School is cool
I guess you could say a lot has changed in four short years. I went to a relatively small high school, where all of my teachers knew everything about me. They knew what community service I was involved in, who my closest friends were, if I was doing poorly in another class and the type of academic work I was capable of. If I didn’t produce this quality of work, it was obvious, and they would certainly call me out on it, pushing for me to do better the next time. In high school, my teachers never asked for more than I was capable of.
Fast forward those three summer months that made such a difference. My first semester here, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the student body. The number of people in my dorm was more than in my entire graduating class.
I obviously hadn’t expected things to stay the same. I didn’t want them to, but having huge classes with professors who didn’t know, or really seem to care, about even my name was a total shift from my high school experience. I began to feel like a face in the crowd and slowly but surely, I became less engaged in my course load. More and more, I only did what was needed to get by. I was “learning” about subjects I had no interest in, to fulfill graduation requirements that I would later end up satisfying with more interesting courses anyway. Like most of my peers, I was doing more work than I ever had before while simultaneously earning lower grades, which was even more discouraging.
I ended up focusing more on the University environment than I did on the curriculum. I spent time exploring extracurricular activities, hanging with friends or experiencing Mr. Jefferson’s University without the key component of actually caring about learning. Classes were something I did only to maintain my status as a University student and reap all the benefits. I was generally apathetic to my academics. After all, C’s get degrees too, right?
To be clear, I don’t blame the professors or really any part of the University, because I don’t think it’s feasible for professors to be able to get to know all of their students at such a large school. Those who do so should certainly be commended.
If anything, it’s my own fault. I was used to having teachers make the first move to get to know me, and I didn’t know how to react when they didn’t. I didn’t feel comfortable going to office hours. I was a first year, or even a third year, so who was I to argue with John Locke or question a professor? I felt like I’d be wasting their time. The only thing worse than being an unknown face would be being known as a dumb girl who wasted the professor’s office hour. As time passed, I became even more disengaged, more apathetic. My dad continually reassured me that once I narrowed my choice of study down, and took courses I found genuinely interesting, I would do better.
It wasn’t really until I took a summer class after my third year that I got the wake-up call I was in such desperate need of. I ended up in a small class with a professor who challenged me in a way I hadn’t been for three years. I couldn’t hide in the back; I couldn’t avoid his questions. More importantly, I didn’t want to. I adjusted the next semester’s classes to include courses that would provide the same environment. It was undoubtedly my best semester yet. I had incredible professors who genuinely cared, and, most importantly, I cared.
If you’re looking at your schedule thinking you’re not interested in this semester’s load, fix it. SIS is one huge pain, but as I can personally attest it’s never too late to add a class. When you read The Course Forum, look for reviews that evaluate the professor. Find the good ones. Take small classes. You might have to do your homework every night, you might not be able to cower in the back, but it will be worth it. Professors will have a chance to get to know you in the classroom and that will open doors outside of it. Take classes you care about. As he is sometimes, my dad was right. When you find things you are passionate about, you will do better.
To be fair, that’s more difficult than it seems. The University affords us so many opportunities it can be overwhelming, but if you feel yourself slipping away and giving up on learning, fix what you’re doing. You can find classes and professors that engage you and encourage you to care about learning. And that will make your time here so much better.
Abbi’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.