I’m writing senior recommendations that serve as a cover letter for a student’s college application. I’ve got seven to write this year and it always feels like both a privilege and an insurmountable challenge. It’s so hard to describe these students in a way that will serve them well. I have found that it easier when I have an enormous affection for them. They are like my own kids; it doesn’t matter how often the mess up, I still like them and can see their good qualities.

Secrets of the good recommendation:

  • Honesty – There is usually a good reason for blips on the radar. If it’s all flat line, there is probably a reason for that, too.
  • Reality – meaning concrete. When push comes to shove it always helps to show, don’t tell. What do they really do?
  • Hope – every diamond needs to be cut and polished. We keep hoping that this is the year they shine.
  • Affection – I don’t always have to offer my highest recommendation, but I always offer my heartfelt recommendation.

I’ve got more to do, but as I’m in the thick of it, I wanted to capture this before it slipped away. I’m reminded of a poem by Wyatt Prunty about teaching and letting go:

Learning the Bicycle

for Heather

The older children pedal past
Stable as little gyros, spinning hard
To supper, bath, and bed, until at last
We also quit, silent and tired
Beside the darkening yard where trees
Now shadow up instead of down.
Their predictable lengths can only tease
Her as, head lowered, she walks her bike alone
Somewhere between her wanting to ride
And her certainty she will always fall.

Tomorrow, though I will run behind,
Arms out to catch her, she’ll tilt then balance wide
Of my reach, till distance makes her small,
Smaller, beyond the place I stop and know
That to teach her I had to follow
And when she learned I had to let her go.

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