Guest Post by Benjamin Harrison
Once you’ve rewritten your CV for an audience of prep school teachers and administrators, you need to do the same with your cover letter. As with your CV, your prep school cover letter should be half as long as your college/university cover letter – between 1 and 1½ pages is ideal. As with all letters of this sort, it is an art, rather than a science, so what I offer here is just one way of selling yourself.
Part I: Who are you and why are you writing to them? This is not unlike the opening of your higher education letter. Who are you and where are you from? For what job are you applying? It is also here that you need to start explaining why you want to jump to a secondary school. Your fancy degree is well and good, but your reader will be curious, wary, or even suspicious of your motives. Does he really want to teach in a college but can’t find a job? Did she fail to get tenure? No school wants to be your Plan B, so you have to convince them that they’re Plan A. (It helps to convince yourself of this first, but that’s for a different post.)
Part II: Why do you want to teach at a prep school? I believe that this is perhaps the most important paragraph in your letter, and is the first point of divergence from the higher ed letter. You’re fundamentally unlike most applicants new to the prep school market. These folks, bright and shiny with their newly minted Bachelor’s degrees, finished college and decided to teach at a prep school. You, on the other hand, finished college and decided not to teach at a prep school. Why have you changed your mind? Nobody gets a doctorate so they can teach prep school, so what gives?
Part III: Why should they hire you? Here you need to make clear how your experience in grad school and/or on the tenure track has prepared you for teaching at a prep school. What classes can you teach? Why is your approach to teaching well-suited for prep schools in general and their prep school in particular? (You will want to look closely at the school’s mission website for this. A department chair at a college might not know what the mission statement is, but you should assume that the headmaster at a prep school does.) Other than an extremely detailed knowledge of pre-colonial leather-working practices of the Tuareg, what do you have to offer?
Part IV: Closing. Nothing too fancy here. Some people include the extracurricular activities that they are interested in advising, which might not be a bad idea. There is a rather strange idea floating around that prep schools require their teachers to coach. Simply put, this is not true. Some private schools have very good athletic programs, and they didn’t get that way by asking people with no knowledge or interest in sports to design a third-down blitz package. What schools will want, however, is service outside the classroom. Want to advise the science club? The student paper? Now is the time to let them know, but remember that the important part is demonstrating that you know about this requirement and are willing to do your part.
*Next up, the personal statement!