When a student comes to you to ask for a reference, for a job or some kind of special fun cool program you wish you'd been offered when you were in school (just a little bit of personal baggage there...) what's the criteria you have for offering the reference?

I generally have a very open-door policy about giving recommendations, because I really want these kids to have a lot of great opportunities. At the same time, writing a couple of references has put me in an odd position. In one case the student had asked after not being anywhere near me for a couple of years, and I wrote it hoping the position she was applying for would be exactly the challenge she needed to get her life organized. In a second one, the kid's mom said to me, "Thanks for writing the reference, but I don't think he's living up to it."

Most of the references I've written haven't caused any trouble like this, but these two stick out in my head as ones I sort of wish I hadn't done.

How do you handle this, and how can I better handle it in the future? Are references a good chance to challenge students, or should they only be given when a list of conditions (and what should be on the list?) are met?

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