Jeffrey R. Ryan, Ph.D.

I have been teaching history at Reading Memorial High School for over 20 years, and I love my job, my students, and my colleagues.  I am proud of the high caliber of education that we have been offering to the young people of Reading for a very long time.  My heart breaks when I anticipate the assault on our schools if the April override does not pass.  The likely slashing of the budget that the loss of revenue will require will precipitate a catastrophic reduction in the number of teachers in all of our schools.  While my seniority will probably shield me from being fired, the outlook for those of us who survive the coming purge is dismal, discouraging, and thoroughly bleak.


I wish to address a problem that will arise for upper level high school students that many parents may not have considered.  This is the matter of college admissions.  We have an exemplary Guidance Department who are admirably skilled in leading our pupils through the college application process.  I have no doubt that this will continue, although the number of students who will be accepted to prestigious colleges is likely to decline as class sizes grow due to budget cuts.


As most of you know, there are four elements that influence students’ admissions to institutions of higher learning: grades, standardized test scores, student application essays, and teacher recommendation.  It is the latter of these subjects that I intend to discuss here.  Letters of recommendation are a vital part of students’ application portfolio.


By the end of their junior year, most students begin to approach teachers with requests for these formal letters of recommendations.  We are usually happy to help deserving students with the written endorsements that they need.  It is important for us to recall, however, that college recommendations are not a duty required by the contract the Reading Teachers Association has with the School District.   Some teachers specify a certain number of letters they will write each year; others take a more informal approach.  We are happy to help our students though this stressful ordeal of college applications, yet we always remind kids that letter-writing is voluntary.


I have written hundreds of recommendations in the last 20 years at Reading Memorial High School.  Since I teach three classes of honors level juniors, I am asked by lots of students to write their letters.  This year I wrote close to 40; one year I wrote more than 70.  I must emphasize that writing these letters is done as a favor; no compensation is given (nor is it sought).


I am worried that the budget cuts that we are facing will dramatically increase our class sizes.  It will very likely also result in sharp increase in the number of recommendation requests.  We love to help our students, but there is a limit to how many letters we can write and still have time to prepare lessons, grade assignments, attend meetings, and keep ourselves informed about development in our discipline.


The sad matter is that, without a victory for the Override this April, we shall be forced to decline requests to write college letters.  This is not because we are angry or bitter or hostile.  We just will not have the time to accommodate every child who needs a letter.  I cannot predict what impact this will have on the future of the children of Reading, but I can assure you it will be far from positive. 


If the electorate chooses to kill the Override, their taxes will not increase.  Yet their property values will decline, because college admission rates will decline as well.  I love this town, and I fervently hope that the citizens will support the Override.   Please do so to help the children of our town.  Please do so for your own self-interest.  Please do so because the cause is just, right, and honorable.





Jeffrey R. Ryan, Ph.D.,

Department of History


Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, 2003

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