Letters of Recommendation

Here are excerpts from an e-mail that the college counselors send annually, as a service to all teachers in the Huge School. (I resisted the temptation to modify the text, except to compact bullet points into paragraph form.)

“You should describe the student within the context of your classroom:  communication skills, student-produced papers or research of note, curiosity, class participation, attitudes towards learning, academic potential. Think about a student’s: verbal and writing skills; ability to think on his/her feet; academic performance over the length of the course; leadership, organizational, coping, socialization skills; maturity level; and overall character. *

We have told students to give you a stamped, addressed envelope for each college so that you can mail your letter of recommendation directly to the college/university. Some faculty feel comfortable sharing a copy of their letter with students while others will let students read their letter prior to its being mailed.  Still other faculty refrain from sharing the contents of their letters with students.  The choice is up to you.  For your information, neither of us advises sharing letters with students. **

Students have been advised to give you a minimum of three weeks to write your letter.  If you need more time, insist on it before agreeing to write the recommendation. You may want a student to give you a resume OR the BHS Teacher / Counselor Recommendation Form before writing your letter.  It isn’t necessary for you to comment on a student’s extra-curricular activities in your letter; rather, include specific anecdotal references about the student when they were in your class. If you don’t feel comfortable writing a recommendation for a student – or if you don’t have the time – please tell the student in a clear and non-threatening manner. It would be far better for a student to face some minor rejection now and then seek out someone else who could write a stronger letter than to count on you and then have you unable to write an effective letter.” ***

* Many of those items fall under the category of… engagement.

** All envelopes I’ve received are addressed; some have postage attached; some have a return address. Some requests are verbal, and some requestees (?) have indicated a deadline. Not a pretty melange. I have a life, you know.

*** I always set out to write a very good letter for each Senior who needs one; I never write overtly negative statements.

Please. Help me to help you help me help you.