How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?
In a few words: make a positive impression in class, and always strive to better yourself. I have read phenomenal teacher recommendations for students who did not necessarily ace every test, but who worked diligently in their classes, participated frequently, and showed a true desire in the class he or she is taking. An academic superstar who coasts through all of his or her work and demonstrates little real interest in the material may receive an "A" in the class, but will not leave a positive impression on the teacher. Remember, being a "good student" is not just about grades. It is about motivation, dedication, teamwork, and making a positive contribution to class overall.
It is important for the student to choose his or her teacher recommenders strategically. If you were both an "A" student in a class but were the class clown, it might not benefit you to ask that teacher for a recommendation. If you worked hard all year in a different class, earned a B, and showed a real interest in the academic material, then you would be better off asking this teacher for a recommendation. Ask yourself: what classes were really meaningful to me? Which teachers inspired me, and which teachers did I feel like I connected with? Look deeper into yourself than just the grade you received for the class. Ask yourself: what would the teacher think if I asked for a letter of recommendation?
Regarding timing, remember this rule: ask for that recommendation early! By the end of your junior year, you should have identified your potential teacher recommenders and hopefully will ask them by the second to last week of school. Don't wait until exams to ask: teachers have a lot on their plates at that time. The more time your teacher has to write you recommendation, the more time they have to think about it, which usually results in a stronger letter.
After a teacher has said "yes" to writing your letter of recommendation, you should ask your teacher whether he or she would like to have any additional information about you. Some teachers appreciate receiving "brag sheets" that provide details about a student's accomplishments both in and outside class. If your English teacher is writing you a letter of recommendation, it would be helpful to remind him that you won a poetry competition or worked as an editor for the school newspaper. These little details help bring your academic story to life, and makes the letter of recommendation more interesting to read.