HELP! My first student teacher asked for a letter of rec.

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by eddygirl, Jul 8, 2011.

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  1. eddygirl

    eddygirl Companion

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    AtoZers, you always offer such great advice...can you please help?

    I had my first student teacher this year. He was a very nice young man, eager to learn, and knew his content. However, he struggled with organizational skills and classroom management. I think this is mostly due to inadequate preparation on the part of his college; so much of what I brought to his attention seemed completely new to him, as if they never discussed it in his classes.

    He has asked me to write him a letter of recommendation. I want to highlight his strengths, but should I also be addressing any weaknesses? I don't want to hinder his opportunities, but if I simply write a glowing recommendation, would that be suspicious? Do you have examples of "key phrases" I could use?

    As I said, I have never had a student teacher before, so this is all new to me...any advice would be most welcome.:thanks:
     
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  3. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    Write him the most glowing letter you can imagine.
     
  4. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    I agree with Sarge. It's generally expected, and if you don't you will be an utter sabotage of his career.
     
  5. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Focus on his strengths, don't mention any weaknesses. Think about what you would like someone to write in a letter of recommendation for you (and what you wouldn't want).
     
  6. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    I would not give a glowing recommendation unless I meant it. I would say that with experience and a positive work environment you feel assured that he will mature into a great teacher.

    I would never sign my name to a document that was untrue. More than likely he will be applying to the same district in which I work. I do not want a principal thinking that I have a classroom that runs parallel to what you described. You need to think about this. A recommendation means that you are giving your stamp of approval. If you say the person is amazing and in reality has some growth that needs to take place, you need to be open and honest about that. Think about it.

    I guess being on an interview team has given me a different perspective. We trust that the people recommending our applicants are honest and upfront. What does that say about the person recommending?

    You can still be nice. I would be truthful. If he had trouble with organization, I would say something like... I believe that with experience and professional training Mike would be able to pick up some organizational challenges that he faced while student teaching. If he had trouble with classroom management, I would say, Mike has a great rapport with the students. He does need to work on his classroom management techniques and with some professional training should be able to master these responsibilities easily.

    All the best and please think about it. Your word is your bond. Your recommendation is your word.
     
  7. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    If you don't feel like you can give him a glowing recommendation, politely tell him that. There is no need to sabotage him in a rec. Now, if you want to help him with a rec, focus on the positive things you experienced with him while he was student teaching.
     
  8. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Write about his positives...you mentioned quite a few in your OP. Stay away from the negatives. MOST new teachers need to hone their organizational and class mgt skills...you don't need to highlight it.
     
  9. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    And while I can see your point, he is still a very new teacher that will have tons to learn once he is in the job. I don't know any first year teacher that went into a classroom and came out of that year a master teacher. It takes time, experience, and practice. Don't give a recommendation for someone if it will not be positive; they can always ask someone else for the recommendation instead.
     
  10. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    :agreed:
     
  11. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    I guess I have a different perspective. Being on an interview team, I expect that the people recommending are honest in their appraisal. I want an honest assessment.
     
  12. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    Organizaton and behavior management come with experience. I know coming out of student teaching I was lacking greatly in those areas. You should highlight what they did well and the positives. Student teaching is not a representation of what a teacher is going to be. They need every bit of help to get that first job.
     
  13. VANewbie

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    This is exactly what I was going to say. All this stuff comes in time. I would write a positive letter of recommendation. P should already assume that new teachers have things they need to work on.
     
  14. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    Well, obviously I am in a minority. Hopefully, we helped the original poster. I stand by what I said. As a member of an interview team, you all have given me some things to think about. I can assure you that my last three administrators put a lot of credit to the recommendations that we received.
     
  15. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    I understand that, but do you expect any first year teacher coming in to have it all down. Regardless of what a recomendation says, every first year teacher has things to learn. If it is a veteran teacher, that is a different situation, but all first year teachers are going to be very green and have their own faults. Once they get that first job, they can start sorting through those faults and work to improve on them.
    If the teacher I worked with during student teaching had been 100% honest about everything, it could have really made it hard for me to get that first job. I know since then though that I have improved greatly on those things I struggled with out of the gate, just needed the opportunity.
     
  16. smurfette

    smurfette Habitué

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    Totally agree. I help interview at my school, and what is most important to us is what they say in the interview. Also, student teaching is so incomparable to having your own classroom that I can imagine that a number people may have a successful student teaching experience and a horrible teaching experience. When we hire a first or second year teacher, we know that they are going to have to learn classroom management by trial and error, no matter how glowing their recommendation. It's a gamble you have to take with a beginning teacher, if you think the potential is there.

    If you can't write a positive recommendation, then politely decline to write one.
     
  17. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I agree with you SCTeachInTx. Let's say this student teacher gets hired and assumes from the glowing recommendations (false) that he doesn't need additional training in organizational skills and classroom management skills. This person is let loose on 25 kids that count of this teacher's ability to do his job well. Not only parts of it, all of it. Sure, experience brings more skill, but for any job there should be a basic skill level already in place, particularly in teaching because you don't have someone by your side often guiding and teaching you how to do your job correctly.

    I feel bad for a person coming out of school without the skills to do the job, but not nearly as sorry as I do for the children that are subjected to an ineffective teacher.
     
  18. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    You just gave every reason for me to not hire first year teachers. I do not believe that. I look at the total package. There are natural born teachers that are natural in front of kids, that know the content, that have a natural affinity for classroom organization and behavior management. I can speak to this because I had a great student teacher that was all of these things. Did she have things to learn? Absolutely. I gently said that with experience she would make an asset to any faculty at any grade level. I am not saying to bash our new teachers. I believe in the power of a fresh, new perspective as much as I believe in the power of knowledge and experience. Sometimes the best fit for a faculty is a fresh, young approach that can be molded into something exceptional. My point was that I believe that we have to be honest in our appraisals because our word counts for something and those that are looking to hire can see beyond the small details, and find that exceptional first year teacher that will go the extra mile. Your assessment makes me only want to hire teachers with experience (because the recommendations are all fluff and no stuff - right?). I want honesty so that I can make the best possible choice for our faculty. Oh, and BTW- my student teacher got a great job out of state (her choice) but was also offered 3 teaching positions in our state. One of those positions was in my current district and all those offers were with my honest evaluation. That was this year in this floundering economy.
     
  19. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    SCTeach..on your interview team do you really put a lot of weight on letters of rec? On my team, we pretty much only see the letters candidates have included in their portfolios. We go more on the interview itself and demo lesson. The district asks for new letters as part of the hiring process once we've pretty much selected who will be hired, but it tends to be part of the 'paperwork process', not part of the interviewing. In any case, I've NEVER seen a negative letter of rec.
    Personal story...when I got my current job I was asked for 3 letters of rec. I asked 4 people (my supervisor from the position I was leaving, 2 former principals, and the dean of my graduate program). The supervisor at the job I was leaving had written me AWESOME observations all year, thanked me on a daily basis for the way I had turned around a program that had been in turmoil, was thrilled with the increase in enrollment for the next year and attributed it to me, etc...he was not happy I was leaving ( despite a 4 month notice that I was leaving) and did not write the letter of rec for me. Reinforced for me the knowledge that I was definitely making the right decision! Everyone else I asked wrote fabulous, glowing letters....there was no reason not to. There was no reason for my supervisor not to write one other than he was ticked he had to go through a hiring process to find my replacement and he was disappointed I was leaving....NOT professional...and truthfully his decision reflected more on HIM than on ME.:whistle:
     
  20. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    Three different districts, three different administrators... all were very much into reviewing applicants based on their recommendations and resume. If they did not get past this phase, they did not interview at all. Once they were in the interview, other factors came into play. We had differing ways of assessing and my P also made it a point to call and speak to at least two of the references personally. Since I review the applicants resumes before we interview, I am the first to submit names to the P. I do have administrative responsibilities at my school as well as teaching. I get paid a stipend to do the extras.
     
  21. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Interesting...so do applicants have their references directly send new letters to districts where they are interviewing, or an the candidates submit copies of letters?

    Our admin does call references as we narrow down candidates, but again the 'official' letters of rec are part of the paperwork process once our decision is pretty much made.
     
  22. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    Sorry you had a bad experience. You know what I find though. In the end, the people that do wrong always have to pay for what they have done in some way, shape, or form. Sounds like you were really well liked though and that speaks volumes!
     
  23. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    But if the candidate has potential, then the letters should get them at least an interview. From there, he's on his own. If he were to submit a less than glowing recommendation, he wouldn't even get an interview.
     
  24. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    The DO forwards copies of a bubble in type recommendation as well as a letter type. I am currently going through the interview process myself. I am going for a full time administrative/reading specialist position. I HOPE they look at my recommendations!!!!! :eek:
     
  25. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    That is true. But, you would be surprised how many I schedule that say... with experience this teacher will become a stellar teacher. He has the potential to become a great asset to your faculty and staff. I look at those candidates as ones with potential. When I see glossy, generic, recommendations sometimes my eyes glaze over. I want to get a feel for who the person is as a teacher before we interview. If you remain faceless, nameless, lifeless in your paperwork... you probably won't get an interview. And let's face it. We had one position to fill this year. The DO screens before my P gets the bulk. I looked at 250 applicants resumes before narrowing it down to 5. And 3 of the 5 had little to no experience.
     
  26. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    I wasn't suggesting being dishonest. I was merely saying if the OP cannot give a positive recommendation to the student teacher then they should politely decline writting a recommendation.
     
  27. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    Many posters weren't suggesting the OP be dishonest in the recommendation but to highlight the positives. And I'm going to say, with regards to basic skills, classroom management is definitely something you fine tune throughout years of experience. That's not to say this person is going to be horrible during those years but that they'll have to see what works for them.

    I guess I believe that people deserve a chance to show what they can do. Without that chance, how will we ever know our potential?
     
  28. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    There are many ways to lie. One is by omission. That is what many were suggesting.
     
  29. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    Thank you, I completely agree. People deserve a chance. I don't know anybody who is stellar right out of the gate at teaching. Just like most jobs there is a learning curve. As well, student teaching is very different than having your own classroom. I know I have grown over the years as a teacher, I am much better now than I was when I first started. I don't think I was bad that first year, but I wasn't great that is for sure. I have known many first year teachers and the situation is very similar. People deserve a chance to get a job and grow in that job. If they don't grow at all, then you make a change, but if they have positives and show potential, they should get that chance. Highlighting the negatives could eliminate that chance.
     
  30. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    Last time I looked, when someone asks another for a reference or a letter of recommendation, the recommender should be able to provide a glowing recommendation. If you cannot do that, you (IMO) have an obligation to politely tell the person that you cannot provide them with an honest appraisal of their skills. Maybe put yourself in the student teacher's shoes and remember what it was like to start out in teaching. Remember trying to get your first teaching job. I didn't realize how perfect we all were when we started teaching.

    Highlighting the positives is what you're supposed to do on a recommendation letter. :2cents:
     
  31. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    As a member of an interview team, would you have considered hiring a candidate if their letter of rec was written as you suggested?
     
  32. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    I agree that the letters of Rec should highlight the student teachers skills (not being dishonest, but focusing on the positives). The follow up phone call once references are checked is the appropriate time to delve a little deeper into the candidates strengths and weaknesses. Almost every call I've gotten for a candidate asks the strengths/weaknesses question.
     
  33. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    On the flip side, I do think it is unethical to write a letter of Rec for someone you wouldn't endorse. But that doesn't seem to be the issue here.
     
  34. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    Absolutely!!!! I never said that first year teachers could not show a weakness. I have been teaching for several years and I still have weaknesses. When considering a person for a position there are so many things to take into account. This year (for example) we needed someone with a strong mathematics/science background. The person we ended up hiring for a 5th grade position was an elementary and mathematics major(first year). There were several candidates with more experience, but her personality, flexibility and knowledge was so contagious that the team felt like she was the best fit. I would WANT to be a fifth grader in her class I can tell you!
     
  35. eddygirl

    eddygirl Companion

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    Thank you so much for all your responses. I want to write a glowing recommendation because I DO think he has potential, and I certainly want to help him in this very difficult job market. I was just concerned that if everything I wrote was all "rah-rah," the interviewer would doubt if I was offering an accurate appraisal if I didn't list any area for improvement. SCTeach, I think you reinforced my fear that something too "glossy" might be pushed to the side, and I want my letter to give him every chance for that all-important interview. However, it seems that most of the responses here believe it is a given that an interviewer expects any brand new teacher will need to hone his/her organizational and classroom management skills, so my major concerns will probably work themselves out as he gains experience.

    I think I most agree Mrs. C's advice: "Think about what you would like someone to write in a letter of recommendation for you."
     
  36. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    As others have mentioned, one cannot expect a student teacher to be a master teacher. Of course there are areas for growth. I believe anyone interviewing a new teacher is very aware of this and for that reason there is no need to feature his weaknesses in a letter of recommendation.

    You complimented him as being nice, eager to learn, and on top of his content. That's great! Expand on those! There is absolutely no need to lie or even embellish. Especially because you feel his college prep was less than amazing, which is certainly no fault of his own, explaining that he's lacking in organization and classroom management is just unnecessary—again, it's expected that those things are lacking in the beginning.

    If I were on the hiring team reading his letter of recommendation that discussed these two weaknesses, I would determine they were "glaring-horrible-dealbreaker" problems because I would assume the mentor teacher understands those are skills most new teachers develop, and if the teacher thought them important enough to share they must be severely lacking.

    I think it's very helpful to ask candidates what they feel their weaknesses are.
     
  37. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    When screening 250 applicants for 5 slots on an interview panel, it is the applicant with the most personable recommendation/resume that gets noticed. Would you want to be left out of an interview because someone wrote a glowing recommendation about an OK candidate?
     
  38. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    I never said to feature weaknesses. I said to give an honest assessment of the persons work while in your classroom.

    You all have def given me a lot to think about. Thanks for this thread. I am glad that you were able to come up with a compromise that will help you!!!!!
     
  39. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I've been on an interview team in the past. We only saw a resume and in some cases a cover letter before scheduling an interview. The letters of recommendation were always part of the portfolio which candidates would bring to the interview...and we all know that those are not often gone through carefully.

    Our district doesn't even require letters of recommendation.
     
  40. cmw

    cmw Groupie

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    The point of a letter of recommendation is to recommend someone. If you cannot do that...then don't. ;) Write about the positive things that he did as a ST. I was in a similar position as a mentor to a 1st year teacher. My EYT had some good qualities and that is what I wrote about. Did he have things he needs to work on...absolutely! But the letter of rec. is not the place to write about it. :2cents:
     
  41. Joy

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    I think that you can focus on his positive points without being dishonest. I think that there are many teachers out there who do not have the best organizational skills and the majority of young teachers need to work on classroom management. I think those who are interviewing him will realize that and if those things are a problem for him, it will probably come up during the interview. I have been to interviews where I have been asked about both classroom management and organizational skills. Young teachers need a good recommendation from their cooperating teacher and as long as he was willing to listen to your feedback I think he deserves to get one. You can focus on his knowledge of the content, being enthusiastic to begin his career, and being easy to get along with.
     
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