Posted in Social Media, Teaching, Writing

Letters of Recommendation

Last week in the midst of writing letters of recommendation, I decided to devote my next blog entry to the subject. As I tried to explain to students why they should waive their rights to read their letters, I realized that in our age of social media, many students have never stopped to consider why they should waive their rights to read what their professors and employers have written about them.

Here’s why: You’re asking someone with whom you have an excellent working relationship to vouch for your abilities. If you aren’t sure the person thinks highly enough of you to write a strong recommendation, don’t ask that person for a letter. Ask someone else.

Not waiving your rights implies not only a lack of trust–I’m asking you to write a letter, but I don’t trust that it will be good–it also indicates a degree of self-doubt. (I doubt that I’m good enough.) When selection committees and potential employers read your application, you don’t want them to question your trust in others or your confidence in yourself.

When you ask someone to write a letter for you, give that person a copy of your resume. As a professor, I can address my students’ work in the classroom, but I can’t refer to their extracurricular activities and awards if I don’t know what they are.

Lastly, on a practical note, make sure that you give your letter-writers the full address of the company, school, or scholarship foundation to which you are applying. Even if the letter-writer will be submitting the letter to you in a sealed envelope to include in your application–and often that’s the case–the letter-writer still needs the full address of the recipient.

Why does the letter-writer need the recipient’s address if the letter-writer isn’t going to mail the letter?

The answer is simple: The recipient’s address appears in a business letter below the date and above the salutation (Dear Dr./Professor/Mr./Ms.). If a letter-writer doesn’t follow proper form, the recipient may question his or her credibility. And you don’t want  selection committees and potential employers to question the person you’ve called upon to vouch  for you.

For more valuable advice on letters of recommendation, see Mitch Harden’s “Waiving Your Rights“–which isn’t just about waiving your rights, it offers other useful tips as well.

Posted in Reading, Teaching

Groundhog Day and Nietzsche

Movies and the Meaning of Life (2005), which includes the essay “What Nietzsche Could Teach You: Eternal Return in Groundhog Day.”

For Monday my Focused Inquiry students will read “What Nietzsche Could Teach You,” which considers the film Groundhog Day (1993) as an illustration of eternal return. It’s an essay I’ve never taught before. I decided to teach it this semester as a way of responding to a suggestion some students offered last spring on their anonymous questionnaires—specifically that we discuss more of the big questions that we ponder throughout our lives.

So, for our first post-Groundhog Day class, we’ll view scenes from the film and consider the evolution of Phil Connors (Bill Murray), from unhappy weatherman living for the future to renascence man happily embracing the present.

According to James H. Spence, author of “What Nietzsche Could Teach You,” Phil Connors’ change signifies his rejection of the Christian view of linear time in which the future gives value to the present. Nietzsche’s alternative, his eternal return, posits that “[r]ather than moving on to a better (or worse, if we are bad) place after this life, we would relive our life over and over again, exactly as we had before” (274).

Today as I meditate on Spence’s essay and on the film, I’m aware of how rarely I live in the moment, and I’m reminded of a line that friend and teacher Doug Jones often says: We teach what we need to learn. We do, Doug. We really do.

Spence, James H. “What Nietzche Could Teach You: Eternal Return in Ground Hog Day.” Movies and the Meaning of Life. Ed. Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul J. Tudico. Chicago: Open Court, 2005. 274.