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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.


  1. micheleg

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Trevor. I’m not sure I could be so positive about writing so many letters of rec!
    This reminds me of something I’ve been realizing lately: I love love LOVE to run into former students. Seeing them “arms” me as I walk into my classroom of juniors. When I see someone I taught four or five or eight years ago, and see how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown, I’m reminded of my current students’ potential, and I feel honored to get to be a part of their growing up. I feel fortunate to get to do what I do.

Please share your brilliant insights!