Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Terri from Topsfield and a Rec Letter She Probably Won't Write. "Senorita Suzy is a Snowflake. Sorpresa!"

I am a high school Spanish teacher at a "prestigious" public school.

I am in the midst of recommendation letter hell. I have written 30. I have 5 more to go. I figure I have put in 60+ hours of uncompensated time so far to write these letters and stuff envelopes. I am feeling guilty at the thought that some of these students may end up in college classes next year. Some of them should not go anywhere near a college campus except to deliver pizza.

Please know that they come to us like this, and nothing we do seems to matter anymore. This is my 20th year in public education, and it keeps getting worse. I have a reputation of being a bitch but fair, and kids are usually flabbergasted after a year in my class to discover that if they actually do the work, they will earn the grade they deserve. For some, the message never gets through. Hence, the letter I would love to write.

Dear Sir/Madam:

It is with nearly ecstatic pleasure that I write this letter on behalf of Suzy Snowflake (it's snowing in my school too, near blizzard conditions). Suzy has been a student in my Spanish 1, 2, 3 and 4 classes during her time at Prestigious HS. In all my years of teaching, I feel blessed to have had a student like Suzy in my classes. Strong-willed, creative and destined for stardom, Suzy quickly makes a lasting impression on you compared to her peers.In terms of her attitude, Suzy was strong-willed and didn't hesitate to share her opinions with you, the class, the wall or any inanimate object nearby.

She was quick to assert her independence by doing only what she felt was important to her. Self-expression is outstanding and she was quick to express her views on the value of homework (none), the value of actually studying before tests and quizzes (none), the value of learning the grammar (none), and the value of learning another language (none). Suzy never hesitated to make her needs known, frequently interrupting class to shut her phone off, ask to go to the bathroom, comb her hair, take a nap--it amazed me how in tune she is with herself compared to some of her peers. Her level of confidence in either her persuasive arguing skills or being able to use those of her parents show that she is able to stand up for herself--never did a term go by that she didn't seek to change a grade because she had "put so much effort" into her assignments. Her strong will also allowed her to manage to do just enough work to not fail the class and she continued to move up a level each year. Her determination still impresses me.

Suzy was also one of the most creative students I have ever had. In class, Suzy found ingenious ways to avoid turning work in on time, and in some cases to avoid doing any work at all. She was able to play with the language in such a way that it almost resembled Spanish, even after 4 years in my class. Her oral presentations were an artful use of Spanglish and quite entertaining. Her range of reasons for not getting anything done were head and shoulders above the rest of her peers. When I checked her notebook at the end of each term for evidence of notes or work, I can honestly say that her doodles and organizational skills were a sight to behold. Her creativity didn't just stop with written work. Suzy was able to cobble together enough comprehensible Spanish to give short oral presentations where the visuals and Power Points would just blow you a way and make up for the fact that it was nearly impossible to follow her train of thought. Suzy tended to be quite creative with her interpretation of grades as well. Nothing fazed her at all, and her strong will and confidence enabled her to bounce back time after time from one failing grade after another. No consequences seemed to be able to break through her image of how she thought her life should be--no detention, no phone calls home, no Fs in conduct, no failing grades--nothing can get in the way of Suzy's creative version of her life. Usually someone else was responsible for her not doing well, and as long as she is in class and breathing, what more can a teacher want?

Suzy also strikes me as someone who is destined for stardom in whatever field she chooses. Again, her strong will, determination and creative way of thinking will come in very handy. Suzy has expressed an interest in becoming a pediatric nurse because she cares so much about other people and is a good listener. Her people skills are just under the surface and she would work with her peers when prodded repeatedly. Her involvement in clubs and teams at school is non-existent, but her parents say she is "charismatic" and a "strong leader." I am sure with time and maturity, she will allow those qualities to come to the forefront so that everyone can really get to see the real Suzy.

In terms of weakness, Suzy says her one weakness is that she procrastinates, usually from one term to the next until we're already into the following year. She struggles with both short-term and long-term assignments, even when they are posted in the room, online and on a piece of paper spelling everything out in English and handed directly to her. However, she puts a great deal of effort into the work she does; for example, she brings her book to class most days along with a notebook and pen. Based on her effort, she clearly deserves to have grades that are higher than her GPA of 1.7 indicates.

I have some serious reservations about Suzy's abilities to cope with college-level work, but we have a 98% graduation rate and we are proud to say that 99% of our students go on to college. Suzy will surely make her mark and will be a nice addition to your campus community. She'll probably need some extra time to complete assignments due to that procrastination issue, she might need some one-on-one tutoring and might need a few extra years to finish her degree, if she makes it that far. Please do not hesitate to contact me regarding this wonderful young lady's potential.