I have a pet peeve. When folks I barely know ask me to write them a letter of recommendation or reference. I say no when I feel that my sense of personal integrity would be compromised in the process.
With youth, I don’t say no right away. I use it as a teaching moment. I ask them why they chose to ask me in particular. I ask what they hoped I would write about them. I ask if they felt I had the history and experience with them to be able to say that honestly. I ask them if…off the record…they want some candid feedback about my perception of the way they choose to operate in the world. (BTW, I don’t give it without permission.)
There are some young people I am delighted to say yes to when asked. First, I give them props for asking me before putting my name down as a reference. Then, I follow a similar conversational path as above. Why did you choose me? What do you hope I will write about you? What experience with me has led you to believe that I would write that? Off the record, would you like to get some candid feedback about how I see you operating in the world?
You want to know about the young people I really stand up and take notice of? The ones who anticipate. They recognize that I’m a busy person and I don’t have a lot of discretionary time on my hands. They approach me not only asking for the favor, but also with a piece of paper in hand with a draft letter that they would like me to send. Wow. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I’m impressed! What a delight to sit with this young person and discuss what they wrote.
This translates directly to the college admissions process. Your high school students may someday need to ask one of their teachers for a recommendation letter—usually a teacher who taught your student an academic subject in the junior year. How helpful it would be for the teacher if your student was able to put in writing responses to the following prompts:
- What were your favorite ideas or topics from this class? Why?
- What assignment/project in this class were you most proud of?
- As a student in this class, how would you describe yourself? What are your academic strengths and weaknesses?
- Was there an obstacle that you faced and overcame? How have you grown as a result of this class?
Ok, I can hear it now…
I wish you would tell my student this. Can I bring him/her over to talk to you?
How about this instead? Print a copy of this blog and bring it home with you and casually say, “I read something interesting today.” 🙂