As a youth pastor I have been asked to write many letters of recommendations over the years; mostly to colleges, but also to ministries, jobs and other opportunities students encounter. I used to always go the anonymous route, sealing and signing the letter – trying to send it in directly if at all possible. I think I was self conscience about letting someone know all the good things I believed about them – in a way it’s an awkward vulnerability in our culture that tends to lean towards sarcasm and trash talking (something I am pretty comfortable with).
While a Bible school student I applied to Gordon College. Normally Gordon required a face to face interview for prospective students, but I was in England at the time and they opted to accept me based on the strength of a recommendation from one of my Bible school teachers. He had very much kept it anonymous so it was a complete shock to me when Gordon mentioned that to me. I appreciated it, wondered what he wrote … and then forgot about it until a few years later when I found out he had passed away. I’ve always wondered what it was that he wrote – I doubt I’ll ever know.
For me, though, this triggered a thought: haven’t I always been of the opinion that teens don’t get enough affirmation from adults in their lives? Don’t they most often hear from us when they’re in trouble? Isn’t positive reinforcement more effective in shaping young people? When I actually stopped to think about it I couldn’t come up with any convincing reasons for keeping recommendations anonymous.
So I stopped doing them.
I still write recommendations, but I give them back to the student. If I have to mail it directly to the school, I give the young person a copy. I want them to know I believe in them, the positive things I have seen in their lives and personality, and the ways I have been impressed in them. Every young person has something positive that can be highlighted and celebrated – and they need to know people have seen it.