Tagged: letters of recommendation

 /  By  / comments 1 comment. Add yours!

TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #15

“I’m grateful for the education”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 2/1 – 2:45 pm
They are falling off. Four of 15 advisees are out today. J is putting her mother into hospice care, but the others are just taking the day off, I guess. They likely feel they accomplished something huge by getting through their portfolio presentations, so they’ve given themselves a three-day weekend. They don’t realize that it only picks up from here. English, AP Bio, Advanced Leadership, senior exhibitions, student aid applications, scholarships: There’s still so much to do. It’s not time to celebrate just yet.

Monday, 2/8 – 8:45 am
J’s mother died Friday morning. Friday evening, J attended the orientation sleepover at the university she was accepted to and wants to attend. I know why she went: she wants to show the school how committed she is. She wants to make a good impression so they will give her the full ride she needs to attend the college of her dreams. She wants to think about her future and forget about her loss. She’s coping the only way she knows how.

Friday, 2/12 – 9:30 am
C isn’t here today. He hasn’t been here all week, and that’s not good. I talked to him Tuesday afternoon, when it became clear that he will receive an F for Psychology last semester, since he hasn’t finished his contract for the incomplete grade he received. Nonplussed is the word I would use to describe his response. Perhaps cavalier would work as well. He texts later, though, finally considering what an F might do to his 3.9 GPA and the college acceptances he’s counting on receiving. He’s in the penitent phase of the semester. We’ll see how long he stays there.

Monday, 2/22 1:45 pm
I drop off a care package of nine books to a sophomore girl who’s never been in the library. I subbed for one of her classes, where she walked in 25 minutes late with a full bag of McDonald’s, which she proceeded to eat as if she was in the cafeteria and English class was long over. I didn’t argue with her because SUBBING! I was nice and welcoming and made a joke that she appreciated. She asked me, “Aren’t you the library lady? Will you help me find a book?” I responded with a watered-down version of the back-handspring I usually do, and she agreed to meet me in the library at lunch, since she wasn’t hungry anyway. Perfect!

We didn’t have much time to meet, so she told me the kinds of books she is interested in: mysteries, high-school drama stuff, and stories of social injustice.

“Perfect! Those are the Three Pillars of The Leadership High School Library!” I told her.

I pick out some books and deliver them to her during the last 5 minutes of history, just as she is finishing dessert. She gushes her appreciation and pleasure at having an entire bag of books to look through.

Reading! It’s what’s for dinner!

Friday, 2/26 8:30 pm
I spent much of my day refining a letter of recommendation for one of my advisees. I had written one for him before, but his mother asked that I make some changes: “Please emphasize that my son is a Black boy and that he’s lived in poverty for most of his life.”

I am embarrassed. I’ve always prided myself on my letters of recommendation. I take my writing seriously, and I  think I am pretty good with turns of phrase and metaphors. I don’t lay it on too thick, but I challenge myself to come up with innovative ways of describing students’ gifts and personalities. Overall, I’m a pretty good writer.

This mother, though, has helped me see that this letter is not about my writing skills. It’s about getting her son the scholarship he needs. I can’t be futzing around with a thesaurus and patting myself on the back because I use a word like “plucky” for someone who really gets on my nerves. And I can’t shy away from describing students’ real-life situations. “T is intellectually curious and motivated” is fine for plenty of students—but not for T. He’s brilliant and autistic and easily unnerved and extremely literal and laser-focused and big and Black and poor and he’s grown up in a society that has normalized the homicide of young Black men—and he’s survived. And now he’s going to college and he needs help.

I didn’t want to call T poor or Black, and I didn’t want to name the violence that surrounds him. I wanted to write my little letter and hope he gets a scholarship and feel good about how I helped. T’s mom called me out, as she’s had to do with many people, I’m sure, and explain, yet again, what it is people of privilege can do to help. I’m sorry she had to be the one to explain it to me, but I’m grateful for the education. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

 /  By  / comments 2 comments. Add yours!

TEACHER VOICES: Trevor Gardner, #3

Letters of Rec and Looking Deeply

TrevorGardnerfavicon I ended my last post, which was written last November, with the quip, “The only downfall [of looping with the same students for four years] is the mountain of recommendation letters I am about to sit down and start writing.”

At that time, I had not yet begun writing the 41 college recommendations that have been my unrelenting duty since the days leading up to the first big deadline on Nov. 30.

And though the task has consumed at least 30 hours of my “free” time and led me on innumerable paths down the rabbit hole of Googcrastination, it has been anything but a downfall.

In fact, it has been an inspiring journey of memory and discovery allowing me to see my students more lucidly than I ever have before, and in turn, to appreciate, with renewed evidence, all the reasons that teaching is the most wonderful job in the world.

In one of my favorite essays by Paulo Freire, his “Fourth Letter to Those Who Dare to Teach” in Teachers as Cultural Workers (if you have not read this book, order a copy right now!), he discusses the quality of lovingness as one of the essential qualities of great teachers.

Freire explains:

And here I mean lovingness not only toward the students but also toward the very process of teaching… I do not believe educators can survive the negativities of their trade without some sort of “armed love.”

Sitting down to write these letters of recommendation for nearly half the class of 2015 at Envision Academy has been a transformative experience for me because it has asked me to focus on where these youngStars have grown, where they shine, how they have moved mountains to get where they are today.

I believe this deep seeing is a vital component of the lovingness Freire describes. It is also a perspective that educators – and society in general – take on too rarely in the midst of the negativity surrounding schooling (and especially urban schooling) in this country.

But what I realize more and more is that the most crucial thing I can do to equip myself with the “armed love” that energizes me to do this work year after year after year, is to look deeply at the incredible young people who surround me for seven hours per day – and genuinely see them for their best selves.

Oh yeah, and I only have five more recommendation letters to go, which makes it much easier to write such a positive post about a task so dreaded by high school teachers. favicon

Ed. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition.