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How to Get your First Teaching Job Part II: The Cover Letter

This is a series for aspiring teachers (particularly those who wish to work at community colleges)

Part I: Job Hunting Advice for New Teachers

There are millions of resources out there for teachers for writing your resume or CV. The cover letter is just as important (if not more important) than your CV.

What’s the difference between a resume and a cover letter? 

The CV/resume tells your potential employer that you are qualified for the position. Your cover letter is your elevator pitch that explains why you are the best person for the job. Your cover letter should be the lovechild of a narrative essay and the copy of an advertisement. A strategically told story with a call to action. In short, your resume shows what you are and your cover letter shows who you are and how you got there. So how do we make this happen?

Start simple, work smarter

When you are fresh out of grad school looking at different job openings, everything can start to feel overwhelming. Most job resources will tell you to write a new cover letter for each job posting. Going through the whole writing process for each and every job you apply for is wasted effort. I recommend creating generic templates for different categories of jobs, then tailoring them to specific job postings. But before we even begin drafting, we are going to:

  1. Categorize the types of jobs we are aiming for
  2. Research ! Research ! Research !
  3. Look at common descriptors that each category of job is searching for
  4. Make a list of those descriptors for each category
  5. Compare with our resume

Thinking through the eyes of a potential employer is a powerful tool we can use to get our first job. They are looking for specific things. For teachers, we are going to be highlighting our core teaching philosophy and praxis, our competence, and our humanity. We will tailor this to specific English programs, depending on what their mission is. For example, if I am applying for a summer job teaching vacation English to tourists, I’m not going to highlight my rigorous academic writing syllabus in my cover letter. This cover letter will not be appealing for a summer program for tourists that want to learn speaking and listening for traveling around the States.

Get to the point!

I mentioned that cover letters are like elevator pitches: they should be short enough to be understood within the time it takes to ride an elevator. So, unlike an essay that has an elaborate introduction, we will start with a short and to-the-point introduction:

  • Greetings, explaining who or where you found the information to contact the hiring manager/committee
  • Who you are, what you are applying for, and why you are the best person for the job

Here’s an example from one of my own cover letters:

Dear Hiring Committee,

I am applying for the part time Non Credit ESL instructor position at Community College. I graduated with my MS TESOL Master’s degree at Cal State Fullerton in 2016.  I have been teaching noncredit ESL grammar classes at Community College as well as credit classes at Community College. I believe that I have the knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm necessary for this position.

Back it up!

Now that we have our main thesis, we will need to back it up in short paragraphs. Structure is paramount to a short, punchy paragraph. Here’s a refresher on paragraphs:

    • Topic sentence that refers back to a specific quality you mentioned in the thesis.
    • Specific evidence/examples supporting that quality
    • Explanation as to how this has improved your skills as a teacher
    • Transition into more specific evidence/examples
    • More explanation
    • Transition to next paragraph

If you are fresh out of grad school, you may not have teaching experience to fall back on. Tutoring also will help you get a teaching job. It shows that you are still working with students, and hopefully applying what you are learning in school to the real world. You will have to show what you learned in class, and how that will help you as a future teacher. Here’s another example showing the knowledge part of my thesis:

Besides the core classes of the MS TESOL program which include speaking/listening and reading/writing, I have taken two relevant elective pedagogy classes offered in my program: Pedagogical Grammar and Teaching Vocabulary in the ESL/EFL context.  I received A’s in both of these classes and immediately started applying the knowledge gained in these classes to my own teaching and tutoring jobs. Celce-Murcia’s book on grammar will never leave my possession since it taught me how to teach articles and verb tenses. At my job as an ESL tutor at Coastline, students will wait for me with their most complicated grammar questions, and even the other tutors love to ask me to settle grammar disputes.  The vocabulary class has also been an asset to my professional development. As an ESL tutor, I can quickly diagnose the root vocabulary issue that students may have. Moreover, I do a lecture on vocabulary word knowledge for my Freshman English class, as well, to help them become more aware of the intricacies of their own word knowledge.

Don’t forget your manners

At the end of your cover letter, you should be sure to thank the hiring manger/committee for their time, and ask them to contact you should they have any questions.

Example:

Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I look forward to going over my qualifications with you in person. If you have any questions regarding my application, please feel free to contact me via phone or email.

If you are an aspiring teacher, or looking for a job, and have questions you would like me to answer, please let me know.

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My Teaching Philosophy

I started my teaching career 3 years ago as a Teaching Associate for Cal State Fullerton. At the end of my studies for graduate school, I completed a practicum which required me to compile a teaching portfolio, including a teaching philosophy.

By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.”

-Rabindranath Tagore

Through my teaching of English and critical thinking, I want students to engage in society in every aspect of life through claiming their voices and not abdicating their personal power. Through a Socratic, communicative method of questioning students’ beliefs about authority and the right to speak (Peirce), professors and students can co-create knowledge and process in the classroom (Freire).

Through the MS TESOL program, I have gained much experience from my practicum teaching experience as an English 101 instructor, as well as my tutoring experiences at Coastline Community College’s Success Center and the CSUF Writing Center. In each of these positions, I have learned and applied the theories from Bonny Norton Peirce to Paolo Freire that I learned in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching Adults in an ESL/EFL Context. I also have modeled much of my syllabus after Ferris and Hedgecock’s recommendations.

Students are regularly subjected to the whims of teachers and other authority figures; their student knowledge and experience valid only if validated by authority. Paolo Freire’s banking concept of education applies quite well to today’s education system. In this philosophy, teachers give the gift of knowledge to eager students. Students lack knowledge, therefore they sit in class in order to absorb the knowledge that the all-knowing teacher bestows upon them. But this philosophy ignores the basic humanity of students: no one enters the classroom tabula rasa.

A new metaphor, rather than the negative, capitalistic definition of banking, is more apt to describe the classroom I strive for: a garden. The professor should act as a gardener, working with the natural inclinations of students for them to flourish. It is vital to consider students’ interests as “any gardener who should attempt to raise healthy, beautiful, and fruitful plants by outraging all those plants’ instinctive wants and searchings, would meet as his reward—sickly plants, ugly plants, sterile plants, dead plants” (de Cleyre). Ignoring that students bring their experiences and personal knowledge into the classroom is misguided. It is also important to give students the chance to grow in autonomy or “beauty” rather than “plucking away” at them so that they can fit into our educational molds. It is easy as teachers to engage with students on a purely transactional level rather than a human one. Each class brings different ethnicities, age groups, and social classes teaching the professor much about the world outside the classroom. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Professors should act to encourage students to share their knowledge in the classroom and critically evaluate it. Critical thinking skills are integral parts of any English class. In doing so, the professor helps the student to become a critical thinker as well as a co-creator of knowledge. We learn how to interact with the discourse in society through our classrooms and our professors. Giving students the tools to go out and engage with society facilitates not only great English skills, but also social change. As a professor, I want to encourage my students to dissent and look for solutions if they see ills in society.

I wrote this two years ago for my practicum. Since then, I feel like I have lived many life times. However, the foundations of my teaching philosophy are still present in my mindset today. The garden metaphor is apt to describe the classroom, in more ways than one: a gardener can only control so much, plants thrive best in different environments and conditions, some plants need more or special attention from the gardener.

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A Tongue for Every Continent

After I studied abroad in Italy for a year (2011 – 2012), I became fascinated with languages. Traveling Europe, I began to see how multilingual people were constantly in the process of learning and mastering other languages. This is incredibly different than the American mentality of monolingualism.

It follows the old joke:

What do you call someone that speaks three languages?

Trilingual.

What do you call someone that speaks two languages?

Bilingual.

What do you call someone that speaks one language?

American.

And of course, as most polyglots know, as soon as you get far enough in your second language, you want to learn more and more languages. I guess I am no different:

Which language(s) are you learning – why those?

Japanese

I am in the process of learning Japanese as I have applied to go through the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. I am hoping to be able to survive, hold a decent conversation with Japanese people, and immerse myself once I go over to Japan. I’ve loved Japan since I was young watching Sailor Moon and DragonBall Z.

Italian

I studied Italian for two semesters before I left to live in Italy for 11 months where I studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Florence through the CSU International Programs. Much of my knowledge of Italian vocabulary focuses on art terms or cooking terms. While Italian is on the backburner, I do love to read Italian memes and watch videos on Italian cooking taught by old Italian cooks.

 Arabic

During my Master’s program, I was considering where I wanted to go abroad. While I was in Italy, the Arab Spring brought a lot of people from different countries to Italy so I met many Arabic people that I thought were very friendly. During my second to last semester in grad school, I decided to take Arabic 101. Man! What a difficult language! But I love the way Arabic looks and its potential for beautiful calligraphy. I am definitely interested in visiting either Morocco, Egypt or Jordan someday.

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Recommended Texts for Composition

They Say, I Say- Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

https://www.amazon.com/They-Say-Matter-Academic-Writing/dp/0393935841

This book is a well-written, boiled down approach to academic writing using the metaphor of “joining the conversation.” I still use many of their chapters in my English composition classes including the Naysayer chapter as well as the templates for introducing direct quotes from authors. The templates alone are worth the money– these signal phrases are chunks of language that are highly frequent in academic writing and are invaluable to the aspiring native and non-native speaker of English that wishes to improve their academic writing skills.

Norton Field Guide to Writing with Handbook –

https://www.amazon.com/Norton-Field-Guide-Writing-Handbook/dp/0393919587/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484772253&sr=1-4&keywords=norton+field+guide+to+writing+3rd+edition

I used this book for my students at the university level for Freshman composition. The text is multimodal and includes etexts and related videos. The addition of the handbook is also invaluable as many native speakers struggle with grammatical problems although their meaning and organization is on point. This is a very strong textbook for composition and it breaks down a variety of different rhetorical modes for students in an easy to understand manner.

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Recommended Vocabulary Apps

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-1-07-38-pmVocabulary Apps:

Duolingo – This is a great app for learning vocabulary and for practicing sentences. You can “level up” in the target language and compete against your classmates for the most points. The class link is here: https://www.duolingo.com/o/yzazhk

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 1.08.32 PM.pngMemrise – There are many English courses available for students. Memrise has students associate words or images with vocabulary to help students remember vocabulary. http://www.memrise.com/courses/english/english/?q=intermediate