The Art Teacher’s Guide to Letters of Recommendation

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Letters of Recommendation can instill fear in any teacher’s heart. It’s another thing on a teacher’s growing list of things to do. I don’t know about you, but over my years teaching it grew from writing letters for the faithful few art stars who were going on to study art in college to students who were going into architecture, advertising or other art related fields, students who I may have only had in one class. I was also asked by students who wanted to show case a special talent. Sometimes these recommendations weren’t limited to just college admissions either; students needed recommendations for summer programs, scholarships, private high school admissions, jobs and even internships.

Many colleges are going test-optional this year and in- person interviews are replaced with Zoom. Those factors may mean letters of recommendation are taking on increased importance.

Think Positive

First thing, become familiar with your school’s policies and procedures on recommendations. Do they provide letter head, postage if necessary? In recent years, the Common App system has been dominate. Many guidance offices will provide some level of assistance navigating the Common App. Beyond the nitty gritty, ask yourself one critical question. Can you give this student a positive recommendations? If the answer is no, you should say so promptly. Of course this could lead to some difficult conversations, but it’s important to thank the student for asking and to be both kind and honest in explaining your reasons. You will have some students you agree to write a letter for enthusiastically, some you will turn down, and the rest?  It’s those in the middle ground that will present the challenge. When writing, share the positive things you have to say, but adjust your language accordingly. “I write to wholeheartedly recommend…” versus, “I write to recommend…” for example. Colleges know the difference. For these middle students be honest while keeping the tone positive. It is OK to  to acknowledge a student’s challenges as long as your overall tone is positive. I had an excellent student who was very very quiet and I acknowledged this aspect of her person while also highlighting her deep intellect and strong art skills. For the students in the first group, you can be unrestrained in your praise.

The Format

It’s not your job to write all about the student and their accomplishments. Leave the big picture recommendation for their guidance counselor. Your job is to talk about the your observations of your student from your perspective. A general format includes:

Opening: Use To Whom It May Concern or Dear Admissions Representative.

Paragraph 1: Set the scene by introducing who you are and how you know the student.

Paragraph 2 and 3: I like to give specific examples of how the student achieved—did they overcome obstacles or tackle any challenges to reach their goals? Include your  observations of the student’s skills, work ethic, involvement in the arts and creative extra curricula activities as well as leadership skills displayed in the arts.

Conclusion: Conclude with a sincere statement of recommendation for the student.

Closing: Use Sincerely, Best Regards

The Details

Keep deadlines in mind. Your letter means nothing if it doesn’t arrive on time. Plug it into your calendar with reminders set. Once you’ve written a few you’ll have the format down and you’ll get better and faster. The really positive letters will write themselves. The second tier letters take a little more time but they can be shorter. Be sure to use your school’s stationary and letterhead if hard copies are required. Adjust your word editor so your letter is format correctly on the paper and save it that way and remember how to feed the letterhead in the printer. *Pro tip: Photocopy the school’s letterhead and print a test copy on it first. If your school is stingy on doling out the letter head, just use the photocopied paper. Be sure it is spell grammar checked and between a half page and one page in length. Remember all the times you did some art favor for an english teacher? Now is your time to get payback in the form of free proofreading.  If you use another student’s letter as your starting point, hit Control+F, or Command+F on a Mac to search for the previous student’s name because there is nothing worse then calling the student by the wrong name in a letter of recommendation. Be sure to save it because the student may come back looking for more, especially at scholarship time.

Below are samples of letters from my files. All names and details have been altered.

 


 

Example 1:

Sept. 6, 2020

To Whom It May Concern;

I am writing this letter in support of (student’s name), a senior at (school’s name).  Jane Art has been a dedicated art student at Central High School. She was my student her sophomore year in Studio Art, junior year in my Advanced Placement 2-D class and now, in her senior year, she is taking AP Drawing. The fact that Jane has made time for art three out of her four years at Central High School is a testament to her commitment to art. Central High School is a strong academic school and students often have difficulty fitting art classes in with all their other academic requirements.

Jane is a visual person and this was readily apparent sophomore year. She has strong observational skills and those skills have continued to grow. The studio art classes Jane has taken at Central High School exposes students to a wide variety of media and I was always impressed with how rapidly Jane adapted to new media. At heart, I believe Janel loves media she can touch and feel, but I was impressed last year with her ability to transfer her skills to design work with Adobe Illustrator. Jane designed a series of works last year exploring issues of identity and culture. Her work was thoughtful, sensitive, well-crafted and imaginative. This series was very instrumental in earning the highest grade possible on her AP 2D Portfolio.

One impressive thing about Jane is how committed she is to art and creativity. This summer she took a class at a local art center and focused on portraiture and her final piece, a large scale charcoal self-portrait, was very impressive. She has been very involved in the school’s art National Art Honor Society and literary magazine. Jane took a leadership role and designed the cover for the literary magazine this year. She also had her work highlighted in our school’s biannual magazine, her work displayed on the inside back cover this summer. She also designed the school’s spirit day t shirt. It is very like Jane to look for ways she can contribute to the school community with her talents.

Jane has both the talent and commitment to be a stand out in any college art program. I wholeheartedly recommend her for your art program. Please feel free to contact me (contact information below) if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Susan Brown
Chairperson for the Visual and Performing Arts
100 Main Street
Riverside, MA, 00001

 


 

Example 2:

March 6, 2020

To Whom It May Concern:

It gives me pleasure to recommend  Ann Smith for admission to your institution. I have known Ann Smith in my capacity as art teacher and Department Chairperson for the Visual and Performing Art Program at Central High School. Ann was a student in my Advanced Placement 2D Design class. She was also an active member and officer for the art club I advise. In addition, Ann took Photography and Drawing classes with other art teachers here at Central High School. Ann shows a sincere interest in art and in continuing to learn and improve her skills in art.

I first met Ann at an art show at the school. She was clearly drawn to art and interested in the assignments in my AP 2 D class. In my Advanced Placement 2D Design, she put in significant time outside of class developing her work. She was always enthusiastic about art and supportive of her classmates. When Ann enjoyed a project, she would pour herself into it. An example of her deep involvement in her art was an assignment requiring student to create a logo for a business of their choice. Ann enjoyed the assignment, developing a logo for a retro music store. From picking the name to developing the logo, her interest was unwavering. She did not always love the computer program used, Illustrator,  but mastered the necessary skills to produce the work she envisioned.

I encourage you to consider Ann for admission to your institution and wish her the very best in all future endeavors. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me (contact info below).

Sincerely,

Susan Brown
Chairperson for the Visual and Performing Arts
100 Main Street
Riverside, MA, 00001