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Teaching ASL: "Requests for References or a Letter of Recommend"

When you teach at a college or university you might find yourself besieged by a near constant string of requests from students seeking to use you as a "reference" or asking you for a letter of recommend.

Filling out a "referral form" in an appropriately thoughtful and valid manner and submitting it on behalf of a student usually takes 15 minutes and can easily take up to a half-hour if you have to deal with any formatting, document conversion, uploading, or other issues.

Creating and submitting a decent "letter of recommend" can take even longer.  Doing just a "few" of those a week can seriously cut down on work productivity and "lesson preparation" time.

Of course I am certainly willing to do referrals or a letter of recommend for those of my students with whom I have a solid, ongoing, teacher/student relationship -- such as a student who is majoring in Deaf Studies and has taken several classes from me. 

The problem though is the requests from students who have only taken one or two classes from me, did nothing exceptional, and then want me to provide them a glowing referral.  Even worse, they often neglect to to the groundwork involved with the referral -- expecting me to look up their "Student ID" (identification number) and/or dig up the email address of the person or department where the reference needs to be sent.  Such students don't even take the time to fill in their own name (when they should be filling out every conceivable part of the form including such information as: "How long have you known the applicant?")

While I strive to be the type of person who always tries to help out any student who needs assistance -- I finally had to figure out a way to politely say, "no."

Below is an example of one such bit of correspondence. 
The name of the student and certain other details have been changed of course.

- Dr. Bill



In a message dated 10/12/201X 9:51:29 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Dr Vicars,

I am emailing to ask if I may use you as an academic reference for my graduate school application. I am applying to the ABC College for the dual Multiple subject/ Mild Moderate Special Education credentials. Additionally, I wanted to ask if you would consider filling out the reference form that must be submitted to the Teaching Credentials Department.

I know that you have many students, so just to refresh you memory, I took "ASL 2" with you last Spring.
I had a baby in the middle of the semester.

I hope you are doing well and I look forward to hearing from you!

Jessica Jones


I really wish I could ethically fill out your form but realistically all I could tell them is:

"She took one class from me. She requested special accommodations. I'm pretty sure she passed my class. I don't have any negative associations in my mind regarding her."

Reference requests such as yours really should be directed toward individuals with whom you have or have had a solid, ongoing, working relationship -- such as a major advisor, supervisor, employer, or co-worker -- who can validly address the types of questions in the form.

I do however wish you the best in your endeavor.
- Dr. Vicars





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