BHS teachers paid for reccomendations


In previous years, Berkeley High School teachers writing letters of recommendation for students have received no compensation for their work. After a push from teachers and parents last year to change this, the Berkeley Unified School District reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) that has been officially implemented this year.

Over the past several years, BHS teachers have discussed the need for some sort of compensation for writing letters of recommendation, due to the large student body that requires many letters to be written. 

“Last year is when we really sort of set it in motion with people talking about different campaigns and including, but not limited to, telling students that they weren’t going to write them any letters of recommendation,” said Victor Aguilera, a Berkeley International High School teacher who teaches Comparative Values and Beliefs and Theory of Knowledge. 

According to Aguilera, the majority of teachers supported this movement because it was clear that something drastic was needed to achieve change. There was some variation on where teachers stood on the topic. Some completely refused to write letters of recommendation, while others didn’t feel comfortable declining students’ requests. 

This caused difficulty for seniors to find teachers to write their letters of recommendation because the teachers that chose to write them ended up with an overwhelming amount of requests, but still had a limited capacity, according to Eliza McGlashan, BHS Senior Class President.

According to senior Saskia Freedberg, students who didn’t begin the process of getting letters of recommendation until senior year struggled more with finding a teacher to write their letters. Specifically, Freedberg stated that many BIHS students chose to wait to request letters. 

Freedberg received one of her letters from Academic Choice history teacher Angela Coppola. Coppola refrained from writing letters of recommendation until a form of compensation was agreed upon. Once the negotiation for payment was finalized, she agreed to write Freedberg’s letter. 

The decision that many teachers made to withhold from writing letters of recommendation ended last year when they came to a MOU with the district that went into effect this year, making their time compensated. A main way that this was achievable was through the pressure on the district coming from parents who wanted their children to receive letters of recommendation. 

“The parents of kids who are applying to the universities that want those letters of (recommendation) most tend to also be the wealthiest families with the wealthiest parents who have the time and ability to put pressure on the district,” said Freedberg. 

During the compensation contract negotiation process, leaders of the BFT communicated BUSD teachers’ needs to the school board. A group of teachers involved in the issue had weekly lunch meetings last year where they discussed their compensation requirements and drafted a proposal for an MOU. Contracts expire every three years, meaning that they have to be renegotiated with the school board when the three years are up. 

Alex Day, a Universal Ninth Grade Ethnic Studies teacher at BHS and a BFT union organizer was very involved in the negotiation process last year.  Although Day doesn’t regularly write letters of recommendation because he doesn’t have any senior students, the reason that he took part in the negotiations was because he feels that, outside of compensation of letters, unpaid labor for educators is a larger issue that needs more attention. 

“I took that as essentially a signal from the labor market that these workers are not willing to do this labor for free, therefore, if we want the labor done, we have to provide compensation,” said Day.

The contract that BFT and the BUSD School Board decided on entails three forms of compensation available to teachers. One of the options is to receive release days where they are given paid days off. Teachers must write 20 letters to receive one release day. Another form is receiving hourly compensation through service credit which raises teachers’ hourly salary, typically determined by level of education and the length of time they have been teaching. The final option of pay is simply through hourly compensation at the “development time” rate which is the amount that teachers are paid when not actively teaching students.

In order to be paid for writing letters of recommendation, teachers must write at least five letters that have up to 45 minutes of paid time each. Although there is a minimum amount of required letters for compensation, there is no set maximum amount of letters that teachers can receive pay for. 

“If you wrote 100 letters for 100 different students, you’re compensated for all of them,” said BHS Vice Principal Harrison Blatt.