Wednesday, May 4, 2011

To Whom It May Concern

As a teacher it often fell to me to write letters of recommendation for my students, be it for jobs, scholarships or college applications. And I usually did it with enthusiasm.

When I knew the student well from his/her work in class it was easy to say positive things about them. When I didn't know them well, well I had to stretch it a little.

One day years ago Jose came into my office to tell me he was applying for a job and needed a letter of recommendation. "I would really appreciate it if you could write one for me, Mr. Rios", he said. "When do you need it?" "Maybe this Friday?" It was Monday. "I'll have it ready for you, Jose", I told him; we shook hands and he left.

Later that evening as I thought about Jose's request, I looked over my grade book. There I saw that Jose had already missed class 5 times, and it was only mid-semester. He had failed to turn in two essays, and of the two he had turned in, one was a C- and the other a D. I recalled that he often arrived to class late, and  without his book, too. "How could Jose even have the guts to ask me for a letter?" I asked myself.

The next couple of days, I wrestled with what I should say in the letter. Should I stretch it, and say Jose was a good student and doing acceptable work in my course? Or I could tell him, "Look Jose, I simply cannot write this letter in good conscience because I really don't think I can say something good about you", I pondered to myself.

By Thursday, I had still made no decision! That night, the angel on my left shoulder (or was it the one on the right?) spoke to me: "Write the letter, Rios and just tell the truth. You wouldn't want to be responsible for some poor slob of a boss hiring this jerk, would you? If you were the employer, wouldn't you want to know the truth before hiring this lackluster specimen for an employee?"

I picked up a nice, clean sheet of the college's letterhead typing paper, slid it into the typewriter and wrote:

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is written on behalf of Jose Benavides, who is currently a student in my English 35, Chicano Literature course. While Jose is a amiable and outgoing person, his course work in unacceptable. He comes to class habitually late, unprepared, and has excessive unexcused absences.

Therefore, I would not recommend him for employment.

Your Truly,
Richard Rios, Instructor

I sealed the letter in an envelope and the next morning, right on schedule, Jose came for it in my office. "Here, is your letter Jose", I chimed, handing it to him. He looked at it, then at me with a big smile. Taking it, he said "You don't know how much I appreciate this Mr. Rios", as he shook my hand vigorously.

I felt joyously sinister, almost evil inside.

Whether or not Jose ever got that job I would never know. He never returned to class, and I never saw him again.


*AnairA* said...

i lol when i read this.

at least you took the time to type your letter and it was a thoughtful, honest reflection of the student and your experience with him

i had the opportunity to read through scholarship applications and some faculty/staff scribbled their recommendations-- i could not tell if they were glowing letters of support or letters urging the committee to give the $$ to someone else

Rick Rivers said...

Thanks, A. I stretched many a letter of recommendation for my students but something told me not to this time!