My Opening Story
I recall going up to my English teacher last year to ask for a testimonial. I asked for one that focused more on my debate achievements. She was the dean of English and it could create the impression that she was closely related to debate.
I also recall going up to my Economics teacher for a testimonial. This was meant for all the economics related boards. I didn’t ask for much. The list of achievements spoke for itself. (I am that good)
I even recall my sec four teacher writing a statement with no influence from the students. She very brilliantly gave my entire class the same statement, with a bit of cca differences. What if my classmate and i decided to apply to the same singapore uni? Sheer proof that we didn’t write it for ourselves.
There were quite a number of instances where I asked for a referral letter actually (and I don’t mean medical ones =P). I asked for two for a debate elitist programme before. I asked for one from my cca teacher (right before I quit also =P =P) More recently, I asked my history extended essay mentor for his comments — it was quite pleasing.
Each had their own unique writing style that was impossible for me to match. I was pleased at my very strategic choice of referrers. It is untrue that all testimonials in my school are written by students alone.
Summary of facts.
The reason I am on this topic is because today’s Home page was about students writing their own testimonials. (As usual, it is also because I am extremely bored) I noticed the following things:
1. My school is mentioned in the opening paragraph. Not positively (as usual). Specific focus is given to the school in the opening paragraph despite ten other schools that are said to do the same — only two are mentioned explicitly.
2. There is a vivid real-life example to illustrate a point in a story form. The girl happens to be from my batch. Name and surname given.
3. There is mention of schools defending themselves, but the reader is led to believe that they’re just covering up through denial. Students speak more truth than head of schools who have reputations to protect.
4. A Silence: There is mention of OTHER schools defending themselves, no mention whatsoever regarding my school’s response/defense. Its almost an intention silence, lest it contradicts the beautifully crafted opening paragraph.
5. The above point might be because there is no principal to comment (LOLOL)
6. (And most WTF) One of the co-writers was from my school, my batch – -the example girl mentioned was her classmate. Frankly I don’t really have any idea who she is until someone told me. This is puzzling and I have a lot to say about this in a while.
Overall: another case of subtle criticism on acs. Not that I really care, it merely amuses me– i’m not a fan of organisations, like school and church etc.
The summary stops here.
Question one: Is it wrong to have students write their own testimonials?
The purpose of a testimonial is to have one additional element of selection –a third party provides insights on the character of the candidate. It is merely one of several components, such as interview, grades, personal statements and maybe even some funny games-activity evaluation — but nonetheless an important part.
The problem is that when students write their own testimonials, it defeats the purpose of a teacher’s referral. It is merely an additional personal statement through the mouthpiece of the teacher. It really might as well be done away with.
It is beneficial to the student no doubt. The article itself also raises the practical point that there is no other way since teachers can’t possibly have the time to write for everyone; many of the students whom they do not even know well enough at times.
Some would argue that students could provide a list of achievements. But surely the entire testimonial can’t focus on that alone? what about students with zero achievements? not every cca brings in silverware.
Some would also say that students could submit a personal write-up to the teachers. That is where the slippery slope begins. Teachers will base off the personal writeup in the end ANYWAY.
In principle, it is self-defeating. In practice, it is beneficial and with little alternative. Teachers have to go back to the students eventually.
However, I will assert that teachers are the ones who put a stamp of approval (a bit like Royal Assent to bills of the British Parliament) and editing at the end. They will omit what is untrue and what they do not support in order to be fair.
Which leads me into my second question that I have already started discussing.
Question two: Is the system of testimonials flawed to begin with?
Perhaps testimonials are a flawed system to begin with. It does not aid the process of selection. 1. The assumption is that teachers know that much about their students. Big lectures and quiet classes tend to mean impersonal relationships — we can’t expect everyone in class voicing out right? A student can be a damn hard worker, but just not showing it.
2. Teachers don’t write bad things in their testimonials. People tend to get their favourite teacher to write for them. The recent news is that they don’t even mention disciplinary records. It is in their interest to have their students go far anyway. Education is about getting the papers to move forward lately.
3. Teachers tend to write generic testimonials, which doesn’t say much. “Diligent and passionate, John was a bright boy that worked hard and was interested in lessons.” Right.
4. It becomes a competition over which teacher has better writing skills (why do you think I picked the dean of english =P Its nothing wrong, its just being strategic and making the best choice)
Its not practical either, as mentioned earlier. Think from a teacher’s perspective: admin work, lesson planning, cca management AND to write a personally crafted testimonial for all thirty odd students in your class. Its not an easy task. Teachers are overworked enough as it is.
BUT BUT, maybe testimonials are not meant for the masses. (A bit elitist sounding I know, but that is the basis of SELECTION right?).Perhaps they do matter — not for the ordinary average student, but only when its for someone who already stands out.
So yes, the system is flawed for evaluating the average student. By right, the system will give a poor testimonial to a rascal, an average testimonial to an average student and a well-written one to a good student. I would think that it is for specific highlights to people who have things to boast about.
Personal criticisms that I have:
I tend to refrain from personal comments, but the writer from my school did not make a smart move. I do not mean this as a personal insult (note: I am commenting on an action, not character). Objectively speaking, her article goes against her own self-interest.
First, this tarnishes the reputation of her previous school. It also affects everyone from the school. The implication being that her former teachers and friends can actually see that she is responsible for the writing. Truth be told, I probably be fine if someone from some other school wrote it — AC bashing is the new media trend =P
More importantly, it puts into question her own testimonial, which her credentials are based on — BOTH from her college and secondary school. It is to my knowledge that she is still in the process of applying for university — not exactly a good time to put into undermine credentials.
Furthermore, the mentioned testimonial probably had a role, big or small, to play in aiding her to have a place in writing for the paper.
Perhaps it could be argued that this topic was merely allocated to her, rather than chosen. But even then, there is no need to deliberately place a spotlight on the school…just because it is easy to come up with a trivial example. Surely she had some say, even if the (i’m guessing) more senior co-writer wanted to do so.
Another thing is I’m not sure if the example girl was consulted on the issue. It is unlikely that she would want to be featured in the newspaper that puts her own school in the bad light. If she did, I’d say she is a) attention seeking, b) have little regard to the reputation of her alma mate, c)did not make a smart move either since it undermines her testimonials too, d) all of the above. I’d prefer to think that she wasn’t consulted on the issue.
In sum, my personal criticism is very simple and understandable: why would anyone undermine the basis of their testimonial, which their future depends on?
Having blasted this, I am in a better mood and can get back to studying law.