Writing Letters of Recommendations for Students
I primarily teach juniors and seniors this year, so I have three primary waves of recommendation writing: junior enrichment opportunities, senior college apps, and senior scholarship apps. Many of these opportunities ask students to obtain a letter of recommendation from an English teacher who can give insight into student reading and communication skills. Whether you are sitting down to write one letter or fifty letters, here are some tips to get you through:
- Be authentic. Sometimes you have to be honest with students and decline to write a letter of recommendation when you don’t have the time to complete the task, don’t know the student well enough, or don’t think that you can write a positive letter. Allow yourself to make the professional call to avoid writing an untruthful ode to the student constantly cheating and disrupting class or a boring form letter about that extraordinary student in dire need of a scholarship.
- Consider starting with a few general form letters. Every student is exceptional, but letters of recommendation may come in batches. I have general templates for categories like the student-athlete, the most improved, the extra-curricular star, the service-oriented, and the consistent hard worker. I then fill in the general template with the specifics of the student so that I can quickly but accurately get the letter done. In my ten years of writing letters, I’ve had a few every year that break all molds and require me to break out all of my rhetoric skills from scratch.
- Ask for a brag sheet and the details of the opportunity. Even if you know your students well, give them an opportunity to complete the whole picture.
- Quote students. I like to include quotes from student essay writing or brag sheets to show and not just tell the student’s strengths.
- Put on the finishing touches. After you have spent time writing this letter, proofread it, print it on letterhead, and sign it. These letters are important, and you want to honor them.
What recommendations do you have? Is my form helpful? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!