Recommendation letters from teachers set students apart

Bergman, Shockley write numerous recommendations for jobs, scholarships

Katherine Lindgren

More stories from Katherine Lindgren

With scholarship deadlines quickly approaching, students are searching for letters of recommendation from teachers to represent them well to selection committees. Staff are asked to write these letters by numerous students each year for a variety of scholarships, jobs, internships and awards.

“I would guess I write up to about 50 letters a year, but probably for about 10-15 students. It tends to be for the same students, and once I’ve written a letter, it’s much faster to write another one and another one after that,” English teacher Cathlina Bergman said.

These letters assist potential employers and scholarship committee members in making their decision on who to hire or award money to. Since many students are involved in sports, extracurricular activities and leadership roles, a detailed and specific letter can give them a competitive edge.

“Something I try to do in my letters is something unique to that student that will make them stand out and make that student head and shoulders above anybody else applying for the same scholarship or job. I also try to put things in there that if I were reading the applications, I would want to know, so I would be awarding the scholarship to the person that is most deserving,” business teacher Kathy Shockley said.

They way students behave in class shapes the perception of them to their teachers, which can determine how highly they recommend a student.

“It’s pretty obvious when a student gives an attitude of ‘Well, I really don’t care about your class and I really don’t care about this information, and I’m just here to take up space.’ I’m not going to write a reference letter for those students. I want students asking for reference letters who’ve done their very best to try to learn the material at hand and had a positive, can-do attitude, and never settled for less than their best,” Shockley said.

Students can assist their teachers in writing letters for them, by providing materials that make it easier for staff members to access information about them. This gives them a better picture of who they are outside of the classroom.
“Resumes are really great, and a list of things that they’re telling their colleges anyway, other information they’re giving them. I often check infinite campus to see what other classes they’re taking so I can talk about the difficulty of the classes they’re doing, but I don’t necessarily know about clubs and other activities, so if they can give me that, it helps too,” Bergman said.
The process of gathering recommendations also prepares students to network in the future. It also assists them in building a pool of adult advocates.

“I think we don’t put enough emphasis on kids networking with adults and building people who will speak well about them, so that by the time they get to be 25, they have at least 25 people who will speak well about them,” Shockley said.
These letters shed light on the best aspects of students, and allow their character, potential and achievements to be displayed by a respected professional who has taught and observed them. This ensures that colleges and employers are making the right decision in accepting or hiring a student.

“Colleges are trying to find a way to make all these different applicants stand out, and so if they have a letter of recommendation from a teacher who really knows them and can say unique things about the student, that helps a lot,” Bergman said. “I think it’s important to get a letter that reflects the student’s ability and potential, but also sets them apart in some way.”