Friday, February 10, 2012

Letter of Recommendation

This week I wrote my first letter of recommendation for a college... EVER.

I have been teaching for five years, but typically deal with students that are not in very competitive studies after high school.  When I did teach high school, it was in the special education setting--those students were thrilled they got to the point of GRADUATING high school.  They had goals, but it was such an unfair battle for them to even get their diploma.  Being competitive for college would have been a whole other battle they weren't willing to fight.  But that gets me on another soapbox...

Back to the letter...  I agreed to write the letter, and was very enthusiastic about recommending the student for any scholarship or programs the school had to offer.  There was no question about her abilities--I wondered why I had such a hard time coming up with the words.

Anyone that has known me for more than a few minutes has found I rarely have a hard time coming up with something to say.  I always have a thought or opinion, and I am not afraid to share it.  I will gladly sing this student's praises, but I had to start thinking about why I couldn't write the letter.

I pulled out a file of all of my letters of recommendation from the past.  I have a folder where I have them stored away from normal viewing.  I was hoping to find a pattern in the letters, and some ideas about what colleges would want to hear.  After all, I had been accepted to a variety of schools and was given scholarships--these letters must have done something?
I will say that I must have only glanced at these letters in the past.  Or maybe I really didn't understand their meaning while I was young.  Really, I think I didn't want to hear someone say wonderful things about me.  I didn't want them to say all these great things to colleges, hoping to impress them.  I have never been a person that worries about impressing those around her.  I have always marched to my own beat, and I have always been satisfied with that.

That is where my struggle ended.  I realized that my problem was that I did not want to list all of the wonderful things this student did solely for the hopes of impressing someone.  I was already impressed by this student, but wanted to write the letter so my real feelings would come across.  I didn't want the letter to feel fake, or to look like a form letter of regurgitated compliments.

So, I told stories about her compassion and honesty.  I pointed out how dedicated she is to helping students with disabilities.  How she has a sense of humor that eases those around her.  How her motivation will never let her down.

I hope she reads the letter.  I hope the schools pay attention when they read it as well.  I wrote the letter "To Whom It May Concern" as if I was talking to her.  I think that's the way a letter of recommendation should be.  Anyone can make a random list of qualities that someone might fit.  I hope it makes more of an impact when I explain all the ways she has made an impact on my life.

I came across the letter from my high school English teacher.  She wrote a two-page letter of recommendation in which she detailed very specific instances of how I impressed her with my motivation, dedication, compassion, and ability to lead.  She talked about my writing abilities, my insatiable desire to read, and my sense of humor.  You could tell that she sat down and thought about who she was writing about.  The letter was incredibly personal, and was very touching to read now.

I hope this student will pull out this letter in ten years or so, take a good read, and realize what an important part she has played in my education career.  I do believe I also need to make an appointment to speak with my English teacher.  I believe that visit is long overdue.

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