on the difficult topic of recommendation letters: a modest proposal

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I love my students. That's absolute. I learn from them, I learn with them, I want, for them, the best of all worlds or, at least, the best of this one.

Teaching is my great privilege. It is my deep pleasure.

And so I am not in the least complaining about the students I love when I raise my tired head from the snow and bitter winds and aches of this winter, and ask: Must the graduate schools and post-undergraduate opportunities and fellowship institutions and grant-giving bodies to which my undergraduate students are applying be so increasingly—is the word cruel? or perhaps just insensitive?—in the requirements they place on those of us who write freely—and frequently—on the behalf of students?

Should not the time of adjuncts, who teach not for financial gain but because it is good for the soul, be somehow valued, too? No. Should not the time of every teacher be valued?

Why, for example, must we Recommenders take what increasingly feels like examinations on behalf of our students—eight-part or ten-part essays per chosen institution, each single essay introduced by quantifying questions, and none of the essay writing transferable to any other application related to that student? Why must we, for every school, every institution, fill out a bevy of computerized forms (remember your passwords!) before we are allowed to send in the letter that we have already spent an afternoon crafting, the letter in which we speak with open hearts about students we (I use the word again) love?  What was the point, I would have loved to ask that Veterinarian School, of asking me to write that essay about myself (for hadn't I just written nine essays about my student?)—that essay in which I was asked to assess my own self as a teacher, grader, person in the world? Really? Or, what was the point, Oh School in a Foreign Country, of not allowing me to email the forms—of requiring me to walk through weather to the post office, to stand in line for twenty minutes, and to pay the four dollars and something to mail a letter I might have simply sent via electronics? And: I know you would like me to send my letter on official university letterhead, I know you are saying that the words I just spent hours writing won't count—will be quickly dismissed—unless they are on official letterhead, but: I'm an adjunct. I don't have official letterhead.

I repeat: Should not the time (and resources) of those who teach somehow be valued, too?

I'm wise enough, human enough, not to penalize students and their dreams for the onerous nature of the process. But I do want to ask, as gently as I can:

Why is this process becoming ever more onerous? Could one not anticipate some sort of backlash, in which teachers simply throw up their hands and say, No more. Please. No more of this. I cannot possibly create another new account for another institution so that I might send in a form.

We're here, as teachers, because we love (love!) our material and our students. We are doing all we can to help them move toward their dreams—in the classroom, outside of the classroom, and in our letters.

Think of us when you design your forms, create your frameworks, ask us for more, and then again more. Think of us. I beg you.


Cynthia Pittmann, PhD said...

I hear you , Beth. It is difficult to write so many letters!

Bella Dove said...

I liked the way you detailed your full article about difficulties on writing recommendation letter. Please sahre if you have something regarding recommendation letter for residency. Thnaks.

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