You’re in different schools every day, working with different students and different leaders. If you’re anything like me when I was a relief teacher, the mere mention of a referee in a job application spiked my anxiety. Who would be able to speak to my skills as a teacher? Who would be willing to be a referee for me at all? Have I demonstrated any skills as a relief teacher that are applicable to this job as a classroom teacher?
Having a good referee that you can call on when you’re going to apply for a job is essential. It is difficult to get a job if the person that your potential employer calls for a reference doesn’t know you very well, or can’t give much insight into how you work. As a relief teacher, finding a referee that can do this is particularly difficult.
So how can relief teachers find a good referee?
- Always keep referees in mind.
- Try to prioritise a school.
- Ask your referee early.
- Make it clear what you want.
- Keep your options open, and think outside of the box.
Here are a couple of tips for selecting and preparing a good referee as a relief teacher:
1. Always keep referees in mind.
This is something to keep in mind as you’re accepting casual work; you want a referee. You want someone to know how you work well enough to be able to give a good reference for you in the future. Even if you’re not thinking about applying for another job at all, start thinking about it now and planning.
Always be thinking about who your referee could be. As I mentioned above, it’s not a good feeling to get to be filling out the paperwork for a job application and realise that you have no idea who your referee could be. Keeping this in mind early on not only makes this decision easier but also helps you to focus on who you want to demonstrate your skills to and who you are trying to impress. This leads into…
2. Try to prioritise a school.
Having most of your work as a relief teacher in one or two schools will make your life easier in many ways, but it is essential for getting a good referee. A referee needs to be someone who knows you and can paint you in the best light possible when they get a call from a potential employer. Your referee needs to have actually seen your work, so a leader in a school that you often work at is a good choice.
You may need to actually make a choice to prioritise a school for this. If two schools want to book you for a particular day and you’re not sure who you want to let down, it’s worthwhile factoring which school you’d like to get a referee for into that decision. You can just keep prioritising the school that prioritises you, even if it seems like putting all of your eggs in one basket. It may also be worth your while trying to prioritise accepting work for the school that you know likes you, even if they can’t offer you as many days.
3. Ask your referee early.
Ask your referee if they would be okay with giving a reference for you! Please! It puts us (and you) in a really bad position if we get a call out of the blue asking about your skills as a teacher and we were completely unprepared. It makes you look really bad, both because we can struggle to find things to say, but also because you haven’t told your referee or given them the warning to prepare.
Even if you’re not applying for jobs, let your referee know that you’re thinking about it. Even if you’re not thinking about it, ask early anyway. Another thing is that I’ve had teachers come to me saying that they applied for a position yesterday and added my name as a referee, is that okay? Well, not always! If I don’t feel like I know you well enough to give a good, positive reference, I will ask to not be your referee. Give plenty of warning, and make sure that you are asking, not telling.
4. Make it clear what you want.
One thing that I always make sure to do when someone asks me to be a referee for them for a particular job is to get them to send me a copy of their application. Some teachers are taken aback by this, but I want to make sure that I know what you’ve told a potential employer so that my reference is on the same page. I haven’t seen the job ad, I can guess what they’re looking for but I don’t know. Your written application is also a good indicator of what you’re likely to talk about in an interview, and I want to be able to back up what you’re saying.
Your referee may also be able to give you a few tips or suggest a few of the key skills that you may not have emphasised. Particularly as a relief teacher, getting your referee’s opinion of your key skills and experience can help you be consistent with them and their reference statement. I also like to sit down with teachers and have a bit of a mock interview, or at least have a discussion about what I’m going to say for their reference so that they can suggest things or take some notes.
If you’re not currently applying for a job and are at the stage where perhaps you don’t know your referee very well, it can be worthwhile to have a conversation about your skills and experience and what they would need to see for them to give you a good reference. Maybe you haven’t shown consistent behaviour management skills for example, and you might want to talk to your referee about what you can do so that they can confidently vouch for you as a referee.
5. Keep your options open, and think outside of the box.
You may have read this entire article and feel completely stuck. You still have absolutely no idea who you would pick as a referee, and this article has only made you feel worse. Well, if you don’t have a school leader who would make a good referee, don’t pick one.
The most important thing for a referee is that they have seen your work and can provide evidence of your skills. I’ve picked a team teacher as a referee before, or even someone for a previous job if the skills are still relevant. As a relief teacher, you might want to pick a teacher whose class you’ve covered a number of times.
They will have a good idea of how their students are the next day, and you can be sure that their students will give a full report on exactly what they thought of the relief teacher. You might also choose the teacher next door who sees through the window how well the students behave when you’re around, and the daily management organiser who books you might be able to speak to how organised and enthusiastic you are, even at the end of a hard day.