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Timmy J

If the reader were asking whether having their only teaching letters come from their principal was a wise idea, then both Marcus and the other responder would be right. But, as the reader went out of their way to make clear, that's not the case being considered. What's seems to me to be being asked is whether including such a letter *in addition to* a more traditional letter is a good idea.

Here I'm conflicted. *I* would look very favorably on such a letter. I'm certain many of my colleagues would sneer at it. I think they'd do so using justifications of the sort Marcus and the other responder give.

I think these justifications are thinly disguised forms of your very typical academic classism. "A high school principle? Come on. Surely you can get a better caliber of letter than that if you're any good." That's the gist of it. And, speaking as straightforwardly as I can, this is complete and utter crap.

Get a better letter *about teaching* than a letter from someone who is a professional not only in teaching but in *evaluating other teachers on their teaching performance*? Seriously? You will more highly value a letter from random R1 prof who has spent all of half an hour in their career thinking about pedagogical issues than you would value a letter from this sort of person? That's ridiculous. It's also upsettingly common as a view, as the comments here already made clear. Hence my being of two minds: presenting this letter does, I think, add a lot to the pile of evidence in favor of you being an excellent teacher. It will, in many corners, be held *against* you nonetheless, because classism is built into the very fabric of the modern academy.


A part of me agrees with Timmy J. Looking back at my own high school experience some of my teachers taught the way most professors teach at large R1s: lecture. But my AP US History teacher did ask guiding questions and answered them when he lectured. His approach was somewhat philosophical. In terms of teaching writing, his approach was a live demonstration via student example.

If I’m a hiring committee at a small liberal arts college that values teaching, I’d want an applicant who does more than just the bare minimum: lecturing. R1 committees probably have different expectations since the size of the classes are very large. But one friend of mine who studied chemistry said that her professor told her class of hundreds of students to discuss with their neighbors about things and so doing more than lecturing is possible in such a setting.

If your teaching style in high school resembled what teaching focused colleges expect or find useful and relevant, then it could help. But my advice is that you have to explain how you’ll fit teaching philosophy into that style and tell them how it worked out for your students. They want evidence of its effectiveness. If it’s at an R1, it’s probably wise to stick to mostly or only university level references.


Sorry it took long. But I want to take my time on this second part. The part of me that disagrees with Timmy J is that not all critiques of primary school educational references are classist. Universities/colleges and high schools do differ significantly from each other in terms of structure, function, and aim and so there is room for justified criticisms of the latter.

For one thing, college professors have significantly more academic freedom than high school teachers. Most high school teachers are constantly micromanaged and some things aren’t allowed to be taught since they are not approved by the Board of Education or the city/state laws.

Second, most high school teachers aren’t taught how to teach philosophy in the first place. And so, besides the usual lecturing, one wonders how somebody who taught history, English, math, etc. in high school is going to teach philosophy, which has a unique set of teaching methods aside from these fields.

Now, before naysaying me, my AP World History teacher did use the “Socratic method” in a circle in our class but failed looking back on it. Instead of asking us penetrating questions, he insisted that the students contribute their knowledge and it was usually the confident students that took over the discussions. It was more of telling than querying. It was imbalanced. Those students showed off their knowledge. He didn’t ask us enough questions for us to ponder individualistically and collectively. I forgave him of course. But unfortunately, he’s probably not the only high school teacher who had and still has a stereotypical understanding of the “Socratic method”.

Tim O'Keefe

I agree with the people above about the (unfortunate) downsides of including such a letter, but here is one way to try to thread the needle:

In your cover letter for jobs, mention your HS teaching experience, and (briefly) talk how you think it has been beneficial for your ability to teach well at the college level. Then say something like "If you would be interested in hearing more details about my accomplishments in this position as an educator and as a colleague, my former principal has said that she would happy be provide this information. Please contact her at [e-mail address]."

Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see offhand how including something like that in your application letter could hurt. Ans who knows--maybe a few places might actually contact her and take into account what she says.

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