You know how you wait until your parents are in a good mood before you ask them for something? Do that with this.
That means: Don’t ask your teachers during lunch. (They’re humans. They eat.)
Not right before class. (You’ll interrupt their class-prepping mojo.)
Not in the middle of class (just, no).
Two better options for when to ask for a letter of recommendation:
Schedule a brief meeting with your teacher in advance.
Shoot them an email asking if they have five minutes to chat with you about college sometime in the next week, then set up a time and don’t be late. The thoughtfulness will add another jewel to your crown in Letter of Recommendation heaven.
Wait until all the students have left the classroom at the end of the day, and cautiously approach the teacher, as you would a wild animal.
Here’s a sample dialogue that works:
You: “Ms. Smith, do you have five minutes to talk?” (This is key. You’re inviting her into the conversation, while also giving her a quick out if she needs one.)
Ms. Smith: “Sure, Johnny. What’s up?”
You: “Well, I’m in the throes of applying to college. I’ve got some deadlines in about three months, so I’m trying to be proactive and organized before all hell breaks loose. (She’ll love you for thinking ahead.) That’s why I’m here. Of all the teachers I’ve had, I think you know me the best, and I’m wondering: Would you be willing and able to write me a strong letter of recommendation?” (The word “strong” gives teachers a polite out if they feel like they don’t know you well enough or don’t have time to take on your letter.)
Ms. Smith: “Oh Johnny, I thought you’d never ask.” (She probably won’t say this, but you can dream.)
You: “Really? That would be wonderful/epic/lit. Tonight I’ll email you all the relevant information — my resume, my list of colleges and their deadlines, and some bullet points with stuff I’ve done in class. (See below for more info on this follow-up email.) Is there anything else you’d like from me?
Ms. Smith: “Wow, no, I think that about covers it. Thanks, Johnny.”
You: “Thank you, Ms. Smith!”
(Turns away, nearing the door. Stops as if remembering something, turns back toward Ms. Smith with a winning smile.)
You: “Oh, Ms. Smith! I almost forgot to ask … what’s your favorite coffee shop?”
Ms. Smith: “Oh heavens. Starbucks, I think. Why?”
You: “No reason! Have a great day!”
(Skips out the door and immediately jots “Starbucks — Ms. Smith” into notes app, because you’ll be getting her a Starbucks gift card and thank-you note when all this is over.)
And that’s how it’s done.