One of my greatest joys is teaching graduate students in our Masters of Science in Teaching (MST) Program. Preparing future educators for the classroom is an honor and responsibility not to be taken lightly. Master Course Outlines and associated course syllabi define a program’s merits, and the very best offer a well-rounded student experience grounded in curriculum, instruction, and assessment (In my unbiased opinion, SUNY Plattsburgh’s Education Programs are exceptional). The tricky part I have found is writing letters of recommendation for students finishing their student teaching and preparing to find a job. What should one look for when writing these critical letters, and how best to convey one’s enthusiasm for particular students who have the makings of greatness? It is not an easy task writing recommendation letters for individuals without the track record of practicing educators, but there are some student dispositions, skills and understandings I believe tie to future performance.
Grades matter, certainly, but there are other, sometimes more important, measures to consider. The lens I start with is what I want for my daughter’s teachers. Compassionate, patient, dedicated, fun-loving, witty, smart, persistent, confident, unique and innovative, communicative, open-minded, and well-respected, are measures found in the very best educators–and these are measures I can evaluate in the graduate MST classroom. In other words, what I’m looking for in a future educator are habits of mind that lead to success. How do my students interact with one another? Are they collaborators, or prefer to do their work separate from others? Do they have fun in class, and enjoy each other’s company? Are they innovative, tech-savvy, confident and humble? Are failures or challenges seen as opportunities, and do they persist? What type of mindset do they hold, growth or fixed? And why did they choose education? So many things to consider.
It takes but a few years classroom experience for the “newbies” to separate themselves from others, becoming the teachers children adore, parents want for their kids, and principals protect and mold. Such educators develop into the informal or formal teacher leaders within the school, and embrace their work for what it is: shaping and molding young minds to become productive, mindful, knowledgeable, and able members of a democratic society. And that is why the letter of recommendation for graduate MST students is so important to get right.