Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rec Letters

It's rec letter season again!

I just finished my second rec letter of the school year, and I thought I'd share what I give to students when they ask me to write a recommendation letter.  It's nothing fancy, but it (usually) gives me a lot of good info to go on.

A few notes:

  1. Students must ask me in person to write a letter.  
    • If I get an email from an outside source saying a student has request a recommendation, but the student has never talked to me, I simply wait for the student to tell me what it's about.  If the student never does, the student doesn't get a letter from me.  
    • If the student (or student's parent) emails me, I respond by saying something like, "Please see me after class.  I require all students to talk to me face-to-face if they are requesting a recommendation letter.  I also have a short form for you to fill out."
  2. I try to get these written as quickly as possible.  Weekends are my time to write them.  I limit myself to 2-3/weekend.  But, if I haven't hit that limit, I generally do write the letter that same weekend.  I don't like having these hang over me.
  3. I dread writing rec letters.  I dread it so much.  They can be very stress-inducing for teachers especially when we know our kids have incredibly lofty goals.  That said, once I start writing a letter, I have so much fun with it.  It's really enjoyable to get to brag on the amazing kids we have.  Furthermore, it's a true honor to be asked to write these, I think.
So, once a student asks me to write a rec letter, I ask him/her to send me a blank email.  Then I respond with this:

Please copy and paste these questions as well as your answers into an email (send to [my email address here]). The more details or specific examples/stories you provide, the better letter I can write for you.

· Full name as you want it in your letter
· Unweighted GPA
· Weighted GPA
· School activities and clubs (include any special recognitions, service hours, etc., if applicable)
· Non-school activities, volunteer positions, jobs, etc.
· What do you consider to be your greatest strength and why?
· What do you want to study in college and why?
· What is an obstacle you have faced in the past or are currently facing and how has it shaped you?
· Name a hero of yours (personal, historical, or fictional) and explain your answer.
· Any experiences that stand out during your time at Union?
· Anything else that would be important for me to know?

And that's it.  Again, nothing fancy, but it's the best thing that's worked for me after a few years of writing a lot of letters.


  1. This is a very helpful post! I really like how you require students to talk to you face-to-face. I also like that you limit yourself to 2-3 letters of recommendation per weekend. It is important to stay organized and timely, but not to overwork yourself. I think the guided questions are very helpful when writing letters of recommendation. Have you ever had a student ask for a letter of rec that you didn't know very well? How did you handle this, was it difficult? I definitely plan on using these tips in my future classroom! Thanks for the great post!

  2. Thank you for this post! I think my high school teacher also required the students to ask for recommendations letters in person. I think that is a nice way of asking, so I plan to do that when I get to teach in the future. I also like your idea about letting the students answer the questionnaire, and some of those questions are very interesting. I see that a recommendation letter has to be more than how the student is in your classroom only, so you are asking about the student's experience in the high school, personal heroes, and volunteer positions, etc. However, I am curious to know to what extent do you use the student's responses in writing the recommendation letter? For example, if you just found out the student is involved in certain volunteer positions from the questionnaire, how would you write about it in the recommendation letter?

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