So far this school year, Chatham High School teachers wrote and submitted 4,508 letters of recommendation. In 2018, at this point in the year, the total was 3,740. For the 2020 graduating class of 315 students, that averages to about 14 letters per student.
And more letters will likely come in before the January and February deadlines.
Thirty-three teachers wrote more than 10 letters each, while thirteen CHS teachers wrote more than 15 letters, and six teachers wrote more than 20 letters. Three teachers wrote more than 30 letters.
The CHS teachers doing the writing are Tony Ricciardi, John Hajdu, Jason Mariano, Aaron Yamamoto, Tom Cummins, Nick Agelis, Steve Kmiec, Carolyn Kielblock, Kaitlin Sleight, Kendra Newman, Jim Meguerian, Missy Holzer, Melanie Crampton, Ines Wishart, Cindy Gagliardi, Oona Abrams, Dave Bandel, Ken Bryson, Nick DeSantis, Lexie Irene, Ben Lee, Stephanie Shamy, Gayle Shepardson The highest amount of letters written and sent by one teacher for one student was 30 letters.
One of the reasons that letter writing is increasing is that more students are applying to more schools than they have in the past.
English teacher Cindy Gagliardi, who always tops the list of letter writers at CHS, said, “Years ago, I wrote letters for maybe 10 or 15 students; now, I regularly write letters for over 30, over 40 and, one year, over 60 students. The fact that students are now regularly applying to double-digit numbers of schools, and are, in large percentage, applying prior to November 1, makes this workload very heavy, on top of the teaching, planning, conferencing, and grading that is part of my everyday job. As a teacher of all juniors this year, I have over 115 students, and the fact is that many people want a recommendation from their junior year English teacher.”
But, despite this huge workload, Mrs. Gagliardi remains committed to supporting her students in their college application process. She said she’s had to limit the number of recommendation letters she writes each year to a maximum of 50 in order to keep up with her other responsibilities as a teacher.
Mrs. Gagliardi said, “The first time a student asked me to write a letter years ago, I was wonderfully flattered. I knew that I was making a difference as a teacher. What better feeling is there? I don't feel any differently about that 28 years later.”
Science teacher Melanie Crampton, who also wrote a large number of letters this year, agrees. She said, “I feel honored that so many students would like me to write their letters of recommendation. I am so proud of each student and getting the ability to express that is great. I do feel overwhelmed about the number of letters, especially as it gets close to November 1st. I want to put so much attention into each letter, and, as the date gets closer and my time gets smaller, I feel a lot of pressure. When the students come to thank me, though, and express their appreciation, I remember why I write so many letters: it's all for the students.”
Seniors are definitely aware of the ways in which letter-writing is becoming a larger commitment for some teachers. Senior class president Alec Gironda said, “ Unfortunately, there are times when students just ask certain teachers because they think colleges would like to see that type of teacher (asking Mr. Mariano for an engineering school, for example), and that ends up piling a lot of recommendation letters onto that one teacher.”
Alec added, “Most kids will also ask their teachers from junior year, so they tend to have to write a lot too. It seems crazy that so many letters of recommendation have been sent out this year, but very few are sure of what college they’ll get into, so people are just applying to a lot of them and require lots of letters.”
Seniors are definitely appreciative of the work their teachers do to write letters of recommendation. Speaking on behalf of his class, Alec said, “Every senior is incredibly grateful for their teachers' willingness to write recommendation letters for them. We know that we’re asking for a lot from them, but the idea is that we’re asking teachers who we have a strong bond with. As most are stressed about the college admissions process, knowing that they have a teacher going to bat for them is reassuring.”
Each teacher has his or her own writing process for letters of recommendation.
Mrs. Gagliardi said, “Each student for whom I write a letter fills out a 4-question response sheet for me (prior to September 1) that lets me know of any extracurricular, work, religious, or other experience that may help me write a complete picture of a student I know only from my English classroom. Obviously, I read all of them and make notes. I fill out any necessary forms for a given student, review the list of schools to which s/he is applying, and plan my notes. If there is a ‘specialty’ school (my alma mater, Muhlenberg College, for example), I know that I will need to write a separate letter for that school, as opposed to the other schools.”
In terms of time, Mrs. Gagliardi said, “Writing each letter takes 45 minutes to an hour, as I address academic areas, activities, and character. After I write that letter, if there is a specialty letter to be sent, I tweak the original letter to send separately. Each student is special and separate from others, so it is important to me that their letters reflect this fact.”
Mrs. Gagliardi spoke to the incredible degree of specificity that is required for each student’s letter: “What people don't know is that a student may have applications for the Common Application, and the Coalition Application, and for other schools who have their own independent applications for which we are sent an email link. These must be done separately.”
“In addition,” Mrs. Gagliardi noted, “if students are applying to military academies, these students also require letters to politicians prior to the application, and then a very specific application of a very specific length for a particular academy. I wish I could say it was as simple as writing a letter and pressing ‘Send,’ but it's very, very far from the case.”
English teacher Nick Agelis echoed Mrs. Gagliardi’s comments: “[When I write a letter,] I write down the student's name and then I write down what my first thoughts are regarding him or her. And then, from there, I usually tell an anecdote about the student that I think gives the admissions offices a better view or angle of the student, as opposed to reciting all of their superlatives and accolades, which are already represented through other parts of their application.”
Such personalization in the letter writing process takes time, thought, and commitment, a fact that isn’t lost on grateful administrators and counselors at CHS.
CHS College and Career Counselor Kaitlin Sleight said, “The sheer number of teachers (82 teachers have written letters so far this year!) and the amount of letters our teachers write in addition to their teaching responsibilities is impressive and reaffirms the idea that these educators are committed to our school community. We continue to have great support from our staff for the college application process from school counselors to teachers to administrative assistants, and we see the positive effect this has on our students in terms of their application success."
CHS Principal Darren Groh said, “We are so fortunate to have so many teachers who go above and beyond for their students. The number of recommendations that our teachers write is just one example of the work that is put in to support the success of our students. Clearly, a teacher's job does not stop at the end of the school day.”