And so ‘tis also the time of year when overwhelmed teachers must set aside hours daily to write recommendations and wrestle with the slow and glitchy Naviance website through which all recs must be uploaded. Back in the old days (two years ago), students would hand teachers a stack of stamped, addressed envelopes and we could print and sign the letters and drop them in the mail. Those days have gone the way of the polar ice caps in August. What hasn’t changed, and maybe never will, is the stress of getting the letters written by November 1, or the horrifyingly soon October 15 some schools require.
I currently teach two sections of yearbook, one of newspaper and one Intro to Journalism class. Since I’m not teaching any English classes, I am asked to write far fewer recs than some of my colleagues. Those who teach AP Language and Composition, or other junior year English classes, can be asked to write 50 or more. I cannot imagine how that feat is doable. I write around 10 per year, almost always for my top editors, but sometimes for the sad student who says none of his other teachers like him, and this still overwhelms me.
I have template paragraphs I use for each editorial position, and for each publication, explaining our program and what I expect of my editors. What takes the most time is the first paragraph, where I try to explain who this student is and why I love her (because I always do) and why this university would be foolish not to admit her. I try to capture my relationship with this young person and I pray that some human is reading this letter in some windowless office and my words tip the file from the “maybe” to the “must have” pile. I feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s almost too much pressure.
When students apply to Northwestern University, my alma mater, that’s when I really struggle. Northwestern is highly competitive and only top students apply. Those are my editors-in-chief, every year. This year three of my five EICs are applying.
I remember the first time I walked past the admissions building in Evanston. I was heading next door, to pay a parking ticket. I stopped in my tracks, thinking of the moment I found out I was accepted, when I called and begged an admissions officer to tell me, because the letter was not in the mail, a week after it was due. I had pictured that man in an office, and here that office was. I felt a surge of affection for a building. I was that happy to be at Northwestern.
I want these students, the ones I know and love the very mostest, to have that same moment. I want to get for them what they want.