Letter to the editor
To the Editor:
I deeply regret that Steve Putnam did not include the “specifics of the classes” in his sample college recommendations (“How Well Do You Know This Student? Check One Box” in the journal of College Admission, Winter 2001). I am not quite sure what he meant by that phrase either. Did he mean the specifics of what the class covered, or did he mean the specifics of how the student functioned in this class?; how and why he or she shone in that class?; how the student’s mind worked?; what the student’s thinking process was like?; or specific examples from the class discussion and quotes from the student’s best papers? All of that is precisely what a teacher’s college recommendation should contain.
The material included in Dr. Putnam’s sample recommendations would all be contained elsewhere in the student’s application-both in the counselor recommendation and in the student’s own listing of activities and answers to short essay questions. It need not appear again in the teacher recommendation. However, a specific, comprehensive profile of a student’s academic life in Dr. Putnam’s class is contained nowhere else in the application and sorely lacking in the material he provided for this article.
Frankly, I also believe that there is something morally wrong with making a recommendation letter a collaborative project. The college has not solicited the student’s opinion in this case. The student has ample opportunity to present himself or herself elsewhere in the application. Is the recommendation letter signed by the student as well as by Dr. Putnam?
It was interesting to read Dr. Putnam’s ideas on the process, but as a teacher who has written college recommendations for 17 years and as a college adviser who has written school recommendations for 13 years, I believe that his approach is seriously misguided.
Edith Lazaros Honig, Ph.D.
Ramaz Upper School
New York, NY
To the Editor:
I appreciate Dr. Honig’s feeling deeply enough about my article to respond to it in print. To answer her question, the “specifics of the classes” that I did not include have merely to do with what material I teach in the particular class the student requesting the recommendation has enrolled in. By this I mean the books I choose, grammar and mechanics, vocabulary, writing assignments, oral presentations, and the like. Because I believe teachers utilize a wide variety of materials, and employ an even wider variety of classroom styles, it seemed to me that trotting out my own curriculum and methods of practice was beside the point, given that the thrust of my article was toward something entirely different.
Similarly, I didn’t believe that other teachers need my help in knowing how to characterize their students’ academic accomplishments; in my experience, one learns to do that by his or her first round of parent conferences, so I excluded any comments in that area as well.
I do agree with Dr. Honig that facts gleaned through the student-teacher collaboration I advocate might appear elsewhere in a full application file; at my school, guidance counselors supply the “competence profile of a student’s academic life” that Dr. Honig speaks of, supplemented by my own statements in that regard.
Having said all that, I confess that I am puzzled by Dr. Honig’s use of such labels as “morally wrong” and “seriously misguided” to characterize the process I published in my article, as well as the admonitory tone of her letter. To find fault with a teacher’s getting to know a student better in order to advocate for him or her more fully seems strange. I can only reply that providing opportunities for young people to practice honesty, reflection, and clarity in communication, coupled with their and their parents’ awareness of a teacher’s desire to better understand them as human beings, is a “teachable moment” that, in my view, should require no defense.
Steve Putnam, Ph.D.
Yarmouth High School
Editor’s Note: Please be advised that articles published in the Journal of College Admission are opinions of the author and are not reflective of the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s opinions nor official policy. A disclaimer affirming this is published on the inside front cover of each issue.
Copyright National Association of College Admissions Counselors Spring 2001
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