“How do pigs get rid of their snot?”
As a high school teacher, there are always students that are looking for a summer job, a scholarship, or a leadership role. And when there are students looking for these things, there are students asking for letters of recommendation.
Now, the first time a student asked me to brag on them in a letter for a scholarship, I was cool, calm and collected on the outside and said, “Of course!” But on the inside, I was wondering how the heck I was going to write this thing. It hadn’t been that long ago that I was asking for these things myself! What should I include? What shouldn’t I include? Should I make it a general letter so they can use it for multiple scholarships or individualized for each scholarship they apply for?
Now, I’m only in my second year of teaching, but as an FFA Advisor, I’ve now written my fair share of these letters to help out my kids in whatever endeavor they are pursuing, so here are my tips for a beginner when it comes to writing a letter of recommendation.
Tip #1 – You DON’T have to say yes
Now, I get to know most of my students to the point where I can write a letter showcasing their best attributes to the best of my ability, but sometimes there are kids that I haven’t had in class that long, or honestly I don’t think would be the right person for the job they’re going after that ask for a letter. And if this is the case, it is okay to say no. Just explain your reasoning behind saying no and for the most part, kids are resilient and will understand and move on to the next teacher that they know better. You will probably feel bad, but it is all part of the process and it is what is best for the kid.
Tip #2 – Why are you qualified to write this letter?
In the first paragraph, I always try to explain who I am and my relationship to the student. An example could go something like this:
“It is my sincere pleasure to write this letter recommending Sally Sue as a recipient for your scholarship. I have had the opportunity to observe and get to know Sally for the better part of two years as her instructor and FFA Advisor.”
It doesn’t have to be an extensive reason as to why and how you know the student, just a little bit of background about how long you’ve known them and why you are a good source of information for this individual.
Tip #3 – Showcase a variety of skills and accomplishments
As a FFA Advisor, I often tend to lean towards my students accomplishments in FFA or in areas of agriculture, but I have found it is also important to look at the student as a whole, from their academics, to their job experience, to their attendance. If the student you are writing for has never missed a day of school or gotten a tardy, that is a great thing to include! This will show the employer, scholarship committee, or group leader that they are dependable which is an incredibly important trait. Personality should also be taken into account. Here is an example from a letter of recommendation I wrote recently for a student (name has been changed) who has an incredibly good attitude and infectious happy personality:
“Sally has a strong leadership style and an infectiously positive attitude that inspires people to follow her example.”
If a student’s good attitude is part of the reason they are qualified for the position at hand, why not include it?
Tip #4 – Showcase a specific situation where they shone
Typically, in an interview, the interviewee is asked about specific situations where they excelled in a certain trait. This can be utilized quite nicely in a recommendation letter as well. If you’re a coach, what is a situation where they showed leadership or compassion on the field? If you’re an advisor of an extracurricular activity, have they taken a younger student under their wing and mentored them? If you only see them in class, what is a project or activity that they have gone above and beyond on? Pick specific situations that will showcase their best qualities and explain why it was such a great moment.
Tip #5 – Have a strong closing statement
Just like in any paper, end your letter on a strong note that leaves the reader with the best sense of why they would be lucky to have this person be their employee or receive their scholarship. Here are a few examples for reference:
“As Sally’s agriculture instructor of two years, I recommend Sally for this scholarship without reservation and feel you would find no better candidate to invest your organization’s money in.”
“I feel that you would be fortunate to find a candidate with much integrity and tenacity as Sally.”
“I have no doubt that Sally will make an outstanding employee, and I share her excitement over this next venture.”
What are your best tips for writing a killer recommendation letter for your students? Leave them below!
Teacher burnout. It is a serious problem in the United States. An estimate released by The Center for American Progress in 2015 stated that about thirty percent of individuals in education leave the profession within their first five years, and that number has been as high as fifty percent in the past. And guess what, it’s because teaching is HARD. Any educator has heard, “Oh you get the summers off! It can’t be that bad!” or “You get off at 3:15, you have to love that!” and then rolled their eyes for about thirty minutes. In reality, teachers work their tails off all year long, for far longer than their contract hours reflect. Planning lessons, grading assignments, preparing labs or activities, and the countless hours of worrying about students when they aren’t in school. It can get exhausting and stressful and it is often what leads to burnout in our profession. While I haven’t perfected the art of self care and I still often feel burnt out and tired and question my career, I know that it is what I was called to do so I make sure I take steps on a regular basis to take care of myself and my mental state. Here are a couple of my favorite self care activities, but I encourage you to find what works best for you!
Shutting the Computer
This can be a tough one. A really tough one. I’ve on many occasion gotten lost in grading or planning or researching and the next thing I know it is 11:00 pm and my computer is still open and I’ve done nothing for myself that night besides throw a freezer meal in the microwave to nourish myself. Lately, I’ve been trying to set a limit to how late I can be on my computer. I tell myself that by 6:00 pm, even if I’m not done with what I want to finish, I have to shut my computer and do something just for myself. Weather that is watching Netflix with my husband, baking or doing a DIY project from Pinterest, I have been trying to make a conscious effort to take a break from my classroom and reminding myself of the other things I love. Not only has it allowed me to do more things I enjoy, but it has helped my sleeping habits and that makes for a happier Mrs. Hutch in the morning!
This is a really hard one for me during the cold winter months, but when it is nice outside, the minute I get home I try and ditch my khakis and flats for athletic pants and tennis shoes, put the leash on the dog and go for a nice long walk. It is amazing what a little vitamin D and fresh air can do for my energy level at the end of the day, and how much better I feel when I get out and get some exercise instead of heading straight to the couch for a nap.
Indulge in Yourself for a Weekend
Now, this one is pretty easy for me because I am a total introvert and I gain my energy from my alone time, but I think it can be helpful for even the most extroverted teachers. There are weeks and even months where you’re just running from school to a meeting to a social obligation and you don’t even remember what your house looks like and you’re running out of clean underwear because you haven’t had time to do laundry. Been there, done that! So if you get a weekend where you don’t have any plans laid out, leave the weekend wide open and be selfish. Stay in your jammies, binge watch a new show, snuggle with your pet or your spouse, the whole nine yards without regret. You’ll head back to school on Monday recharged and refreshed and ready to inspire young minds for another week!
How do you keep yourself from too much stress during the school year? What are your best self-care tips? Leave them below!
Because nothing ever plays out in real life like it does in your head.
Why yes, my freshly pressed slacks and cute blouses did turn into wearing the same pair of khakis everyday and the least wrinkly t-shirt I can find. Gotta problem?
We were all just so sad you were gone we couldn’t even concentrate on what I planned, SIKE! Here’s what you need to make up for the day.
And that 5:30 am call to your principal to ask them to get you a sub? Terrifying.
Because if your blood isn’t 90% coffee by Friday did you even teach that week?
That was not appropriate. *giggles* Think before you speak next time *chortles* That wasn’t funny. *yes it was*
But at the end of the day, you remember you have the best job in the world that you wouldn’t trade for anything.
“We’re going to watch Modern Marvels today.” “YES! I hope it’s Spider-Man!”
Gap Factory Floral Pants $14 / Banana Republic Factory Green Diamond Print Pants $64 / Sunshine Yellow Jeans $15 / Ikat Print Ankle Pants $20
“Elephants are not fat and they don’t need your judgement!”
Group work can be a student’s best friend or their worst nightmare. Many times in my teaching career, I’ve had students form their own groups for a collaborative project, and it usually ends in chaos. The group of best friends don’t want to leave one person out and ask, “Can we have a group of four instead of three?” or the one shy student that doesn’t say much has trouble approaching others to become part of a group. While it isn’t always a bad idea to allow students to form their own groups, most often I make the conscious choice to group students myself. This not only allows everyone to feel included and less awkward about choosing a group, but it is great for classroom management and pushing students outside of their comfort zone with new people. Here are a few of my favorite ways to group students and why.
The Simple Random Choice Wheel
Or as my students like to call it, the wheel of death (yes they are dramatic at times, shocker!)
This is a tool I have been using since student teaching. Sometimes, I will plug names in ahead of time and have the students chosen before they enter the classroom, sometimes I turn it into a suspenseful game at the beginning of class and have students watch their group work fate spin around and around. The latter can be a lot of fun, but can also lead to a lot of complaints. It is simple to use, you just have to plug your student’s names in and spin the wheel for however many students you want in each group.
Resource I Use – Random Name Picker
The Back of the Classroom Line Up
This is always a fun one for me, and it is a great communication skill builder as well. It can be done many ways, either with verbal cues or non-verbal cues. I will give them a category that they can line themselves up by in the back of the classroom and they have to line themselves up within a certain amount of time. Birthday, height and shoe size are my three favorites, but any topic that is numerical where they have to be in a specific order works well too. Then, you can decide how to pair off from their. Sometimes, I take the students from each end and pair them together, sometimes I pair the students that are standing next to each other. It is versatile, easy and quick to do!
True Colors Personality Pair Ups
If you haven’t heard of the True Colors personality test, it is basically a personality evaluation that groups people into four groups, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue. We went through a small training on this personality test in professional development this year, and it intrigued me to try to group students with students with compatible personalities. For example, if you are blue, you’re typically enthusiastic, love interacting with others and warm. If you’re orange, you are spontaneous, impulsive and bold. Students with these contrasting personality types could do some great work together because their personalities are compatible, they bring different things to the table but still get along well. Now if you were a green, or someone who is very analytical, logical and a perfectionist, you might go crazy being paired with an orange. I have had a few of my classes take this test so far and the results of pairing based on their primary colors have gone well!
What are some of your favorite ways to pair students? What has worked well for you, what hasn’t worked well for you? Leave your ideas and comments below!