Advice Needed

MB wants some advice from the group. She’s going to get a ton of answers from us and we are all going to say exactly the same thing, because there is only one thing to say in this situation:

Hi Ben –

I had a student ask me for a reference/recommendation.  She failed my second quarter, then failed the final.  It was not because she had a difficult time with Spanish, it was because she legitimately FAILED – she is a perfect one to get 1’s or even 0’s on the jGR!!!

She would not make things up, she would be absent, come in to take a test and BOMB it – one day she handed a test in to me, and I said, “Really?  You really do NOT want to hand this in as your “final answer.” Come back and see me tomorrow after school, because you are clearly having difficulties, and I will help you through it, then you can retake the test.”  Her answer:  “Nah, that’s OK, I don’t care.”  She got a 40 on it.

Today she came in after school and asked if I received the online request for filling out the recommendation.  I asked her what she wanted me to write.  She said, just tell them how you think I could do in college.  I told her that I did not feel comfortable with that because she failed the quarter, the final, she passed the class, but she did not put in any effort.  THEN the arguing started….”You think I didn’t study?  I studied ALL the time!!!  I worked SO hard in this class!!! I stayed after!  (No, she stayed after ONCE!)”  Then she said, “Fine, if you won’t write it then I don’t care, DON’T!”

So, I went to guidance to speak to her counselor about this situation.  Counselor said that Mom has filled out her “Student Brag Sheet”. She is applying to 22 colleges/universities(!), and the guidance counselor can’t even write her a letter – she feels like she just can’t!!!  (So it’s not just me).

Oh yeah, she’s even graduating a year early!!!!  (even though Guidance told mom that she really SHOULD stay another year – for maturity reasons – in high school!)

Got back from Guidance, and Mom had left a message asking me to call her back!  Before I do, I am asking for your advice – those of you who have been through this before – and I am meeting with my principal about it.



9 thoughts on “Advice Needed”

  1. I am remembering a dialogue recently her that included the word “bummer” quite a lot…
    I think that this is a perfect place to use it….


  2. I agree with skip, but to go a little further . . .

    The student asked you for a letter of recommendation that describes how YOU think she will do in college. I suggest going through the issues with mom:
    -settled for less than her best (“40% is fine” – no commitment to excellence)
    -absent from class (a bad habit for the world of work)
    -failed to make up work (lack of effort = lack of caring)
    -lack of engagement when in class (jGR)

    In the conversation it is important to keep reiterating that you can only write from what you have personally seen, and this is what you have seen.

    Then tell her that you are willing to write the recommendation, but you will answer the questions as you perceive the student and will be honest in answering the questions, but it will not be a good recommendation. (After all, your integrity is on the line here.) If they still want you to write the recommendation, then do it.

    I can imagine “bummer” will get used a lot in that conversation.

    BTW, both a colleague and I have had to carry on almost precisely this conversation, and we both did what I am suggesting. The student and parents weren’t happy, but they couldn’t argue too much because we kept coming back to “these are the behaviors and attitudes that we observed”. It doesn’t mean that the student is a bad person, it just means we saw these behaviors exhibited.

    On a side note, I think this plays into the current push that “everyone must go to college, and it seems as if students then think that getting into the college of their choice is a right. But I’ll stop there.

  3. I agree very much with Robert. You cannot, in good faith, write a sparkling recommendation for a student that displayed mediocre to sub-par work. You just cannot. Mom will most likely not want to hear it out of desperation but unfortunately there is more at stake than just letting her down. You know what you must respond but it has to be softened and must focus on the student’s failings and not your unwillingness to write a letter for her. I like the whole “ok, I’ll do it but it ain’t gonna be pretty…”

  4. What about something as simple as “My observations won’t bolster your academic record like another teacher’s may. Please ask a different teacher.”

  5. Thanks all! Your answers WERE what was in my gut, and after my own investigations, found out I wasn’t the only teacher who felt that way. The principal came to speak to me this morning! 🙂 and very kindly assured me that I did NOT have to write it and I clearly did my best to encourage her to do HER best – to no avail!
    and, exactly as Robert pointed out — it IS *MY* integrity. It also goes back to SINCERELY showing the kids you love them, and giving them SINCERE compliments. If I was to write her a “good” rec, then it would get out, and certainly be questioned by students who were in her class, wondering how I could give a recommendation to someone who so blatantly didn’t care and did not know how to show respect.
    Thanks again!!!

    1. I’m glad you got the support from your principal. It’s never easy when you have to do that with a student. You’re also right about how other students would perceive any sort of “good” (or “good-leaning”) recommendation for this student. Their estimation of you would, I imagine, plummet – whether they could articulate why or not.

  6. My principal is VERY supportive!
    and…MORE good news……we had a dept meeting today because kids don’t want to take a WL past Level 2 — we “need to figure out how to motivate them/encourage them to continue on”. SOOOOOOOO…….I blurted right out in the meeting, asking if we could go for some PD and observe other schools in action – ones that ARE running good Standards-Based curriculums and holding on to kids, to find out what their “magic” is. He said YES! and I spoke a lot about Skip’s school (turns out MY principal and Skip’s principal knew each other when THEY were in high school! yes, Maine *IS* a small world!) So, Skip…..he said YES we could visit Poland – he fully supports it! –all of us! Will send you a private email ……BUT…..since you have been my FIRST and CONTINUOUS mentor in this, I wanted to shout out the good news to EVERYONE on this blog.
    And I want to thank everyone on here — all of your expertise has helped me tremendously and given me the confidence to know that I *am* doing the right thing – that I *DO* know what I am talking about! (that’s why I wasn’t afraid to speak up and ask for a professional development opportunity like this!)

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