Help! Can I Lie on a Recommendation Form for a Student?

Dear We Are Teachers,

I teach 6th grade in a pretty wealthy district, so we get a lot of springtime requests for letters of recommendation for private schools. I have a child in my class with a long history of disrespect to teachers and peers. This fall, he started an Instagram bullying campaign that caused a classmate to transfer districts because of its effect on her mental health, and in January he started blackmailing other kids for money. And his parents? Let’s just say he learned the way to treat people directly from them. The 7th grade teachers on my team are begging me to write him a glowing recommendation so he gets in and leaves our school. I, too, want to spare them from this family—but lying feels wrong. What should I do? 

—stuck between a rock and a tough student

Dear S.B.A.R.A.A.T.S.,

I’m not even going to touch this one. Here’s advice from a very professional, very trustworthy counselor I know who has seen this situation many times:

“What a delightful child! Kidding.

All of the recommendation forms I’ve filled out—and I’ve filled out many over the years—have very straightforward questions that can be answered with short responses. Keep your responses short and say nothing negative unless directly asked. If the form asks directly about discipline issues, mark nothing unless there has been a formal office referral. You do not need to be positive, just be neutral. Private schools are only looking for reasons to not admit. They are not using these to compare positive traits. This allows you to be honest, helps your colleagues out, and hopefully gives the child a fresh start somewhere new.”

(Isn’t she great?)

Dear We Are Teachers,

The majority of parents at our elementary school are kind and loving parents. But some parents I meet with seem to genuinely dislike their kids. Last week, I was in a meeting about a 4th grade student’s behavior with the mother and child. The mom said, in front of my student, “Why does this matter? He’s going to drop out of high school. He’s lazy.” Is it my place to tell the parent that’s inappropriate … and just plain mean?

—tired of mean parents

Dear T.O.M.P.,

You’re right (and human) to flinch at a parent talking to their child this way. I don’t think it’s your place to correct them beyond a simple, “That’s not true—David works hard at x, y, z” in the moment. But it’s important to follow up in two different ways.

First, document and share any comments like this with your school counselor and principal. Likely nothing will happen. But intervening with parenting is more their realm.

Second—and most important—follow up with your student. It’s OK to be direct that you disagree with their parent. “Hey, I wanted to check in with you about the meeting yesterday. Your mom was frustrated and shared some opinions about you. But I just want you to know: I don’t think you’re lazy. I think you can do anything you put your mind to. Let me know if you ever need a pep talk, because I believe in you big-time. OK?”

Remember, too, that this mom might have been having a rough day. More likely she’s been having a rough era considering how the last several years have been for all of us. I’m not saying tough times give parents a green light to speak to kids harshly. But remember that she’s a person, too. The best way to change her behavior is the same way we change kids’ behavior—with empathy, kindness, and evidence that the harmful narratives they’ve learned aren’t true.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I interviewed and accepted a job to teach a high school leadership class next year. When I went to sign my contract, it said something about in-school suspension. I asked the principal about it and she said in-school suspension IS the leadership class. Should I accept and hope it will help me get my foot in the door at that school? Or not sign at all?

—I FEEL catfished

Dear I.F.C.,

Oh, honey. You feel catfished because you were catfished!

We’ve seen many stories of teachers getting the old bait-and-switch—here’s one from a woman who was told she’d be a kindergarten aide only to show up and be told she was on forever lunch duty. It’s happening a lot in other job sectors, too, and it’s fraudulent.

Trust me, if this is how the school runs, you don’t want your foot in that door. Don’t sign the contract and don’t look back.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at

Dear We Are Teachers,

I teach large sections of 5th grade advanced math (between 36 and 40 kids). I naturally have a loud, deep voice (I also coach) and occasionally have to raise my voice to get everyone’s attention. Last week, a table of girls was still working after I told students to put their pencils down. I said it again, and two of the girls looked up at me, smiled, and kept working. So finally I said quite loud, “Pencils down!” I got an email that night that my “yelling” at a student “inflicted unnecessary trauma.” I responded politely and apologized, plus I apologized to the student the next day in class. But now the parent wants to meet to discuss “adjusting my teaching strategies so this doesn’t happen to another child.” What? Loud voices are traumatic now?


We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply
Shopping cart