Recently, because I love a good story, I volunteered to be a judge in the Boston University Student Employee of the Year Competition. Apparently, this is a very prestigious award, because as I was told in my letter, the participants can move on to regional and national competitions. I don't know how the judging goes for that, but I would imagine it entails filing and answering phones in front of a whole panel of judges.
My job as judge involved me reading letters written by the students' supervisors extolling their virtues. Now, for some background, I have worked at BU almost ten years and have seen a lot of work-study students come and go. But some of these students, even the undergrads, do more work than I do, and certainly more work than I ever make my students do (I guess I would qualify as a push-over.) obviously, I can't reveal any names or anything, but one kid apparently wears a shirt and tie to work every day. I certainly don't do that. Even Formal Fridays were just a mockery of Casual Fridays.
But the thing that really jumped out at me was the wording of some of these letters. these letters of rec were written by professional staff members at Boston University, the immediate supervisors of these students. Now, I will be the first to admit that I may not set the best example to these kids as far as being a pillar of the community, but at least I know my grammar. Besides, these letters were written with the knowledge that they will be read by fellow staff members who will be judging your students based on this description of their activities and attributes. A quick read-through may not be out of the question here. At least twice (on two different letters) were male students referred to as "she," leading me to wonder if these were basically form letters with the names changed. And how about this sentence, copied verbatim from the letter (The only thing I've changed is the students name, but I kept the same amount of syllables to keep the flow. Try reading it aloud):
"When we moved a new task to the web from Galaxy Smedley would make sure that he would start using the new web-based function instead of the old Galaxy function even though he was more familiar with the Galaxy-based function because he knew that he would soon be explaining the web function to people on the phone and would need to help his colleagues understand how to use the function."
I think I need him to explain that sentence. maybe the new function could help this person write. Need I stress again the proof-reading, these are professionals here, earning a salary. Not to mention that this person apparently works in the payroll office and determines whether people (myself included) get paid on a weekly basis or not. Also, this letter is not some e-mail to your friend (or some rambling blog post.) This is a letter meant to get your student an award. I must admit, at least subconsciously, the shoddiness of this letter may have affected my view of this kid and cost him a few points. I mean, maybe she's wrong about him. After all, she can't even put a comma in a sentence.
I don't want to beat this dead horse, but it's pretty obvious that the more ways we have to communicate nowadays is just making us lazier. E-mails, texts and Instant Messages are making us more ignorant when it comes to professional settings. And did I mention that I work at a university, where our actual goal, at the very core, is to shape young minds?
I wanted to close with my personal favorite: One letter I read was for a grad student who was in the science department, and was doing major research on Alzheimer's disease. Not only had this student been published already in her field, but get this: she also planned the office Holiday party "that was a big success showing us her clear leadership skills."
I wish my leadership skills were judged on how good a party I threw.