Inspiring Recommendations

In the best of times, writing college recommendations for high school seniors is an unseen, time-consuming and often thankless task that Staples teachers do.

They do it because they care so much about their students — even those they had 2 or 3 years ago.

These are not, of course, the best of times.

But — in the midst of all the other mayhem last week, despite concern about their own homes, yards and families — dozens of Staples teachers made sure they got their students’ college recommendations in on time.

There was special urgency. Hurricane Sandy hit on October 29. The deadline for many recommendations was November 1. Though most teachers start writing in the spring — when the most diligent students request them — not all were finished.

Teenagers — surprise! — often procrastinate.

It takes at least an hour — sometimes 2 — to write just one recommendation. Each one must sound unique, and special. Each must describe the student and the course, and contain personal anecdotes and insights.

Then they must be processed. Many are submitted electronically, via the Naviance online system (not easy when the power is out). Though some colleges still require paper copies, those must be printed out. (Ditto.)

One teacher — who requested anonymity, saying “I’m no different from my colleagues” — began preparing for the college recommendation crunch even before the winds picked up.

“In the middle of shopping, getting gas and cash from the ATM, I was trying to get my final recommendations done,” the teacher says.

On Tuesday — without power — the teacher went to Panera, where there was WiFi. But a downed cell tower prevented further work.

The teacher tried other places. They had power, but the connection was too slow to upload the recs.

So it was on to Staples — the office supply store, not the high school — to print out copies.

The teacher downplayed such college recommendation heroics — and did not expect any praise.

“Parents and kids have no way of knowing how much time we spend on this, or that we have to fit it in around everything else we do. Sometimes I get a really nice thank-you note, and that makes me feel good.”

Sometimes, though, there is not even a cursory “thanks.”

So why do teachers do it?

“We could never say no,” the teacher says, speaking for many colleagues.

“Kids need recommendations to get into college. We’ve had them in class. We like them a lot, and we want them to do well.

“It’s not something we have to do,” the teacher emphasized. “It’s not part of our contract. It’s something we want to do.”

So they do it even during a terrible storm. When teachers’ own lives have been uprooted just like the trees all around their — and their students’ — homes.

3 responses to “Inspiring Recommendations

  1. Ilene Mirkine

    Thank you to our teachers….for all that you do (even during storm conditions)! And a big thank you to Dan for posting this…

  2. I often have my kids read this blog, but today this is required reading for my Staples sophomore. Thank you Dan for bringing this to light,and thank you teachers for all that you do!!

  3. Anne Hardy & Diana Weller

    Dan, Thank you for highlighting this incredible service that SHS teachers and guidance counselors undertake on behalf of their students. So many families appreciate their efforts and the heart they put into each letter. In the midst of everything else, last week, its just extra-heroic!

    Here’s an idea: Why not consider making a donation to Staples Tuition Grants in honor of the teacher or guidance counselor as a way to say thank you?

    Staples Tuition Grants (STG) was founded in 1943 on the belief that all young adults should have the opportunity to continue their education beyond Staples. By providing educational tuition grants for college or trade school to Staples seniors or graduates with significant, demonstrated, financial need STG helps them realize their dreams.

    Upon making a fully tax-deductible donation to STG in the teacher or counselor’s name, at, we will mail a handwritten card, to the person or people you designate, including any details or wording you wish, to let them know that your student or your family has chosen Staples Tuition Grants as a way to honor and thank them for their recommendation letter and all they have contributed to your senior’s future path.

    Your Staples family helps another Staples family, with a meaningful thank you!

    Anne Hardy & Diana Weller, STG Co-Chairs