Email from student who took my class 3 years ago:
"Dear Professor M, I know we haven't discussed this or anything, but will you please send a letter of recommendation to Northern School for me? They've lost the letters from one of my other recommenders and I can't get in touch with that person at this time. Thank you."
This is only one version of such irritating requests. Now, I'm happy to write a letter for any of my good students, and even some of the fair -to-middling ones. Provided that they ask me appropriately -- not just assume that I will do it for them. And that they provide me with some information about where they're applying and why. I have a routine checklist of information that I demand from any student who asks for a rec letter -- which both gives me enough information to write a decent letter, and scares off the trivial requests. But this sort of request is especially irritating:. Partly because of the assumption that I will automatically do it; partly because (and this causes more sadness than irritation I suppose) our students at Large Urban University just don't know any better. They don't know how to write a good application unless someone shows them. We try to do some of that education in our dept, but it's not always successful. And, in this particular instance: she wasn't an especially strong student and I really wouldn't have much positive to say about her. ("when she attended class and did the readings, which was maybe 60% of the time, her comments were good" ) So given that -- how sad is it that she's asking me for a letter? and basically b/c someone else screwed up and didn't send one.
OK, rant over. my excuse: I've got a horrible chest cold and fever makes me especially cranky. Now, back to grading those essays...