If you are applying to graduate school, then you’ll need to write a personal statement as part of the application. Personal statements can be tricky as you do not want to simply repeat what is stated elsewhere in your application, but you also don’t want to turn it into an autobiography. Things like your GPA, accomplishments, awards and a list of courses you have taken do not fit. Your personal statement should be, well, personal. Why do you want to become a teacher? Why do you want to earn your degree at this school?
Before you start outlining your statement, ask yourself a few questions to get an idea of what you’ll need to include. Jot down each of the following questions and leave some space to answer them.
- Who am I?
- Why do I want to be a teacher?
- How should I address my academic record?
- How can my experiences enhance my application?
- Who is my audience?
Now take a few minutes and come up with some answers to these questions. Don’t spend too much time on this step; just write down your general thoughts. Once you do that, you will be ready to dive in and start writing your personal statement.
Your introduction needs to grab the reader’s attention at once. Remember that they are most likely staring at a pile of applications, and yours will be one of many they’ll read in this sitting. You need to be memorable right from the start. Follow this general form for a solid intro.
- HOOK: Grab the admissions officer’s attention with a broad, but strong statement about the teaching profession.
- LINE: Write two to three sentences that develop that idea and narrow it down to focus on you.
- SINKER: Deliver your thesis. This is where you state specifically why you want to study education at their school.
Begin with a short summary of your educational background. Do not turn this into a resume; just briefly give an overview of your studies in both your major (English, math, etc.) and in your education concentration. If you have any inconsistencies in your academic record, this is where you should address them. Do not give excuses, but if there are reasons why you did poorly in an area, state them here.
The second body paragraph is where you get to tell your story. Why do you want to become a teacher? What inspires you about this profession? What type of teacher do you see yourself becoming? How did your student teaching experience inspire you to continue on this path? Anecdotes are best, but don’t get carried away. Keep it concise and to the point.
Once you have explained who you are and what your professional goals will be, the third body paragraph should explain why you think you are a good fit for that particular school. Hopefully you did some research before applying, and you have some concrete reasons for choosing this college. Tell them your reasons, but don’t go overboard with platitudes. They know what awards they have won and where they rank in the U.S. News college rankings. Be honest and explain what attracted you to their program of study and what you hope to get out of it.
In order to ensure the clarity of your work, each body paragraph should be formatted the same. This way the reader will be able to quickly read without losing track of the point. After the first body paragraph, begin each subsequent paragraph with a transition phrase or sentence, and then provide a clear topic sentence. Support that topic sentence with solid evidence. Finally, provide examples to back up that evidence.
Conclusions are hard, and they are hard for a reason. Ideally, you have made your case in the body of your personal statement, so you understandably ask yourself, “What else can I say?” Try one of these strategies:
- Widen the focus a bit and validate your thesis without being redundant.
- Project where you see yourself in 10 years after completing your degree and becoming a successful teacher.
- Reaffirm your passion for your subject area.
However you decide to close, do not fall back to your middle school days and simply restate your case in the conclusion. Take some time to craft a closing that will leave them with an overall positive impression.
The Nuts and Bolts of Academic Writing
It is certainly worth noting a few of the technical aspects of writing your personal statement. Many programs will have specific items they want you to cover in your statement. Be sure you have carefully read and then answered their questions. Use a basic font like Times New Roman or Calibri and either a 10- or 12-point font. Always use 1-inch margins and single space your document. The general suggested length is 500 to 1,000 words. Don’t feel like you have to hit the word limit, but don’t only get halfway there either.
More from Applying for your Masters in Teaching: The Complete Guide
Steve P. Brady is a teacher and educational career consultant specializing in resumes for teachers.
Helen Sadler, art and design teacher, Hammersmith and Fulham
It's the personal statement that will get you short listed: The application form is standard, it's the personal statement that will get you short listed. No more than two sides of A4 it should show how and why you teach and who you are as a person. It should not be a list.
Always read the specification, if it says you are required to teach A-level and you don't or don't mention a willingness to learn it shows you haven't read it. If you are applying for a job in a different area to where you live explain why. Check who the application needs to be sent to, don't just send it to the headteacher. It sounds obvious but make sure you get their name right.
Gaps in employment make it look like you're hiding something, whatever the reason highlight all the positives for gaps. If you have worked in a different sector think about the transferable skills you have. Be honest, don't be tempted to change that D to a C in your qualifications. If you get the job they WILL check.
If interviewed you will be questioned using your personal statement. Don't say you do certain things in the statement but then can't give real examples when interviewed. Be enthusiastic about your subject, why do you teach it, what do you enjoy. Include hobbies on your personal statement, it makes you a more rounded person. But don't include 'socialising with friends' as basically it means getting wasted.
If you only have your training experience include all the schools you have trained in, say what you have learnt, how they are different, what you enjoyed. You could be up against teachers with years of experience. Use any particularly good comments from observations in your personal statement. This is really useful if you are a NQT. Don't be negative about any previous schools.
Chris Hildrew, deputy head teacher, Chew Valley School, Bristol
Successful applicants explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school: When sifting through a pile of applications I can usually halve the pile by getting rid of those making basic mistakes. These include poorly proofread or inaccurate letters (there's nothing quite so off-putting as finding the wrong school or head teacher's name left over from the previous time that letter was used), application forms incorrectly completed, and those who feel obliged to include more than is asked for.
I don't want to see your CV unless I've asked for one. I don't want to see a portfolio of PowerPoint presentations you've developed. I don't want a testimonial from your summer job behind the bar in the student union. I want what I've asked for please - letter and form. Form and letter. Thank you.
Straight to the top of the pile go those whose letters explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school. Also a winner are those who show exactly how they fit the person specification not only through what they've already done but what they'd like to do next. Above all, though, I like to know exactly why the applicant is a teacher in the first place. A good application will get you the interview; a good interview will get you the job.
Doug Belshaw, former teacher and senior leader and author of #getthatjob
Be selective, rather than scattergun: One of the best things you can do when applying for jobs is to be selective. It's easy to get desperate, either because of money or stress, but it's important to make sure that you've done your homework on what you might be letting yourself in for. Read everything you can online and, if the deadline's far enough away, phone the school and ask them to send you anything (newsletters, for example) that aren't on their website.
There's two benefits to going deep rather than employing a scattergun approach. First, you'll be sure that it's the kind of place you can work. And second, you'll have done 'due diligence' and be in a better position than other candidates to show how you'd fit right in. At interview and on the application you can use examples from the school's recent history to show how you could make an impact straight away.
Finally, be an enlarged version of yourself both on paper (and at interview). It's the best advice I ever received for 'performing' in the classroom and it stood me in very good stead when snagging a job that rocketed me from classroom teacher straight to senior management.
Peter Lee, assistant vice principal, Q3 Academy, Birmingham
Make your application personal to the school and write about why you love teaching: As part of my role I read through numerous written application as part of the job application process. Here are some of my top tips.
• Make sure your application is personal to the school – i.e. quote from the Ofsted report, latest exam results, ethos and so on
• If your application sounds like you've generated a whole host and it's not personal to the school then it's likely to remain at the bottom of the pile
• Visit the school before handing the application form in – that way you can get a real feel for the school
• Check spelling and give to another person to proofread any SPAG errors
• Make sure there are no gaps in your employment history
• Explain what you will bring that is extra if successful – so what skills can you bring / what extra-curricular opportunities would you be willing to offer?
• Be positive – write about why you love teaching
• List any areas in which you have added value – i.e. specific class residuals/meeting whole school or departmental targets
Kirstie Thomas, head of history, Lewis School, Pengam, South Wales
Look at what the school's needs and have ideas for addressing them: I recently had to appoint a new teacher, the main criteria the school was looking for was what else could that teacher offer, and many applications did not make the shortlist as they did not explicitly say what I was looking for. Applicants need to include the other subjects they are able to teach; NQTs should look at doing a secondary subject to improve their initial letter.
An awareness of current educational practice is good but do not write in great depth and waste time and space about it. Have a vision for after school or lunchtime clubs; something they have done or if an NQT something they would like to do, it could be linked to curriculum or an additional free choice, but they should look at school needs and try to offer something interesting and different.
Any previous work although unconnected to education can be phrased in such a way that it gives a sense of transferable skills. Most importantly, the letters should be spell checked and proofread. With a literacy agenda in school I disregarded three letters that were full of basic spelling mistakes and seemed rushed and were poorly written.
Sally Law, principal teacher of English, Marr College, Troon
Show off your vocabulary and try to make applications interesting to read: I appointed two new English teachers this season and had a few gripes with applications. The most irritating, and surprising, problem was the applicants' seeming lack of vocabulary. For English teachers this isn't good although I think it stems from applicants thinking they must use the current jargon so the same words just keep popping up over and over again.
So I would say be a bit more flexible with vocabulary although not to the point of overdoing it with the thesaurus. If there was one more thing it would be to vary sentence structure too and absolutely avoid starting every sentence with 'I'.
John Bull, year 5 teacher, Thursfield Primary School, Stoke-on-Trent
Visit a school before you apply: Headteachers get many applications from many individuals. It is the responsibility of the applicant to make the headteacher want to meet them by making their application stand out. Sometimes that might be in creative ways, like changing the colour of the fonts for different parts of the CV. Not being too effusive is also a good tip. Be positive but not overconfident. Expect the headteacher to want to see you, by writing this as an end paragraph 'I look forward to meeting you at interview.' Always visit a school before you apply. You might not be right for them as well as them not being right for you.