A Classroom with a View

Reflections on Teaching High School English


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Letters of Recommendation

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Whew! I have finally finished my senior recommendations for the 2017-2018 school year. 🙌 As a junior year English teacher (core subject + most recently completed academic year), I get asked to write these a LOT — been working on this bunch off-and-on since August and I’ve written close to 30. ✍️ It takes a lot of time and thought to make each one personal and special. 💖 Not to mention it is hard to find the time to write them in between lesson planning, grading, emailing parents, checking in with guidance counselors, running off copies, and all the other tasks that fill my days. 😵

So in writing all these letters of rec, what have I learned? A few things:

  • On a logistical level, using a digital letterhead and digital signature (rather than printing, signing, and scanning) is a huge time saver.
  • Say no if your letter won’t be helpful. Fortunately I haven’t had to do this yet, but I do talk to students, especially during their junior year, about how integrity and character are important, and if they make a poor choice, I may have to include that in their letter of recommendation OR opt to not write them a letter at all for fear of harming their chances of admission.
  • It helps to brainstorm first. I usually start by grabbing a sticky note and jotting down anything I associate with a student — qualities and character traits, stories, assignments they did for me in the past. Then I try to see if there are commonalities/overriding themes emerging, which is important because…
  • I like to write letters with some kind of a theme. Maybe it’s just because I’m an English teacher and I appreciate cohesion in writing, but I try not to submit letters of rec that are just a jumble of random thoughts and observations, but rather well-thought-out narratives about students’ identities.
  • It’s probably clear by now that for me, writing a good one takes time. About 30-45 minutes each, on average. I really try to keep it personal and write a unique, original letter for each student rather than copying and pasting language from a previous letter. Every student is different, so every student deserves a different letter.
  • The best ones include a personal story. Without that, I feel like I’m just spouting off facts about the student’s academic record or extracurriculars that an admissions committee could simply read on the student’s resume. To that end…
  • I’ll probably try to write more of them over the summer. Or maybe even take a professional day to work on them at the beginning of the year. That way, my memories of that group of students are still fresh and I alleviate the struggle of finding “free time” to write them during the school year.

Regardless of how much time and energy this process takes, I still enjoy it. When my students ask me to write them a letter of recommendation, my response is always, “I would love to say all the nice things about you!” And it’s true. Now I’m done just in time to start getting requests for next year!

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