I am in my first year of a tenure track position and I am considering applying to a small number of schools that are a significantly better fit for me (in ways I could not have known until I'd been working here a while). While my current department chair could, without a doubt, write me a very strong letter if he/she were willing to help me leave (50/50 chances on this), I don't really want to tell him/her in case it doesn't work out. It's a very small department and a very small community (word gets around, so there's nobody here I'm comfortable asking). I am trying to decide whether I have viable options outside of my current job for other recs, or if I should just suck it up and ask my chair even though it'll be awkward.
I have two professional references I could ask for from people outside my institution (people with whom I have collaborated in various ways), and I think both would be very positive. I could also get a positive rec from someone at the place I taught prior to this place. I have teaching observation reports from my current job, so I think it'll be pretty apparent that I am good at my job, not trying to hide anything from the search committee.
My questions are:
1) If I choose to not involve my chair, should I say something in my cover letter, like "If you are serious about me, I can connect you with my department chair" to let them know that I am not avoiding it, just trying to be discreet? And if so, does anyone have examples of how they have said this in a cover letter, or of how they WOULD say it?
2) Am I negatively impacting my chances by doing this, i.e. will it just look too weird if I don't have a rec from my current job?
3) How heinous is it for me to secretly apply for other jobs and then accept one after the time when they could do a tenure track search? I mean, if I was sure I could get another job, I'd tell my chair now so they could do a search this year, but I am NOT sure, and I don't want to be jobless at the end of the year if my search fails. Is this common enough that it's to be expected, or is it a jerky thing to do?
I am grateful for the job I have, and I don't think it would be terrible to stay here, but I do think there are better jobs for me, if I can get one of them. This is why I don't want to rock the boat - in the end, I might end up staying. Trying to leave could undermine my chances of tenure if I do stay, so I want to do this right.