Letters of recommendation.
This is the life of a teenager in the fall of his/her senior year when it seems as if there’s not enough time to breathe let alone satisfy all the obligations of academia.
Add to that the never-ending demands of a social life and the rites-of-passage activities that usually characterize senior year – we’ll leave those unstated but understood – and possibly even a part-time job and it’s no wonder kids are walking around school looking like zombies these days. Unfortunately, the real reason they’re slouched over and barely conscious probably has more to do with playing video games than it does interacting with actual humans.
Yet, amidst all of this commotion over the future generation, I started to think where are they in all of this, the kids about to go off to college next fall? They have their parents propping them up and pushing them along; they have their teachers and guidance counselors putting foot to backside; they have everyone around them rooting them on, and they’re dawdling and taking their time and making requests at the last minute because a teacher has nothing better to do than wax-poetic about a student he might not even know.
It makes me appreciate all of the teachers whose doors I was beating down for recommendations back in the day, but it also reminds me that I was the same way – leaving all of my business to the last minute; needing my parents, teachers, and guidance counselor standing on top of me to meet deadlines; having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Thankfully, I found Fairfield University on a humming spring afternoon with the fountain spraying the lake by the Dolan School of Business and REAL college girls checking the weather all around and my decision was as fickle and decided upon from that very trip.
In the present, however, I’m the one who’s charged with reminding kids about drafts and making the decision for the right reasons, kids who seem to be waiting for someone else to make it for them. Still, these are some of the first students I ever taught at Thornton-Donovan School, a group that I admittedly have a special connection to as I’ve been able to see them mature from naive, wayward middle schoolers into worldly, respectful young men and women. I am proud of each of them; I like to think kids like that are the reason I still teach. I just hope they appreciate all of the help they’re getting because this is the holiday season of receiving for me.
And receiving I am indeed with a full class load of former students coming to me for instruction on everything from how to write a college essay to how to whittle it down to fit the 650 word maximum to which colleges should he/she apply to. The list of requests are seemingly infinite this time of year.
Letters of recommendation.
I’m not complaining. Over the years, I have become somewhat of a mentor for many of the students I taught in middle school who continued their studies in Thornton-Donovan’s upper (high) school. With that comes the responsibility of writing a letter of recommendation for each sand reading over countless iterations of the same canned, contrived, forced, and completely and utterly monotonous Common Application essay prompt.
I could be bitter; I could complain about how I could be reading more for leisure instead or watching television or devising new basketball plays or pretty much doing anything else besides someone else’s job – I taught them how to write, and in many ways this is the culminating assessment they’re showing me.
I take pride in the fact that they want my feedback and they want me to write about my experiences with them as a teacher, a coach, and a club moderator. It could be worse. I could be a bad teacher who no one bothers querying for advice because they’d be better off getting it from a Magic 8-Ball.
When talking to the kids about their essays, flashing back to past moments in their middle school years, I try to deconstruct the task to its simplest questions: How can I make myself sound better than the rest of the kids writing the same essay Should I focus on how I was a leader for the first and only time in my life? Should I write about how my native culture clashed with my American identify? Should I examine a formative experience that changed my worldview?
And my best advice is what it always has been. Be honest. This is who I am and what I’m about. As I swore to my previous students from the podium at their eighth grade graduation, I would give them my vitality; break my fingers for them; give them the shirt off my back if they worked for me, took pride in their work.
Now, in their senior year, I can make good on my promise. And they can on theirs.
Copyright ã 2015 Andrew Chapin