Denied a Student Recommendation, did I handle it OK?

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

  1. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Sep 23, 2011

    I haven't seen a single member here say they wouldn't write a letter for kids that didn't make straight "A's" in their class. What I have seen are teachers saying they could not, in good conscious, write a letter of recommendation for students that didn't give the effort required for a class or were behavior problems.

    I think every teacher here can tell if a "C" student is giving their best effort and, if so, they have indicated they would write a letter of recommendation for that student, but would probably focus more on their character traits and work ethics rather than their academic performance.

    In short, I haven't seen anybody saying they won't write a letter for students based solely on grades, so I'm not sure where you are getting that implication.

    As for giving students a chance to "turn themselves around", they have had 4 years to do that by the time they ask for the letter. If they haven't shown any cognitive effort of turning their behavior, actions or academics around by then, there is no reason for the teacher to think it is going to magically happen over the summer before they go to college or begin the internship. And sometimes it takes that kick in the pants of NOT getting the recommendation to make the kid finally realize "Hey, maybe it's time I grew up a little bit."

    Just like the OP did when she asked the student "What would YOU write in the letter?" The student had to admit even (s)he wouldn't be able to write a very good letter based on their actions and attitude in the OP's class. So the student DID learn a valuable lesson about needing to improve their behavior and work ethic. A lesson that will serve them far better in their future endeavors than a letter praising them for attributes they did not posses or exhibit.
     
  2. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    Sep 23, 2011

    My husband once wrote a letter of recommendation for a student who failed his class. However, the kid had an excellent work ethic, a good attitude about his academic shortcomings, and was one of the nicest people you will ever meet. My husband highly recommended him for a college program that was not related to engineering, as he just didn't have the background skills in math and science to be successful in those courses, but had the skills to be successful in life and most other careers. He actually heard back from the college, thanking him for giving such an honest and realistic assessment of the student's skills, and letting him know it had a major impact in their choosing to admit the student to their college.

    I never lie in reference letters, but I do try to point out strengths.
     
  3. TeachAstro

    TeachAstro Rookie

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    Sep 23, 2011

    You know, Aliceacc, I've really looked up to your posts and decorum on these forums but I'm really starting to take offense at you insinuating that I am a liar when I write these letters of recommendation. I don't know how I can explain it any differently than I have before, I write about the child's strong suits, whether it is social, enthusiasm, intrigue, etc. People are smart enough to understand when a letter is recommending one thing and not mentioning another. I just think you can always write a letter to help a student and you're not dishonest for doing it.

    I completely understand the other poster's points of view, they are just that! The last thing I wanted was for this to become some sort of crazy debate. Some say 4 years is enough time to turn things around, it's a very strong argument and I completely understand their reasoning, I just share a different one. I enjoyed hearing other teacher's viewpoints and expressing my own, but I'm a bit tired of having to defend myself from somehow being less than honest in my profession. Have a nice day.
     
  4. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Sep 23, 2011

    You're not paying attention to what is being said in this thread. Re-read the whole thing.
     
  5. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Sep 23, 2011

    Thanks for the clarification, TeachAstro. It sounds like you are saying and suggesting the same basic thing other members are, but just wording it differently or coming at it from a different perspective.

    It did sound like your earlier posts were saying teachers should just give Johnny or Suzy a recommendation, whether that teacher felt they deserved it or not, and you also seemed to feel the others were focusing a bit too much on a child's academic abilities and/or scores.

    Now I understand the point you were trying to make more clearly and I do feel it is pretty much the same point others are making, that if a student exhibits strengths other than academic prowess, they would highlight those. But if a student has poor grades because of poor work ethic, poor study habits and just, plain lack of trying, then it's kinda hard to find a positive trait or ability to highlight.
     
  6. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Sep 23, 2011

    Exactly, Cerek. No one is saying that they would deny writing if a student deserved a recommendation for SOMETHING-and Astro is right, most students have at least a few positive traits. But in general, if a student has a poor attitude, is a behavior problem, or doesn't apply himself like I know he could, I'm not writing it. I won't write something that isn't true, and I won't even stretch the truth. I won't write a glowing recommendation for someone who doesn't deserve it. I don't owe any student anything.

    I feel that it might not so much tarnish one's reputation with the institution, but with other students as well. If Billy, who has worked hard, showed up, participated, and done well, knows that I also gave a recommendation to Susie, who didn't do any of those things (even if they have similar grades), what does that do to my image with Billy?
     
  7. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Sep 23, 2011

    I've only spoken of my own letters; I haven't said or implied anything about anyone else. I don't know you, your kids, your letters or anything about your moral caliber. I woudn't presume to call you a liar.

    So, to clarify once again:
    - If I can write a glowing letter I'm happy to do so. Kids tend to find success in my class, so this is the case with the overwhelming majority of letters I've ever been asked to write.

    - If a student's grades are not at a point where I can write that glowing letter, I won't pretend that they are. As I said before, I'll concentrate on other traits, such as persistance, that I think will enable the student to find success. One of the 27 letters I wrote this past summer was for a current Senior who really struggles with math. I was able to write him a glowing letter, highlighting his persistance, his constant appearances at extra help, and his refusal to less than his best.

    - If I can't find even that, then I'll be honest and tell the student that he or she would probably do better asking another teacher, since I'm not the teacher who is able to write the letter they want written. If I'm the best they can do, then I'll write the best, yet still truthful, letter I can write. I've never had a kid choose this option. In 25 years, I've only asked 2 or 3 kids to ask another teacher. But I refuse to say things exist in a kid if I haven't see those traits. And I won't bury a kid by writing a bland letter if there's any chance that another teacher can honestly write a better letter. So, to use one of your examples, I would NEVER say a kid was "social." If I were to, I can PROMISE you, that would be interpreted by every teacher in the country as "chatty and disruptive." If that's the best I can put into the letter, I'm doing my kids no favor by writing the letter. THat one word is going to count against the kid, not in his favor. That one word might kill a kids' application. He would be far far better off having not asked you for a letter than to get one describing him as "social."

    It occurred to me on the way to my daughter's dance tonight: I get the impression that you feel that if I don't write the letter I'm asked to write, no one else will. In my school, at least, that's not how it works at all. Every single one of our 500 or so kids graduates each year with at least 3 faculty letters of recommendation: One from his guidance counselor and one from each of two teachers who have agreed to write one. So if I say no, he'll ask another teacher.

    As I understand it, and please forgive me if I'm wrong, it's the end of September of your first year in the classroom. And you're teaching Physics, which presumably isn't taken by the very bottom kids. (Actually in my school ALL kids take Physics, but I know we're unusual in that regard.) My point is that perhaps you haven't seen a whole lot of the type of kid we're talking about. If the best I can say about a kid is that he's nice, not that he's hardworking or that he's ever asked a question or attended extra help, or that he seems to care a whole heck of a lot about passing, then he is better off asking another teacher. Because all I'll be able to write is that he was nice and he attended my class, and that is NOT going to get him into college. Perhaps his English teacher or his Social Studies teacher has seen evidence of the types of traits that colleges are looking for. Attendance when attendance is compulsory isn't likely to be that particular trait.

    And it's not about being "looked down on" by anyone; I'm at a point in my life where remaining true to my own values are of more importance to me than someone else's opinion or, as you stated it, "my reputation." My reputation is strong because I remain true to my core values.

    I also think that, in a time of inflated grades, "recentered" SAT scores and test programs everywhere you look, well written letters of recommendation are very important. Over the past few decades I've written many, many of these letters. Like many schools, the vast majority of our kids tend to go to the same 30 or 40 schools. So, yes, I think the admissions personnel tend to know the teachers who get called upon to write a lot of letters. And if the subjects of my letters were to continually struggle in a particular college, then they would be crazy to give my recommendations any credance.

    And to be totally honest, if I haven't seen those positive traits in my kids, the odds are good that they don't exist. I'm good at what I do and I have a good track record. The vast majority of the kids I teach tend to find both success and enjoyment in my class. Last year I was able to help EVERY SINGLE ONE of my kids achieve an unaltered, uninflated passing grade. Check with the other math teachers you know-- that's not an easy task in high school math.

    If any of that offends you, let me offer my apologies. We were asked our opinions and I've given mine. I'll leave the rest of you to your discussion.
     
  8. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Sep 23, 2011

    Are you a teacher?
     
  9. Joyful!

    Joyful! Habitué

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    Sep 23, 2011

    What a series of posts!

    A letter of recommendation is the thing the puts the flesh on the bones of a transcript. A letter of recommendation gives the college the opportunity to see if the student as a whole person, not just as a scholar, is the right fit for their college.

    As such, I have refused to write recommendation letters when parents or students have suggested the content, or when I have nothing to add to what a transcript already records.

    For example, "Hey, Mrs. Joyful, will you please write a rec. letter for me. I need it to say that I am of this particular quality to get it in." Automatically, the answer is no. (I'm sorry, I don't write that kind of rec. letter.)

    If a student (irrespective of GPA) is of poor moral caliber or possesses a deplorable or even meager work ethic, I will tell them, "I'm sorry I am not able to help you in this matter." (If pressed, I will say, the school wants to know what kind of person you have been in high school, and if you'd like me to let them know you have not demonstrated any sense of work ethic, I can write that in a letter.)

    It is a rare thing when I can not say something nice, but I always try to consider if I'd want a less than accurate representation of a student were I on the admissions board.

    We are completing the picture for those folks and we should be mindful of an accurate assessment. Be as kind as you can to avoid discouraging someone trying to move forward in life without compromising the actual situation and enabling a student ill suited for a particular college to take the place of another student who truly may be suited for that school.
     
  10. krysmorgsu

    krysmorgsu Cohort

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    I agree with what many of you have said, especially with Alice's last post. I personally have yet to have to turn down a letter of recommendation. However, if a student was disruptive or lacked effort, I do feel that I have a moral obligation to be honest and inform the student that my letter will not be a glowing recommendation. Honestly, put yourself in the student's shoes. Yes, hopefully most can identify the teachers who will be able to write them the best letters. Unfortunately, some students are not that self-aware. If I was a student, I would want the teacher to be honest with me, so that I could approach another teacher and hopefully get a much better recommendation. Personally, I don't think I would outright refuse a student - I do feel that it is a part of my job, and that I should try to help students to be successful in the future. However, as students do not typically see these letters (at least in my experience), I also feel it would be dishonest and downright mean for me to agree to write a letter that I know is not a high caliber recommendation without at least providing the student with the opportunity to ask someone else. Yes, I would write it; the question is, would the student want it sent? IF a student honestly cannot find someone better, then perhaps they still would ask me. However, the decision is theirs. Furthermore, I feel most students have at least one teacher that they've connected with. I have had students that drive other teachers nuts but are fine in my class, and vice-versa. Remember - we all have our individual personalities, and the student whom I love for their quirks might drive you bonkers. Sometimes students are also pushed to ask certain teachers because they've had that teacher longer, it was a major class vs. elective, or it was a class that would be useful in the intended major. I ask those who have been arguing that we should never be reluctant about letters to consider one thing. Which is more effective: a letter from an English teacher that is bland or downright poor OR a letter from an Automotive teacher that says how much the student excelled, was motivated, and was overall a great student? If it were me, I'd take the awesome recommendation over the poor one any day. For me, I will not write anything I don't feel I can stand behind. I don't care whether or not the admissions office reads it. If my name's on it, it will be true. If the student still wants it, that's fine - but you can bet they will know full well what sorts of things I'll be writing.
     
  11. mike3640

    mike3640 Rookie

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    Sep 28, 2011

    Most teachers just print out their "standard" recommendation letter and add the students name. It's nice to see that you did not just blindly give him an undeserved recommendation.
     
  12. midwestteacher

    midwestteacher Cohort

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    Sep 28, 2011

    I have also denied a student a recommendation. One student asked for one and the only thing positive I could think of was "Well, he comes to school almost every day." I don't think that would help him, so I told him no.
     
  13. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    Sep 30, 2011

    I've written several recommendation letters, all of them during grad school for fellow undergrads who were applying to programs.

    I would never turn anyone down, or turn them away to someone else who may have "nicer" things to say about the student or their abilities. Everyone has something good about them or can do something well- I could definitely spin it.
     
  14. Speechy

    Speechy Comrade

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    Sep 30, 2011

    You could have turned that into, "Student is punctual and reliable.... Sticks to something and sees it through until the end.." :lol:
     
  15. Ms.Science

    Ms.Science Rookie

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    Oct 25, 2011

    I think that for most students I would give a fair recommendation or evaluation. Everyone has their talents. I really was a slacker until I had a teacher nominate me for National Honor Society, on the condition that I get above a 3.75 the next quarter. It worked.

    Now, I think if you are not comfortable writing a recommendation you are not obliged. It would be so much better for a teacher or adult who has witnessed the students strength's to write the letter.

    Personally, if a student has consistently shown inappropriate behavior (example: bullying, harassment, bringing weapons to school, etc) I would not write a letter.

    You know, I have a parent involved in multiple scholarship boards. There are thousands, if not hundreds of applicants. I have students that dedicate all of their spare time to make a better life for themselves, for all of high school. It's not fair for them, if a student is recommended just out of a feeling of obligation. It would be better to influence the student before, so they can truly earn it.
     

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