Seniors and teachers reflect on the importance of their connection as college app season comes to a close
There is a certain dynamic between students and teachers that commands respect. On one hand, teachers are in the unique position to cultivate future leaders. On the other hand, students inspire teachers. As a result, students and teachers build a strong connection that may influence them for a lifetime.
A specific and recent example of this are letters of recommendations which have recently been finished for the seniors of class of 2021. Mr. Webb, an 11th grade English teacher, expresses his enthusiasm in helping his students succeed through these letters.
“I enjoy doing them because I know it might make the difference in having them get into the college of their choice, and help advance their career ambitions,” he says.
With most universities and private colleges requesting letters of recommendations, it is important for students to request these letters from teachers that have really gotten to know them. Kalyan Binu Sindhu (12), a student who recently completed their college applications, describes what is important to her when asking teachers to write such a correspondence.
“The best in writing the letters would be the teachers who I find know me the most— that is, [know] my personality… because most teachers— they do tend to focus more on the academic side of every student, but knowing me personally will help them understand how I learn too, and that was very important to me,” she says.
However, letters of recommendations are not just a one-way street. Teachers take pride in being a mentor for their students and knowing they’ve made a difference in someone, inspires them to do more. Ms. Sangam, a 10th grade geometry teacher, finds joy in spending time with their students, and getting to know them.
“My favorite part [of] writing these letters was not [actually] writing the letter, but talking to the students about it… Sometimes I spent more than one session, and sometimes it was an hour long session, sometimes two hours. And, in the process of getting to know the students, it’s not just about getting to know them and sharing and putting that down on paper. But it’s also a chance for me to establish a connection in such a way that the student can feel comfortable about coming back to me later on, even once they go to college, it’s a long term relationship.”
Similarly, Mr. Webb looks forward to writing such letters when he has had meaningful interactions with the student.
“There are occasionally times when I really really enjoy my rapport with the student and it’s such a joy to sit down and type it. It’s sort of like, I look forward to it. It’s not a drudgery, and I’m really excited to do it. That happens about every three or four years. It’s not every year where I feel over the moon about doing a letter of recommendation,” he says.
High school is a busy place, and it may be difficult for students to find the time to really interact with their teachers outside the classroom. Despite this, many students are very relaxed around teachers inside and outside the classroom, according to Sindhu.
“In general, I think that most students these days have a more like, fun way of approaching their teachers. It’s not just that, like you can actually have a normal conversation with teacher[s] about stuff other than academics these days,” she says.
Being able to really connect with her past students, Ms. Sangam is able to build long term relationships with her students. She stresses that the ability to be there for her students is the essence of being a teacher.
“For a student, being a mentor or an ally is, I think one of the best things a teacher can do for a student beyond just teaching in class. Teaching is not just about math, it’s actually much more about connecting with the students and seeing if I can make a difference… And what better job than to be available to young minds, and hearts and souls and to just be of service to share whatever wisdom I have,” she explains.
Ms. Sangam emphasizes how it is both indispensable and beneficial for students to be connected with their teachers.
“It’s important for students to be connected with their teachers right from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. It’s not about the letter of recommendation itself. But to be connected with your teacher is important for learning. When you feel a connection with your teacher, you’re more likely to learn,” she continues.
Unsurprisingly, Sindhu agrees with this rationality. It isn’t about the letter of recommendation. It’s about the genuine connection.
“From my past experiences, I’ve learned that, maybe it’s just me, but I do better in the classes where I like the teacher,” Sindhu says.
Being in an environment that you enjoy automatically makes the activities you do in that environment more delightful. This same logic applies to both students and teachers. Ms. Sangam agrees, mentioning that teachers welcome connection[s] just as much as students do.
“Every teacher would welcome an opportunity for students to come reach out to them. If students are aware that teachers need connection also, and they reach out, it can make a world of difference to their own feeling of connectedness and their learning in the process. This can help with the recommendation letter, but it cannot be the reason for doing it” she asserts.
Many teachers fulfill the role of a “mentor” or “ally” and provide for their students in various ways such as letters of recommendations but some require a bit more credit. Mr. Webb specifically advocates for the honors and AP teachers for the extra work they do and the large volumes of letters they write.
“The honors and AP teachers write the bulk of the letters of recommendations, so shout out to them because they do a tremendous job in this area for students, and I think they deserve a lot more credit than somebody like me who teaches regular college prep courses and does an ordinary number of them,” he says.
During the time of a pandemic, there are no face-to-face conversations, and many students opt to leave their cameras off when given the choice. For current juniors, this may pose a problem in their senior year when they require letters of recommendations. Mr. Webb explains the problem he prepares to face in the upcoming school year.
“My profile of students is skewed because I don’t meet them in person, so I don’t know what the next two years [are] gonna look like. Zoom isn’t necessarily the best platform to evaluate the interpersonal skills or the ‘soft skills’ of a student,” he acknowledges.
On the other hand, Ms. Sangam offers a solution to this problem.
“As a student, you can reach out to the teacher. …It’s been a challenging year for everyone. Just [connect], go to office hours, meet with your teacher, because, you know, many of my morning office hours are attended by students, and this is a real opportunity for students to get to know a teacher. There are some students who come and meet me and ask me questions. And it’s such a nice opportunity to be connected with students. And if students were to realize that it’s not just about seeking help, but it’s about building that connection, that can actually sustain them beyond the school year. It’s something to keep in mind.”
It is something to keep in mind. In a time where internet connection (pun intended) dictates our social life, it becomes a lot more difficult to really get to know someone. Reaching out isn’t always easy, but one can always try.
As Ms. Sangam says, “Start small. Just reach out once. Stretch your hand out once… Reach out and help somebody, whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a teacher, just reach out. Teachers are human beings too. Everybody could use some help.”