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How to Get Great Teacher Recommendation Letters in the Weird World of Covid

teacher recommendation letters

Good teacher recommendation letters for college are predicated on having a good relationship with your teachers. Pre-pandemic, you develop this relationship relatively organically because you see your teachers daily in school and can engage them in conversation. And they see you in class, working hard, interacting with other students, and responding to the curriculum in the classroom.

This year, online and hybrid teaching models have reduced class time and impeded personal communication between students and teachers. To help you navigate this weird situation, we have put together a list of things to consider as you try to foster good relationships.

In all of these recommendations, engagement is key. Teachers want to know that you are trying to learn, that you are making the best of this learning situation, and that you are an eager participant in the class. You should consider employing as many of these tips as you can to help ensure that your teachers can write awesome teacher recommendation letters on your behalf.

Be Polite

First of all, think about etiquette. Successful teacher recommendation letters contain an assessment of your behavior in the classroom.  If there is no classroom–or only a part-time classroom experience with a hybrid model of learning–then you have to consider how your teacher will experience your behavior in this virtual world.  So here are some suggestions.

  • Always turn your camera on and make an effort to seem (and be!) engaged.
  • Use the chat or conversation functions in the virtual classroom environment to ask questions, make (relevant!) comments, especially when prompted.
  • Respond to teacher requests for participation. Dive in and do your part to keep the class moving.
  • When in online break-out groups, do what you can to lead and contribute in productive ways.

Engage With Your Teacher Beyond Class Time

In addition to classroom behavior, teachers will be asked to evaluate your engagement in the class and with the material in your teacher recommendation letters. This is harder to demonstrate in the online world.  But you can make an effort to show the teacher that you are interested in the class, the materials, and the assignments you are given. In these stressful times, teachers really want to know that their students are trying their best to stay engaged both in and out of class.  So reach out!

  • Once or twice a month, go to the “office hours” your teacher offers.  Ask questions, ask for additional help, or just shoot the breeze about what you are learning.
  • If the “office hours” are inconvenient, end an email requesting a one-on-one meeting with the teacher. Let the teacher know what you’d like to discuss (see ideas below).
  • Whether you have questions, concerns, comments or ideas, reach out with an email.  Personal contact is better, but email is the new norm. Be sure to use a relevant subject and be polite and considerate in the email.

How to Talk to Your Teacher Online

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about with teachers during these “office hours” or in one-on-one meetings.  Here are some ideas for generating conversation in these virtual meetings.

  • Review a recent test, paper, or assignment and ask about how you might improve next time.
  • Ask about upcoming projects, assignments, or tests to get a jump on what you should be studying.
  • Request some advice about choosing a major or selecting colleges.  Ask how your teacher chose his or her college or major.
  • Find out if the teacher will be teaching the next class you might take in the same subject next year.  For example, will your current pre-calculus teacher be teaching calculus next year?  (Perhaps, if this is a teacher you like, you should try to get into that class).
  • Ask for recommendations about books to read, podcasts to listen to, or other resources that will help you explore content of the course outside the requirements of the class.

Give Your Teacher a Hand

Sometimes you might have an idea for how you can help the teacher in some way.  In these crazy times, teachers are thrilled if students take an extra step to be helpful to them and to other students in the class. And with some luck, these efforts will feature in your teacher recommendation letters. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make Quizlet sets or other study aids to share with your classmates
  • Create a study group.
  • Curate a set of photos or primary documents related to readings.
  • Lead an online book club to discuss topical literature or current events, or to extend discussions of materials you are going over in class.
  • Offer to help create or edit a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation on an upcoming lecture or topic the teacher is preparing.

Perhaps your offers to be helpful will not result in much. But the offer will definitely be appreciated and communicate an enthusiasm for what you’re learning. Just as students are struggling with the online and hybrid class formats, teachers are struggling, too. The simple, empathetic gesture of an offer to help will be warmly welcomed.

Great Teacher Recommendation Letters – Summary

Bottom line: be engaged. Show that you are doing your part to remain engaged with your classmates, your teacher, and with the materials you are trying so hard to learn in these less-than-ideal circumstances.  While the world is different, the criteria your teachers will use to evaluate you on your letters of recommendation are not.  So you need to go the extra mile to demonstrate to your teachers that you are doing your best.


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