comprehension strategies. That's far from what the paragraph actually delivers.

    "As a teacher for your district, my passion for children and education will be evident as I work with my students. Key components of my classroom will include hands-on learning experiences, real-life scenarios that enhance my lessons, and a set of classroom expectations that all students can understand. I will apply my knowledge of both elementary and special education to maximize learning opportunities for all students."

    No: this still reads like buzzwords and fluff. You have a track record in which you have accomplished good things with students: use that track record to attract the attention of a district looking for proven performers.
     
  29. msmac21

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    Jun 14, 2014

    Should I just take out the student teaching and TSS paragraph then?

    What about the next paragraph? With the buzzwords and fluff? Take it out?
     
  30. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 14, 2014

    If an anecdote highlights a strength of yours that you believe would be attractive to the district, then rewrite the sentence or two that introduces it to reflect that strength, not some other strength.

    As to deleting the paragraph that I characterized as buzzwords and fluff, yes: do please delete it.
     
  31. msmac21

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    Jun 14, 2014

    In that paragraph, I was trying to cover student teaching and TSS work. So the first sentence is not an introduction, but a sentence about student teaching.

    I do think that my TSS anecdote is good for my strength that I have listed... however I feel "off" about skipping talking about student teaching all together. I student taught after I did my TSS work. Would it be odd to leave out the student teaching and leave in the TSS?

    I know I can find a way to introduce both and connect them to my strength, but then I worry that it will be too long.
     
  32. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 14, 2014

    I'm not fond of the "instinctual sense" sentence, and - since there isn't a strong anecdote to support it - deleting the sentence about your student teaching makes sense. The TSS anecdote overall has potential. It needs a bit more of a sense of the progression from problem to solution. That being the case, and because it's possible to refer to individual kids in a cover letter using pseudonyms, you might try beginning the paragraph something like this:

    "My background in Therapeutic Staff Support has given me tools to facilitate academic and social learning for students whose abilities and needs range widely. Like many children with autism, "Oscar" needed help with social interaction. I devised a program for him that combined a picture exchange system, redirection, and positive reinforcement to help him acquire ten crucial play skills."

    Makes sense, yes?
     
  33. msmac21

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    Jun 14, 2014

    I couldn't let the student teaching thing go. So I wrote something a little different for it and added some of your paragraph, TeacherGroupie.

    Here's what I came up with- this is the whole letter.


    To Whom it May Concern:

    I am applying for any available positions in elementary or special education in your school district. I am a Pennsylvania elementary K-6 and special education Pre-K-8 certified teacher. My desire to help students succeed no matter what it takes makes me an asset to your district.

    As a long-term substitute teacher for the ABC School District, I used models, manipulatives, and a Promethean Board to differentiate instruction. One student, a visual learner, became frustrated with comparing equivalent fractions. I understood his frustrations and assured him that we would work together to make fractions a breeze. When I gave him manipulatives to use as an aid, he then began adding like fractions and said, “Ms. M., this is so easy!” Moments like that are the reasons I became a teacher.

    I also worked as a long-term substitute teacher for XYZ Education, where my students had a wide range of academic needs met with emotional and behavioral challenges. My favorite part of the position was assisting my below-grade-level students to acquire basic skills. Many of my sixth grade students were easily aggravated by learning long division, but with some guidance, plus a few tips and tricks, they finally reached their “aha” moment! I loved seeing the light in their eyes when they conquered a new skill!

    While student teaching, I found that many of my students needed extra practice with reading comprehension. I created a Response-to-Intervention group and met with my students everyday to review skills until they showed improvement. I was proud to see my students use strategies from our sessions when working independently.

    Working as a Therapeutic Staff Support showed me ways to aid academic and social learning for students whose abilities and needs range widely. A memorable child with autism needed help with social interaction. I devised a program for him that combined a picture exchange system, redirection, and positive reinforcement to help him gain at least ten crucial play skills that we liked to call “magic”. From this experience, I am able to look beyond the obvious when a student is experiencing difficulties.

    As a teacher for your district, my passion for children and education will be clear as I work with my students. I will encourage my students to have the same attitude that I have towards teaching- we will stop at nothing to make sure they succeed!

    Thank you in advance for considering me for any available positions. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



    Thoughts? Thank you TeacherGroupie, and to anyone else who would like to put in their two cents!
     
  34. TeacherGroupie

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    Jun 14, 2014

    Um. In a letter that was already too long, you fluffed out a paragraph with "memorable" and "that we like to call magic" and then rubbed your readers' noses in the conclusion. No. Let your readers decide for themselves if that word and that phrase fit.

    It is probably time to wish you luck.
     
  35. msmac21

    msmac21 Companion

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    Jun 14, 2014

    I suppose so TeacherGroupie. I appreciate all your help.
     
  36. MrsRed

    MrsRed Rookie

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    Jun 14, 2014

    I will simply agree with TG, and suggest that you go back through the tips presented in this thread once again. This letter is far too long and still very "fluffy."
     
  37. msmac21

    msmac21 Companion

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    Jun 16, 2014

    Thank you for your thoughts MrsRed. I agree wholeheartedly with both you and TG, but at the same time am trying to find a way to make the cover letter my own and not use every single word and tip given to me- then I didn't do the work, but someone else did it for me. I will keep working at it!
     

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