Here’s the Deal

As this academic year limps across the finish line I am reflecting on what I’ve learned, what things I must change, what things that should be apparent but must be made explicit.  Today these reflections resulted in articulation of a new principle:  The Implied Covenant of Continued Performance.  It’s simple.  If I write a recommendation for you–for law school, for an academic award, for employment–then you promise to continue to perform at nothing less than the same level as your pre-recommendation performance.  To put it another way, you promise not to do anything after I write the recommendation that makes me want to rescind it.  You promise to continue to prepare for class, engage with the course material, contribute materially to discussions, research and write to the best of your ability, and act like the type of student you hope I described in the recommendation.

Or, to put it yet another way, you conduct yourself as if you want me to recommend you again.

Understood?

Explanation Given

Some interesting comments followed Explanation Wanted, a recent post prompted by my difficulties responding to a recommendation request from a former student.  (These comments appeared in my Google Buzz feed, not on this site.)  Two comments thought it a desperate response to the competitiveness of law school admission or a misinterpretation of law school application signals to favor a recommendation from a law teacher, even if the student received higher grades in other courses.  Personal or family issues may have caused the student’s performance that semester to suffer. (If that happens to you, clue in your teachers.)  I agree with the comment that “students can fall through the cracks.”  Some years back, concerned about some students who passed through my classroom like ghosts, I strongly encouraged every student to see me in office hours during the first six weeks of the semester.  About 80% of my students those semesters responded.  These meetings were helpful for me, but were inefficient.  The same comment noted that office hours “can be very problematic for students with high levels of commitment elsewhere, or for students who are particularly unadjusted to networking and communication with teachers (aka shy).”   Thinking also of my post about diminishing attendance at office hours, if students spend less time in face to face contact with faculty–whether because they are busy, or they think an email message is just as good, or they can’t see any benefit that will come from talking with a professor, the decline in the number of students I know well enough to recommend could provide me with abundant free time.