You can probably think of one teacher who will be ecstatic to write a recommendation for you. The other three—maybe not so much. And your guidance counselor, who is, um, what's her name again?
With school right around the corner (I bet some of you have already started reading Book #1 for Composition), I am going to give you the how-to of teacher recommendations.
1. Choose the "right" recommenders. I recommend that you get recommendations from three teachers and one guidance counselor to send to every school to which you apply. One teacher should teach a subject that's related to what you think might be your major: an art teacher for Digital Media, a biology teacher for Pre-Med, a math teacher for Engineering. Another teacher should be from an academic subject (math, English, social sciences, foreign language, or science)—preferably an area that you do well in. The third recommender can be anyone. Usually your favorite teacher. The one you joke around with between classes.
2. First and foremost, start saying "Hi" and taking an interest in your prospective recommenders. Pay sincere and persistent attention, starting right now. Some of you are at small schools and have the privilege of knowing your teachers on a personal and professional level, but some of you are in high schools of 4,000 students where you're lucky if a teacher can remember your name. Don't be a suck up, though. There is a fine, fine line between being nice and being a brown-noser!
A few ideas to consider: Hang back after class and ask a question. Walk by a teacher's room after school on your way to practice to peek your head in and offer a casual, "Just stopping in to say hi! See you tomorrow!" Go for extra help and study sessions. Comment on the pictures these three teachers have displayed on the corkboards or on their desks of their families. Join the after-school clubs for which they're the faculty advisors.
Do not buy random gifts, comment on every single outfit, or hang around every afternoon when they're trying to grade papers. You want to be friendly, not annoying.
3. Then, once these relationships are established, ask the teacher or counselor where he or she went to college. This question will immediately spark a conversation about the college search process in general and can easily lead to the Big Question: "Hey, Mr. Smith? Could I ask you a favor? Would you be willing to write a recommendation for college for me?"
Once you receive the magical "I would love to, Sarah!" tell him you'll bring all the information he'll need tomorrow. That brings me to the next and final to-do.
4. Make a formal resume to give to your recommenders. Not one with the jobs you've had, but one with your school activities and whatever's relevant to your application. Include your FULL name and phone number, the colleges you're applying to along with their addresses and websites, and several other useful bits of information about yourself:
* Which program you're applying to at each college (if you know it).
* All of your activities, and descriptions of what they involve. For example, "Key Club Vice President. Responsible for all email communication for the club and last year I organized the Blood Drive, which attracted 205 donors!"
* Any awards or scholarships you have won. "Fall 2009 Boy Scouts Eagle Scout award recipient. Cleaned and repaired a run-down inner-city park."
You may worry that making a list like this is cheating or oversharing, but it's really not. No matter how well a teacher knows you, she may not know about your summer activities, and she may not be exactly clear on what the Proscenium Circus is (even though to you, it's the theater group that's defined your very existence). Your teacher may very well not know that you spent two weeks in Tennessee last summer for a mission trip with your church. Put that in your resume!
And then, the rest is up to those teachers.