The Teachers’ Lounge – A guide to writing letters of recommendation

Ned Bitters

The school system I teach in (oh wait, I mean “in which I teach” … I am an English teacher, after all … oh, blow me) requires every senior in the county to complete a bulky senior portfolio and then sit through a formal interview with someone outside of the school system. Like almost everything else in education, it teaches very little of actual value and serves mainly as a PR tool, allowing us to present even our biggest asshats as highly successful, well groomed, semi-articulate future titans of business.

One of the required components of this portfolio is two letters of recommendation. Of course, most of the kids must rely on teachers to write these, as only a small percentage of them have held actual jobs or done anything of real (legal) value outside of school.

This can prove to be a time-consuming hassle for super swell nice guys like me. (No, really. I’m nice to the kids … oh, blow me.) This year I’ve written 77 letters. Last year I wrote 82. I know it’s all part of the job and that I’ve got the long summer break to let my weary fingers recover, but it’s not the act of typing that’s so exhausting.

What’s exhausting is the amount of pure-grade, uncut, everclear bullshit a teacher has to put into some of these letters. Some asshat who has been a total pain in your ass for four months, who has all the social graces of Tarzan’s retarded cousin, who has already put a down payment on a 6 x 8 foot single occupancy room at a state prison, will ask you to write him (or, to be fair, her) a letter. You can’t refuse. It’s a public high school, after all, and these kids aren’t asking for help getting into a pre-med program at Johns Hopkins. They just want to fulfill the portfolio requirement.

So you sit down and stare at a blank screen and try to figure out how to make Al Capone IV sound like the next president of the Harvard student government. At first, it’s quite a struggle, but after bullshitting my way through many hundreds of these letters, I’ve become quite expert at making shit sound like sugar.

What follows is a sort of translation guide for some of the more carefully concocted craftings from these letters.

“… he brings a daily dose of energy and enthusiasm to class …”

He’s a total pain in the ass who never shuts the fuck up.

“… exhibits outstanding leadership potential as evidenced by his take-charge approach during collaborative learning exercises …”

He’s a goddamn bully who always has to get his way.

“… possesses a natural curiosity that allows her to ask probing, challenging questions during class discussions …”

The know-it-all little shit will question everything you say.

“… a true multi-tasker …”

Has the attention span of a gnat.

“… whose abilities and talents cannot accurately be measured by the severely limited assessment devices of the public education system …”

He’s an illiterate dipshit.

“… her winsome personality and engaging demeanor make her extremely popular with her peers …”

She’s a slut.

“This is the type of young man who I expect to hear more about in the future.”

We’ll see this future felon in the local paper’s indictment list sure as shit.

“… has shown a remarkable ability to handle weighty personal responsibilities that have derailed the education of many a lesser teenager.”

Despite the ubiquitousness of pills, condoms, i.u.d.’s, diaphragms, spermicides and pulling out, the dumb broad managed to get pregnant.

“… an original, outside-the-box thinker …”

Batshit crazy. Schizophrenic. Should be institutionalized.

“… a highly skilled debater who can take a multi-faceted approach to even the most complex issues …”

The insufferable little bastard will argue that day is night.

“… has managed to excel despite burdensome personal obstacles …”

Comes from a family of no-account fucktards.

“… the class is just not the same when he is not here …”

We can actually get some shit done.

See how it works? I hope you enjoyed this “well-crafted, carefully planned and expertly executed column I labored over for hours.”

Bullshit hack work I threw together while grading senior portfolios.

Ned Bitters teaches high school and dreams of one day seeing one of his former students on stage at a strip club. You can contact him at

Comments (1)
  1. Wilson May 14, 2013

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