BHS teachers push back against letters of recommendation


This year, several Berkeley High School teachers are refusing to write letters of recommendation, as they are not receiving compensation. This has put pressure on many college applicants, including France Naville, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS). 

So far, Naville hasn’t been able to secure any letters of recommendation due to the teacher strike, which has been a source of frustration and anxiety for her.

“Currently, most of the teachers that I have asked are striking, so I’m not even getting a letter, which is really stressful,” Naville said.

While teachers have only started to withhold recommendation letters recently, they were already voicing their concerns in previous years, according to Naville.

“A lot of teachers threatened to strike last year, and they are finally taking action,” Naville said. “They aren’t going to write letters of recommendation until they get paid or they get days off to do them. Most of the humanities teachers won’t be writing letters this year.” 

Becky Villagran, a BIHS history teacher, explained how writing letters of recommendation is not included in teachers’ contracts. The contracts instead describe submitting grades, attending professional development meetings, and other similar duties.

“Letters of recommendation are something that not all teachers have to do, and so it’s not part of our contract,” Villagran said.

She continued, describing how the number of colleges requiring letters of recommendation has increased in recent years, which has added to teachers’ workload. 

“Some teachers, predominantly junior teachers, are being asked for letters of recommendation. More and more schools are requiring individual letters about that student and they take about an hour to write,” Villagran said. 

Naville expressed her support for the teachers, saying that she thinks that the workload is overly excessive, and that teachers should be given alot more time to write these letters. She added that this could potentially improve the quality of the writing drasticly.

“They get one day off for every 12 letters, which is not at all enough time, especially for humanities teachers who get a lot more requests,” Naville said. “The teachers would be much more willing to do them and would put more effort into them, since they would get more time to do them … (This) would end up positively affecting the students because the overall letters would be better as well.”

Ian Segall, student school board representative, also commented on the large workload of teacher recommendations. He said that teachers can be expected to write anywhere from 10-60 letters of recommendation per year, spending up to 60 hours working on them without being reimbursed. He described the strain that letters of recommendation add to teachers’ already overworked lives.

“We are asking our teachers for more and more every day, we are asking them to be (on some level) mental health counselors, asking them to provide safety for our students, we are asking them to create an environment in their classrooms with very limited resources,” Segall said.

We are asking our teachers for more and more every day… we are asking them to create an environment in their classrooms with very limited resources.

Ian Segall, student school board representative

Villagran shared a solution, where teachers would be compensated for writing these recommendation letters and given ample time to complete them. 

“A lot of teachers just want a time (to write), so (the district could) pay for a substitute to teach our classes for a certain day, so we can go to a coffee shop or just stay home to write them, and this way we don’t have to do them over the weekend,” Villagran said.

Villagran added that it is realistically possible to fund these recommendation letters, as the school board and Berkeley High School Development Group already give out grants to many different groups and clubs.

“I heard that the school board has been giving out grants for a bunch of things, so I figured, why not use some of that and give it to teachers? We don’t even get new books every year, so (funding) has got to be somewhere in there,” Naville said. 

Naville explained that paying teachers for these recommendation letters would also improve teachers’ quality of daily life. 

“This would really positively impact the teachers’ mental health. It’s nicer to see your teachers happier, and these letters become part of their jobs and eat away at their lives,” explained Naville.

“If you or a parent have a frustration with what’s going on, don’t direct this at the teachers. This is not their fault, this is just a result of us not caring about our teachers,” said Segall.