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Talking in (a HIgh School/College) Class

Chandrea's picture

As I go through my sophomore year here at Bryn Mawr, I've been finding myself constantly making comparisons about my experiences in high school and Bryn Mawr. My high school was a great place and I know I recieved an exceptional education there, but right now I can't help but feel like I've been wronged in terms of how I had to learn things, as if I didn't have any other options to choose from. I've been slowly coming to the realization about why I began to lose interest in classes where the subject I once used to love seemed to be working against me. English used to be my favorite and best subject (perhaps it was my favorite because I was good at it) in elementary and middle school. I loved reading and writing because I was able to use my imagination and I could be creative. But when I took AP Lang and AP Lit in high school, I was miserable. Both of my teachers were wonderful people but I would always get this sinking feeling in my stomach when I stepped into their classrooms because of how difficult of a subject English was becoming to me. I felt rejected, rejected because the subject that I had enjoyed the most was now helping me realize how weak of a student I actually was. A particular activity that helped me feel this way was the Socratic Seminar. Half of the students would sit in a circle and have a discussion about the text and ask each other open-ended questions while their partners (who were sitting outside of the circle) tallied the number of the times their partners were speaking. It was my worst nightmare.

In Tompkins article, she discusses how "in the course of doing what her teachers wanted, [she] became a talker in class" (62). I wish I could say the same thing. I don't know why it was/still is such a problem for me. It's so frustrating that it won't come naturally to me and Tomkins described exactly how I felt in Socratic Seminars: "The feeling of total effacement (and invisibility) when someone else is doing all the talking and you can't think of anything to say would come over me very strongly sometimes..." (64). I just couldn't think of anything to say, even with the 15 minutes our teacher gave us to prepare questions and points to talk about. I think I was just too busy hyperventilating over the fact that I would fail the class if I didn't speak up. Instead of listening to what other people were saying and asking, I was too busy rehearsing what I was going to say. "Just give one tally mark, one!" I silently begged my partner who was sitting behind me, who was probably wondering why I wasn't getting into the conversation. Of course, the talkative people spoke and they got their participation points, and just like Tomkins, "I am feeling smaller and smaller, less and less substantial. I feel if I don't move or say something soon, I'll just disappear" (64).

I think I still struggle with speaking up in college but it's not as difficult as it was speaking up in high school. Are we not doing the same thing in class - actively discussing the texts we were assigned? What are we doing here that makes it slightly easier for me to speak up? I didn't become a braver, confident student overnight, did I?



Sharaai's picture

Reading this post, and

Reading this post, and thinking about my own education in high school and here at Bryn Mawr, I feel that same of my experiences are oddly similar but completely different all at the same time. When I was in high school, I loved Chemistry (so much that I am now a senior chemistry major) but I remember being really hesitant to take AP Chemistry with the same teacher I had taken the “college prep” section with. Before pre-registering for the class, I asked Ms. B if I was going to end up hating the subject because I was doing so much of it and instead of giving me a straight answer, she asked me to think about it. In the end, I chose to take the class because I wanted to explore it some more.

This interaction with her has stuck with me as I progress through my Bryn Mawr career and the range of classes I have taken the last three years. There were points when I was just taking one chemistry course and a point where I was taking only courses that applied to my major. These different times have affected me in opposite ways. I have gone through phases where I want more chemistry because I know what my professors want and need from me and I don’t have to sit around and contemplate a thesis for a paper. But there have also been times where I felt that my knowledge was being capped because I knew exactly what I had to learn and when to stop exploring. I didn’t know whether I should speak up to myself and admit that chemistry wasn’t the correct path for me or keep on and conquer Park.

Clearly, I have chosen to take a small break from Park and explore my options on this campus. But with this exploration, comes the subject of speaking up in class (which brings me back to Chandrea’s original post). The idea of comfort in the classroom has changed and morphed so much from my E-Sem to this current 360 course. Freshman year, I worried that my vocabulary just wasn’t up to par with my classmates. I anxiously repeated my statements in my mind when I even thought about speaking up. I was terrified of saying something incorrectly or of not having enough life experience to apply it to the classroom. I definitely did not conquer this fear in that course but by taking more discussion based classes, I realized that as long as I had a constructed idea, it did not matter if I used big old words with double meanings that you only find in scholarly articles. Because my words mattered just as much as the student next to me. It didn’t matter whether I had travelled to a foreign country and been witness to a story in our readings. Because my life story was completely different than the student on the other side of the classroom. All that mattered was that I could think critically about the classroom and the topic at hand. That I could speak up when I felt the need to and I could actively listen when my classmates spokes. So I didn’t get more brave overnight, I simply (but slowly) realized that my language and my silence were just as important as my peers and professors’.