Always a step behind

I have never been a very interesting student to have in class.

Now, I think that without too much immodesty I can speculate that many, perhaps even most, professors have enjoyed having me in their course. I can write a mean paper in most circumstances; my words and ideas, and I with them, come alive upon the page. But rarely does my hand rise above my head.

It is not precisely that I have nothing to say. I am paying intense attention to the conversation (unless I am distracted by the pulchritude of a classmate, which is, historically speaking, a common enough eventuality), and I feel very engaged typically. But my synthesis and critical thought take their sweet time percolating in my noggin. By the time I do have what seems to me an intelligent observation to offer the class, the conversation has usually moved well along.

So what, you ask, is my deal? I’m just slow, I guess. Watching my classmates work up a buzz with counterarguments and on-the-other-hands is thrilling, but it is also discouraging. Try as I might, I just don’t have responses of my own to throw into the ring. The esprit de l’escalier I will come up with late that night will do nothing for either my participation grade or my social integration into the discourse community.

It is possible I could do more: I could read extra voraciously between class meetings. I could pose wide-ranging discussion questions for myself, and craft an engaged and eloquent persona on paper that, with rehearsal, I could then find the courage to enact in the classroom. That might get me in the game. It might result in my deeper engagement in the class; I might even learn more that way. Or it might be a lot of work just so that I can hear my own voice. And ultimately, it might just not be me. So maybe I should just remain attentive, take good notes, read well, write with excellence, and sit back and enjoy the view.

3 thoughts on “Always a step behind

  1. I should qualify that opening statement: I can recall twice in my academic career where I was deeply engaged and confidently participatory. Both of those were discussion-intensive literature courses with a mechanism of daily response writing, forcing me to come into each class with at least some degree of reflected, clarified, and meaningful opinion about something. It is hard not to enter into engaged discourse when you are that prepared.

    Perhaps the solution to my reticence is a fairly obvious one after all…

  2. It’s fantastic to know someone else that experiences a similar phenomenon. Though many times, I wish to be more tuned into what’s even happening in class. Never is there a lack of thought about a subject on my part, but it doesn’t happen in any traditional academic sense.

  3. I too feel engaged in the receiving end of class, but not too much in the giving end unless I happen to have a sound base of experience on a particular subject. Even then, when I do speak up, my palms sweat, my heart races, and my voice shakes. After I have said what I had to say, i am exhausted mentally and physically as my body is still tense for another minute or so. I ask myself, “Did I really just speak up? Did I make sense? Did anyone care? Did anyone object?” Woe is us.

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