Denied a Student Recommendation, did I handle it OK?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by beccmo, Jan 21, 2010.

  1. beccmo

    beccmo Comrade

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2007
    Messages:
    490
    Likes Received:
    12

    Jan 21, 2010

    This is the time of year when students begin to ask for letters of recommendation for various reasons. Normally this is no problem for me. For the first time ever I turned a student down, since it is a matter of professional integrity that I be honest in such a letter. Given that, I asked the student what he would write if he were me. He smiled and admitted he could have a better attitude and work ethic in class. I suggested he ask his math teacher for the recommendation (it was for a science/math based internship).

    For some reason, high school seems to be the first time many students are faced with the reality that there can be consequences for their behavior. Hopefully this student will recognize that there is a lesson to be learned here.

    Has anyone else declined to write a letter of recommendation? Could I have handled this differently?
     
  2.  
  3. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2007
    Messages:
    6,791
    Likes Received:
    162

    Jan 21, 2010

    You handled it correctly, in my opinion. A Letter of recommendation is putting your name on a person, and if you don't feel you can recommend him, then it would be dishonest of you to write the letter. Good for you.
     
  4. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    5

    Jan 21, 2010

    I think you handled it just fine. Good job in a sticky situaiton!
     
  5. MsMar

    MsMar Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 16, 2007
    Messages:
    2,771
    Likes Received:
    52

    Jan 21, 2010

    I think you handled it quite well.

    I teach an elective so I'm not asked that often unless the student is applying to culinary school. I did get asked to write one regular one this year though but I was happy to do it. I really like your response that you gave the student and will keep it in mind if I ever should need it.
     
  6. HMM

    HMM Cohort

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2004
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 21, 2010

    I have once. A student asked for a letter since she was applying for medical school. I thought she was a nice student but she did poorly in my class (a low level class). I told her she should try to ask a professor that taught one of her classes that was in her major.
     
  7. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 21, 2010

    I've never declined to do them, and after you read what I write below, you'll see why...

    You'll do a lot fewer of these (and you'll have to decline fewer) if you tell them, "I'll gladly write you a letter of evaluation. Sometimes these letters sound like letters of recommendation; sometimes not so much."

     
  8. Mr. A

    Mr. A Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2009
    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    0

    Jan 21, 2010

    Oh and by the way you handled it fine.
     
  9. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Jan 22, 2010

    I've never declined it.

    But, like you, I've told the kids that I would have to be totally honest.

    Once or twice, that has been enough to encourage them to ask someone else.
     
  10. Ms. I

    Ms. I Maven

    Joined:
    May 13, 2004
    Messages:
    5,827
    Likes Received:
    140

    Jan 22, 2010

    If you felt that this student didn't deserve a letter of rec, then I'm sure you used good judgment. Personally, I'm never in the position to have to write letters of rec for students, but I wouldn't be too, too harsh, especially if they're HS seniors. I feel they deserve an equal chance...unless they were a total goof-off or had a horrendous attitude & were given plenty of chances to straighten up. If their personality was good & I saw their hard effort, but they didn't get the greatest grades, I'd give them a break because there are & should be people who deserve the chance to succeed who don't always have the best grades or test scores.

    I was never the straight A type all the time & I even admit that I wished I had a few more B's in my overall academic career, but I always took school seriously & the last educational accomplishment I completed was graduating magna cum laude w/ an MA, so life to me isn't always about the 4.0+ GPAs & the greatest test scores.
     
  11. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Messages:
    8,328
    Likes Received:
    1,454

    Jan 22, 2010

    I still remember my mother regretting agreeing to complete a recommendation for one of my classmates (she taught at my high school). She must have sat at the kitchen table for an hour, staring at the blank page. She finally turned to me and exclaimed, "What do I say? That the kid looks good in a suit? That's pretty much it!" As I knew the student, I had to agree with her. To this day I don't know why she agreed to write the letter.
     
  12. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2007
    Messages:
    2,403
    Likes Received:
    1

    Jan 25, 2010

    I have passed it off on another teacher and the kid got the hint. I have said something like "Oh, this school is going to want you to have a science teacher give you a recommendation. Is there anyone in that dept you can ask?"
     
  13. school board pr

    school board pr New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2011
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 21, 2011

    Depends on what the recommendation was for.....

    If you denied this student a letter of recommendation for continuing his/her education beyond HS then you are wrong. A job recommendation might be different but I didn't catch what the letter was for. As far as a recommendation for continuing education goes I believe you have a duty to provide these to HS seniors. Afterall, if you are not the last step in the educational foundation construction then who is? If it is beyond your capabilities to provide these letters then perhaps you are in the wrong line of work. I saw most of the comments to your question agreed with your decision, however, why on earth would you deny a student a recommendation if he/she was attempting to improve their life outlook by going on to college???? What are you teaching for?
     
  14. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2005
    Messages:
    5,277
    Likes Received:
    745

    Sep 21, 2011

    Exacly. This is the last step before moving on so if a kid with a bad attitude doesn't learn to straighten up in high school, when is he?

    I would not lie in a letter either and to imply that the OP should just make up something untruthful speaks volumes about your own character.
     
  15. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 21, 2011

    Yea, this is certainly something I've debated with myself. Obviously if I don't think a student "deserved" (a vague term) a letter I would be less than thrilled to write one, but I strongly feel it is a teacher's responsibility to help ensure further success as students and academics. I will always write a letter of recommendation to anyone that asks and they will always be positive (though some less than others). It isn't like a college admission board is going to think Hmm, that teacher gave us a great letter of rec but the student didn't do so hot... I guess we'll ignore their letters.

    Colleges realize letters of rec aren't a glowing standard to follow when it comes to student admittance, and we owe it to our kids to do whatever is possible for them to better themselves.
     
  16. KateL

    KateL Habitué

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2007
    Messages:
    810
    Likes Received:
    2

    Sep 21, 2011

    Re-read the OP. The letter was for an internship.
     
  17. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,682
    Likes Received:
    1,109

    Sep 21, 2011

    I know of colleges that do in fact take recommendations much more seriously than this, and that do in fact value a given source of recommendations less if there's a track record of the recommendations being inflated.

    In any case, it does no favor for anyone to land a student in an academic situation for which the student is woefully underequipped.
     
  18. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 21, 2011

    I'm not advocating lying on a recommendation. And while I'm sure there are some institutions that put effort into carefully reviewing letters, the idea that a majority of admissions personnel routinely check-up on student performance over the years and then cross check that with a high school teacher's letter of recommendation and actually correlate the two and logging them toward the specific teacher for future reference seems, to say the least, far-fetched. There are thousands of reasons students may not do well in college unrelated to high school success or failure, I'm a living example of that. The idea that poor high school students cannot do well in higher education is not only a dangerous precedent to set as a teacher, but factually false, with innumerable "success" stories.

    The question for me really comes down to, do I care more about my reputation or students having a chance to continue learning?

    I feel it does no favors when we instill restrictions on a student's potential success in furthering their education.
     
  19. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Messages:
    14,468
    Likes Received:
    2,485

    Sep 21, 2011

    I would never deny a student's request for a recommendation based on the student's academic performance in my class. There are enough ways to be truthful about the student's struggles and challenges without being negative about it.

    I would, however, deny a recommendation based on a student's behavior in my class. If a student was a jerk, slept all the time, swore at me or other students, spit on the floor, and talked back to me every time I spoke to him, he's not going to get a good recommendation from me. I'd advise him to ask someone else for a recommendation. There's no way I could write a recommendation and not mention those things, just as there's no way to put a positive spin on those things. What am I going to say, that he demonstrated great precision and accuracy while spitting on the floor? Give me a break.

    I'm not hindering a student's academic career by choosing not to recommend him for something based on his behaviors in my classroom. He chose those behaviors and he must therefore choose the consequences. I will not be responsible for his choices. I'm not stopping him from asking someone else, though.
     
  20. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 21, 2011

    You bring up a very interesting scenario, Caesar. I'm happy to have not experienced that... yet!
     
  21. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Messages:
    14,468
    Likes Received:
    2,485

    Sep 21, 2011

    No one has ever spit on my floor either. I just chose that as an example of a pretty extreme and inappropriate behavior.
     
  22. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Messages:
    8,328
    Likes Received:
    1,454

    Sep 21, 2011

    If you don't have anything nice to say about a student, gently suggest that student talk with another teacher. If the student asks why, explain what the deficits are in the class that would impede a less than stellar recommendation.
     
  23. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2011
    Messages:
    3,224
    Likes Received:
    147

    Sep 21, 2011

    I have not denied a student recommendation (haven't been asked to write one :D) but the 11th grade English teacher told a senior last yer to never even ask him for a letter of recommendation. He plagiarized twice in his class. I would definitely NOT write a letter in that case.

    Unless the kid is terrible attitude and behavior wise, I plan on writing the letters. I didn't do as well in high school. I got a lot of Bs, a few Cs, and a few As. I went off to college and never got anything lower than a B. I graduated with a 3.89. I know some of our seniors are just completely burned out and can be goof offs but they are good kids and they do get serious when needed.
     
  24. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Messages:
    8,328
    Likes Received:
    1,454

    Sep 21, 2011

    I've only had to deny writing a recommendation once, and this was for National Honor Society. The student in question had failed my class first marking period but I had allowed her to go back and complete enough work for a C. She was far behind on her work in the second marking period when she asked for the recommendation. I pointed out that she didn't show the required trait of scholarship in my class but had obviously done well enough with other teachers to ask them for what she wanted. She understood my reasoning and took it seriously enough to yank up her grades high enough to earn a B for the class.
     
  25. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2008
    Messages:
    2,275
    Likes Received:
    103

    Sep 21, 2011

    I have, once. The student told me--not asked--via an email that she needed a letter of recommendation for a scholarship within the next three days. She was an uninterested, B- student. I told her that I could not, in good conscience, recommend her as a scholar, and suggested she try another teacher. I got a nasty email from her father in response. I have a feeling she wasn't able to get a letter from any of her teachers.
     
  26. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Sep 21, 2011

    I have never refused to write a letter.

    But I do refuse to lie.

    So if all I can say about a kid is basically that he attended my class, then what I DON'T say will speak volumes. In those very rare cases, I'm up front with the kid: I tell him that I will not lie on his behalf, remind him of his conduct and/or grades in my class, and suggest he try another teacher.

    If I'm the best he can do-- and this has never ever happened-- then I'll write a very bland letter.

    But keep in mind, what's keeping him from a college acceptance is NOT my behavior, it's his own.
     
  27. ScubaSteve

    ScubaSteve Rookie

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2011
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    Denied one for ASB once, and had no problem doing it. You were spot on. Just lay out the facts with a smile, and invite him or her to ask another teacher.
     
  28. Auter12

    Auter12 Comrade

    Joined:
    May 10, 2010
    Messages:
    319
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    I think in many these posts, we've failed to consider the student. I'm going to go out there on a limb and say that most juniors and seniors know who they would get a good recommendation from. The OP mentioned that the student was asked what he would write... He knew that it would not necessarily be all positive. It was probably a shot in the dark that he asked, hoping he would at least get something. Students know if they actually "deserve" (loosely) a recommendation.
    Also, as for recommendation to higher education, I do not believe that it is my obligation to ensure students are able to get into universities - to that extent (education-wise, yes) You can get a higher education from community colleges, trade schools, etc. that do not require letters, and if they need one, go to a teacher in the subject that is sought after.
    Although I would probably not deny a letter, it may not always be of recommendation (more evaluation). Such a letter would probably not end up in a resume packet anyway, so is it not kind of a waste of our time to agree to writing a letter (of evaluation)? Just throwing that one out there.
     
  29. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Messages:
    14,468
    Likes Received:
    2,485

    Sep 22, 2011

    Seriously??

    I think that when it comes to letters of recommendation, the only thing we DO consider is the student. If you're suggesting that we're not considering the student, what ARE we considering?
     
  30. Auter12

    Auter12 Comrade

    Joined:
    May 10, 2010
    Messages:
    319
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    For better clarification here: the students' abilities to judge who she/he should ask for the recommendation. These are high schoolers we are talking about. Most of them have a realistic idea of how they performed in a classroom (whether it is for behavior, or grades). The students i have talked to abut recommendations only ask teachers they know will give a good letter. Would you ask for a letter of rec. From an employer you did not perform well for? Probably not. From the OP that student completely understood.
     
  31. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Messages:
    14,468
    Likes Received:
    2,485

    Sep 22, 2011

    If we're talking about introspective and self-aware students, this is true. However, I've met plenty of students in my day who don't fit either description.
     
  32. Auter12

    Auter12 Comrade

    Joined:
    May 10, 2010
    Messages:
    319
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    Yes, and those are the students who ask any/every teacher. That is when we would have to direct them to another teacher, deny writing a letter, or explain to them what may/may not be in the letter. Obviously every situation is different, and consideration should be taken with all of them, but GENERALLY, the students should not be surprised if they ask and get a letter that's not ideal or get denied.

    I think we also have an obligation to be realistic with students, esp. in HS. A sugar-coated letter might be nice, but how will that really help in the job market or beyond HS? Nobody sugar coats my performance evaluations. (of course I've never had any criticisms before! Lol;) )
     
  33. linswin23

    linswin23 Cohort

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Messages:
    696
    Likes Received:
    101

    Sep 22, 2011

    I've never had to write one yet, but I honestly don't think I could turn a kid down. I'd tell them that I'd be honest in the letter, however.
     
  34. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    Definitely agree with Auter12 that every situation is different and I certainly don't let the students know that I will always write a letter, but recommendations are a ticket to higher educational goals. Even if a student wasn't great in my class it doesn't mean they won't thrive in college, or an internship, or a job. And even if a student ends up doing poorly at a place my letter of recommendation allowed him/her to attend, will that make me feel bad? Absolutely not. I'll say it again, I care more about students having the opportunity to continue their education (and internships/jobs/societies all further education in a way) then any effect on my reputation.
     
  35. clarnet73

    clarnet73 Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2002
    Messages:
    6,123
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    I had a TA in my room last year who was interested in a letter of recommendation to get a job at the sped co-op. To be honest, I was less than impressed with her. I think she had great intentions, but needed a LOT of hand-holding and has a big mouth. I definitely understand that when you work with people without much experience, they need training... but when I've told you the exact same thing for the last 2 weeks, I don't feel that i should have to continue to tell you the same thing when the direction was "every day, I need..."or "would you please make sure.." I shouldn't need to repeat it ad nauseum.

    Sh asked me if I would write her a rec. letter, and I had otld her I'd think about it... I was fully expecting her to ask me again... I think my answer would have been something about not being in my room long enough THIS YEAR (the last month or so of school, when it became too much for two of us)... she didn't ask again, and is apparently hurt that I didn't offer one. I don't really feel bad, because it wouldn't have been glowing...
     
  36. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Sep 22, 2011

    But doesn't that mean that the next time you do write an honestly glowing letter, it will be taken less seriously??

    I'm all for giving my kids every opportunity I can, but not to the extent of lying. My word means a lot to me. And so do all those students I can honestly say have a strong work ethic and a good chance of finding success in college. But if I gush on about the non-existant strengths of poor students, at some point my letters will be worthless. Then those students who really do get a strong recommendation from me will be hurt.
     
  37. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    I never implied lying, anywhere. In fact I specifically spoke against lying. There are plenty of positive traits you can discuss and, yes, recommend, that don't include a student's academics. I truthfully and wholeheartedly feel (and so too, I think should all teachers!) that all my students have the capacity to be great and therefore I recommend them.

    And again I don't buy into this notion that institutions are looking at my letter, comparing it to a student's performance on a regular basis, and then pinpointing that lack of success as evidence that I somehow misrepresented them. Not even considering the logistical nature of the thousands of organizations that exist in which students may use recommendations for and the probability that enough of my letters are reaching them and they have the time and manpower to form some stacked consensus, it is completely absurd for schools/internships/jobs to simply equivocate a child's lack of success immediately toward some theoretically dishonest letter.

    I got into the best public school in the country and did poorly, not because some teacher misrepresented me in a letter of recommendation but because I was diagnosed with a brain tumor requiring hospitalization, brain surgery, radiation therapy, hormone replacement, and more doctor/MRI/lab visits than I can possibly remember. Schools and institutions are smart enough to realize that life happens, they weren't somehow duped by a high school teacher.
     
  38. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2008
    Messages:
    2,275
    Likes Received:
    103

    Sep 22, 2011

    While it may be true that all students have the capacity to be great, a letter of recommendation can only be based on our experiences with a student. We're not prescient; there's no way we can honestly predict a poorly-performing student's future success. My students in general are quite wonderful, but every year I have a few about whom I could say very little that is positive.

    And if institutions aren't taking our letters seriously, why do they continue to require them?
     
  39. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0

    Sep 22, 2011

    I think that unless teachers are coming to the conclusion that their students are truly stupid (and I don't use that term lightly) and/or completely incapable of achievement (a disturbing thought) then surely they can write something! If a teacher has very few positive things to say maybe they should get to know their students; figure out what's impeding their success. Surely I'm not the only teacher who spends time to get to know students, both the excelling and the failing. I'm not asking teachers to be prescient, I'm asking them to consider potential greatness (improvement, at the least), even when their seems to be none, and not give up on a child because of one's limited time associating with them. I ask that teachers don't refuse to give a student a chance at turning things around.

    And I am not saying that letters of recommendation aren't important. If I thought this was the case I wouldn't be writing them! I'm arguing that writing recs for less-than-academically-stellar students (which many of you seemed to be opposed to) won't somehow make you a bad teacher or looked down on. And if it does... who cares?
     
  40. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2005
    Messages:
    4,395
    Likes Received:
    7

    Sep 22, 2011

    If I had a student who didn't excel academically, but I knew tried as hard as he could and was achieving all he was capable of, I'd write the letter. But if a student was under achieving in my class because he was a problem behaviorally, was lazy, or was uninterested, no way. I think that is where we are having a disconnect, Astro. If a student truly deserves a reward such as a scholarship or an internship, then his actions should reflect that deservedness.
     
  41. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Sep 23, 2011

    As I've said, I've never refused a kid a letter. And I have written a few that required a lot of creative juices, since the strenghts I've been able to point out are NOT in the area of academics. So I've highlighted the other things about that kid that I hope will make him or her a success in life-- for example, his persistance or her desire to do well.

    But what I won't say is that that kid who barely squeaked by in my class is a strong student.

    And it's not because someone else will look down on me. It's because I don't lie. My word means something to me.
     

Share This Page

Members Online Now

  1. gdifiore,
  2. futuremathsprof,
  3. vickilyn,
  4. RainStorm,
  5. MaleTeacher,
  6. limon
Total: 205 (members: 10, guests: 178, robots: 17)
test