For teachers who write letters of recommendation

If you're a teacher who regularly writes letters of recommendation for students, you've probably experienced the struggle of trying to write one for a student who hasn't given you much to work with.  And at that point, it's already the fall of the student's senior year.  It's too late for that student to show you the kind of effort and attitude that would make for good anecdotes in a letter of recommendation.

So why not preempt that problem by telling your students now–six months before they complete your class–what you'll need to see from them if they want you to write a strong letter of recommendation?

If I were a teacher, here's what I'd tell my kids this spring:

I'm happy to write college letters of recommendation for my students.  But this is a team effort.  I can't write a positive letter for a student who didn't earn it.  And since your transcript will show the colleges what grade you earned in my class, there are other things you'll need to do if you want me to say nice things about you to a college.  So here's what I expect from you.  I hope you'll take the advice, but if you don't, please don't ask me to write your letter next fall. 

1.  I expect you to be engaged.  I promise that I'm trying as hard as I can to make US history as interesting to you as it is to me.  So please be nice and act like you want to be here.  Don't just sit there and look bored. 

2.  I expect that you will regularly participate in class discussions, not because you're looking for extra credit, but because you're engaged (see expectation #1).  Put your hand up.  Ask and answer questions.  And be nice to other people when you disagree with their interpretations.  This is what colleges are going to expect from you, so this is the perfect time to start being that kind of student. 

3.   I expect that you will try your best.  The effort you show is much more important to me than the grade you earn is.

4.  Please don't be a grade grubber–a student who cares only about the grade and will complain if you don't get an "A."  I encourage you to set high goals for yourself, but I can only give you an "A" if you earn it. 

5.  Find what interests you about US history.  You don't have to think every chapter we cover is fascinating.  But I hope you'll be open to the idea that you just might have a favorite period of history by the time we finish the year together.