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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I must differ with something you stated in a recent column. For high school teachers and some counselors, being asked to write a letter of recommendation is not always a compliment. There are many students (and parents!) who think that teachers OWE them a letter. Around college application time, teachers are flooded with requests. The result is that teachers write generic letters that often have little bearing on the true abilities of the students, simply because of the volume of letters requested.

Students are not always thoughtful in making their requests, so please allow me to offer a few suggestions that will guarantee worthwhile teacher recommendations:

(1) Teachers are very busy. Don't leave your request for the last minute and expect it to be accommodated.

(2) Provide the teacher with all of the relevant information about your high school career, such as student activities, work experience, future plans for study and career, and why you're applying to a particular school.

(3) Provide a stamped, addressed envelope if the recommendation is to be mailed.

(4) Write a thank-you note to the teacher for taking valuable personal time to help you. This is good practice for job applications later on.

(5) Parents, this is your child's job, not yours. However, if a teacher has played a significant role in your child's life, a handwritten note from you is more precious than any "teacher-themed" trinket gift, and appropriate at any time of the year.

Most teachers want to see their students succeed. A little planning and good manners make all the difference. -- A POPULAR TEACHER, MINNEAPOLIS

DEAR POPULAR TEACHER: Your suggestions are excellent. I hope that students will take note of them and do some advance planning before asking their teachers for letters of recommendation. That way everyone will be a winner.

DEAR ABBY: My ex-wife and I divorced several years ago. After a three-year court fight, I was awarded custody of our two daughters. In spite of this, my ex and I are on friendly terms. I have remarried and have a stepchild. My ex had a baby by a man who is now locked up for two years in a drug rehab facility. She has just informed me that she's planning on moving in with another man and wanted me to know he is a registered sex offender. I looked it up on the Internet and learned he committed aggravated assault on a 10-year-old child.

Abby, I am concerned about sending my girls over to stay with their mother on weekends. I want to trust her judgment, but not at the risk of jeopardizing my children. I went to my mom for advice. All she could say was, "I know you will do the right thing."

I don't know what to do. I want my ex to be happy. Maybe this is the soul mate she's been looking for, but I can't help being concerned about my children's safety. What should I do? -- A DAD IN A DILEMMA

DEAR DAD: Your ex-wife told you about her boyfriend's criminal record to give you the opportunity to call the shots -- so do it. Since her taste in men is so poor, you must safeguard your daughters' welfare. Tell her for the children's safety, they will not be staying at her house.

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