Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Unprofessional Cover Letter

(How nice would it be if I could just attach this to my CV. Instead, I have to edit this into something shorter, drier, more professional, citing more experiences and touting my accomplishments. While trying to write my new cover letter, this was what happened when I just started to type without thinking...)

When I graduated from the University of Windsor in 2006, I thought I knew a lot about teaching. I was raised by a teacher, and have had several personal and work experiences linked to education in the last 12 years, so teaching was a logical career choice. Like my colleagues, I’d successfully completed all of the requirements we needed to get our Bachelor of Education diplomas, and had truly enjoyed the experience gained from practice teaching and the various projects assigned throughout the year. I went through the application processes for teaching jobs, wrote my resume and cover letter, prepared my portfolio, and held my breath for two months, hoping that a school board would be interested.

When I interviewed for a position to teach overseas in London, England (through TimePlan Education Group), it seemed like a wonderful opportunity for both travel and work experience. Upon arrival in the UK and orientation into ways of the British school system, I found myself working as a supply teacher in East London. Hired to replace a teacher on extended leave for illness, I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful group of Year Three children (ages 7-8) at Roger Ascham Primary School. This placement lasted for a month, at the end of which the Head Teacher requested that I cover another illness leave in one of their Year Two classes for two weeks. This placement was extended fortnightly from the middle of October until January, when I would either continue with the same class or be placed in the school’s nursery as their teacher.

The class I had been working with was a group of 30 children, with 13 countries represented, and multiple religions and degrees of religious practice, which was something I had been taught about during university, but had never experienced personally. I made it a personal point to never discuss my personal faith or beliefs, lest the children become influenced by them, and each week we had children sharing religious articles, pictures, or stories about their beliefs. We celebrated our diversity and discussed how essential it is that people respect each other’s differences, and try our best to learn what we can about other cultures and religions. This process was not always easy, as several children were from quite traditional households, but we were lucky enough to only experience some minor troubles between students that did not require parental involvement.

I consider myself very lucky to have been asked to remain with the Year Two children, as we had grown quite a lot together, and I had developed a strong bond with my class and their parents. These children had been taught by 8 different teachers in their first 5 weeks of school, and had no set expectations or objectives for their schooling. As a result, there were a lot of behaviour issues within the classroom, most of which took quite a lot of time to resolve. During the half-term between October and December, I worked to develop not only a strong work ethic, but also a love of learning, and the confidence to make and learn from mistakes in each of my students.

It is very important to me that children learn to be confident and self-sufficient, to take an active role in their education, and develop a passion for learning. It was a delight to watch my students cheer with excitement when they learned “today we’re going to practice fractions!” or to receive challenges like “This work is VERY tricky, but I bet you’ll be good at it!” with confidence and determination. They constantly amazed me with their ability to learn, and their enthusiasm during each lesson - we agreed that learning should be fun and interesting.

Working in an inner city school in such a large city carried some consequences: issues such learning English as a second language paled in comparison when it was time to deal things like gang violence, racial issues, poverty, and absentee parents – all things that children should never experience but were all too common in east London, and our school. One would expect such a harsh environment to hinder a student’s ability to achieve, however every child in my classroom experienced academic success on an individual level. When our class was tested last winter, it was found that every student had moved forward in their learning, and I later learned that we were the only class in the school that had accomplished this. This is not to say that all of the students were working at or above the national average, but instead that even the children scoring far below the average still showed improvements on test scores in literacy and numeracy within a one year span.

Why did they improve? Many of my colleagues, the administration, and several of the parents gave me the credit, saying my passion for teaching, class management, and hard work had made the difference for their children. One mother even claimed that she and a group of parents believed that I had given their children the confidence in themselves to learn without fear of making mistakes, and the enthusiasm for learning that they had previously been lacking. If this is even partly true, I consider it the highest compliment anyone could give me.

I do believe the bulk of that credit should go to the children themselves. They needed a person to guide them, to help them build their skills, to use books and other resources as learned tools, not just entertainment – to question things they hear, and speak up when they have something to say, but they were the ones who completed the work, tried their best, learned from their mistakes, supported each other, and came to school wanting to learn each day. They learned and practice skills that will take them through life, and I do believe that they all have the potential to be a success. During a writing activity in the spring, I asked them to go to the front of their books and look at how much their writing had changed in a few short months. Yes, I gave them the work and encouraged them, but right in these books was the evidence that they did it, not me.

When July arrived, I spent hours writing final reports, outlining each student’s achievements, discussing points for improvement, and setting goals for their next school year. While writing these, I noticed that for two of my lowest ability students, I was writing things like “has developed a wonderful work ethic”, “has shown incredible improvement in their reading and writing this year”, and “it has been a joy to watch them participate more in class, and to confidently share their opinions and ideas with peers”.

That was when I realized why so many had given me credit for how well my class performed this year: their success was my success.

This lesson is one I will never take for granted, as I believe that it is every educator’s responsibility to be responsible for their students’ learning in every way possible. This includes dealing with difficult parents, recognizing, accommodating, and celebrating diversity, developing creative and fun lesson plans, and constantly reminding children that an education will open doors for them all over the world.

When I graduated from Teacher’s College, I thought I knew a lot about teaching. After a very busy and often stressful school year in a foreign country working within an unfamiliar system, I look forward to the challenges that teaching in Ontario will bring. I hope I can look back on myself in a year and once again enjoy the feeling of having learned so much. As it turns out, you can know a lot about teaching and still learn so much more…

Thanks for your time.

2 Comments:

  • At 9:24 PM, Blogger UrbanCowgirl said…

    I would just send it as is, with some slight edits for length. If I were on the recruitment panel, based on that letter alone you'd be assured of an interview. Your first sentence sits up there and says "keep reading".

    Brilliant!

     
  • At 12:38 PM, Blogger Suldog said…

    Indeed. This is a wonderful and honest document. If the people reading your submission don't think so, then you don't want to be working for those people, IMVHO.

     

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