As a teacher, I am periodically asked to be a reference on a job application or to write a recommendation letter for students applying for scholarships, jobs and/or colleges. Not too long ago, I got a nice thank you from a former exchange student who had just re-used the letter I wrote for her as she was applying for graduate studies toward her doctorate at a university in Germany. Because I find myself answering the same questions or asking for the same information whenever students need this help — so I’m going to organize them here and then refer students to this post when they want my letter-writing help.
How do you EARN a good letter and when do you START?
When sophomores and juniors interested in auditioning for Drum Major ask, “When are auditions?” My response is normally, “Your audition started freshman year.”
Similarly, a good reference doesn’t happen just because you ask or need one…. it happens because you have earned it during your years of association with, in this case, a teacher.
Few teachers or coaches get to know a student as well as a band director because it is often a 4-yr participation class — and especially marching band involves much more interaction than in a typical academic class. Students should realize and appreciate the value of such a letter — and work all four years to develop a stellar reputation the teacher will be happy to brag on.
I usually structure my letter to focus on multiple areas:
- Band experience. Which ensembles, what years, any additional responsibilities – i.e. section leader, drum major, etc.
- Qualification. Especially for scholarship letters, I like to emphasize genuine need and why I think meeting that need is a good investment for the scholarship provider.
- School experience. Grades, other extracurricular activities, honor rolls, awards, achievements.
- Community experience, especially volunteerism. Camps, counseling experiences, etc. Jobs.
- College/Career goal. What will you major in or what do you plan to do after graduation?
- Reputation. I like to reference the quality of friend choices, the wisdom of decision-making, and generally the types of comments peers and teachers might make.
What YOU should provide the letter-writer.
- Resume. Resumes typically contain much of the information needed for a good letter. If you don’t have a resume, use the above list and organize information.
- Stamped, Addressed Envelope with sufficient postage. Although I often do provide a copy to the student, the customary approach is to provide everything to the letter writer who then can put the letter in the envelope, seal it and drop it in the mail.
- Additional Paperwork completely filled out. Often there is an accompanying application or information sheet to go with the letter and it is both inconvenient and inconsiderate of you to expect ME to take that additional time. Fill in your addresses, names and numbers. If I see that it will take extra time, I tend to procrastinate on the project.
- TIME! The worst was a student approaching me after school about writing a letter requiring a same day postmark! C’mon…. If you want a comprehensive letter, give me time to do it. I will typically write a letter within a couple of days — but give me a week, please.
I love writing letters to help achievers because when I was where they are — there were people who went to bat for me and this is my way of returning that favor by passing it on….. Teachers don’t expect a lot in return, but a smile and a thank you can go a long way.
SUGGESTIONS for getting ADDITIONAL letters and help! If a teacher has taken the time to organize and write a professional letter on YOUR behalf, consider a short, hand-written THANK YOU to the teacher. Guess who gets the better letters cranked out faster the next time?
Thanks for reading.