English teacher Todd Michaels walks into his classroom at the peak of early admissions season and sees an intimidating sight on his desk: next to the heap of ungraded essays and the characteristic clutter of a busy teacher is a menacing stack of unfinished college recommendation letters.
Colleges require students to get teacher recs, but teachers aren’t required to write them; teachers use up their free time to do this favor for students, often taking a personal day off. MCPS should acknowledge the major time commitment of writing college recommendation letters by giving teachers a “free” day off every fall specifically for writing recommendation letters.
Most colleges request one to two recommendations to gain a more personal and individualized concept of the applicant, according to the College Board. Assuming that each current senior requested at least one recommendation, Whitman teachers are fielding over 450 requests for college recommendation letters
Michaels is writing 25 recommendation letters this year and spends one and a half to two hours on each one, he said. The entire recommendations process takes him approximately 40 to 50 hours, a huge time commitment for something that isn’t required or paid for. The school does a lot to help students during the applications process by distributing packets and sending transcripts, but teachers could use some assistance too.
To ease teachers’ burdens, administrators should also encourage students to get recommendations from a variety of teachers. There’s a common misconception that recommendations need to come from junior year teachers, especially English teachers. But colleges are really just looking for a recommendation from a teacher who can provide an accurate portrayal of that student academically, counselor Will Kapner said. The recommendation is no less effective if the student had that teacher as an underclassman or for an elective class, he said.
Writing recommendations adds a huge workload
to teachers’ ordinary schoolwork. Administrators already give counselors a free day at home to work on recommendations, and advise teachers to take a personal day off to work on recommendations. But overloaded teachers shouldn’t have to use up a personal day for recs. Instead, MCPS should give them one free day off.
Principal Alan Goodwin says that MCPS won’t allow all teachers to take a free day off at home to work on recommendations because arranging replacement substitute teachers is too disruptive. But most teachers don’t give many recommendations and wouldn’t need a free day off. If the administration spaced out when the remaining overburdened teachers took their free day, there wouldn’t be a large enough disruption to outweigh the benefits that overloaded teachers would receive.
There’s a divide between students’ requirements for recommendations and teachers’ ability to do students a favor by completing recommendations. A free day off to write recommendations would close that gap, allowing teachers to avoid some of the stress associated with balancing teaching responsibilities and recommendation commitments.