When I first heard that grad students should ask former students to write recommendations of their teaching, I thought to myself that I would be way to embarrassed to ever ask my students to say nice things about me.
But one day this winter, buoyed by three compliments on my course from students, I wrote several students from my last six courses. I chose to write a mass e-mail, because I didn’t want any particular student to feel pressured to respond. I tried to give them a few “outs” so they didn’t feel bad if they didn’t want to do it. I told them that I knew they were busy and that I understood that they may not remember the details of the course that well.
One smart thing that I did was offer to show them a recommendation I had written for a professor up for tenure so they would have some idea of what was appropriate to discuss. All the students who wrote were eager to see that letter; they would have had a much harder time without it.
I am so glad I asked. Five of my students enthusiastically agreed, and their letters have been so kind. It’s been a real boost during this last semester. I feel like I have accomplished something while I’m here–I don’t think any of my students from my first few classes would have described me as “organized.” But the students also claimed to have learned real, useful skills that have benefited them outside of my class.
So, I say it’s worth the embarrassment! However, if you feel uncomfortable approaching students out of the blue, it might still work to ask students who tell you they enjoyed the class (either at the end of their final exam, in person, or via e-mail) or even to ask for a little reciprocation if a student wants you to write a recommendation for them.