As annoyed by inattentive 18-year-olds as I was at 18

February 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm (It's all about me, plays well with others)

The Future CEO and I first met in a PolySci class. I sat in the front of the room, raised my hand often, and hung on the professor’s every word; she chatted away in the back. We kind of hated each other. Obviously, those feelings passed as we became friends outside of class. By junior year, a fantastic American History professor had to separate us because we had somehow morphed into a bizarre compromise between our academic styles: we sat in the FRONT, raised our hands, and still chatted away to each other. To this day, she is the person I would choose first for my team if paper writing were a pairs activity, but we are undeniably different learners.

So I get that not everyone needs to hear every word of a lecture. I get that many students show up because they feel obligated. Or because they are required by parents paying tuition (and the mortgage). I get that distraction is actually good training for cubicle nation. But holy Ghandi are the jabbering teenagers in my community college class making me want to commit violence.

I’ve always been the kind of student teachers love. It probably has a lot to do with my desire to learn and my willingness to do the work. In high school, I endured a lot of taunting for…well, for paying attention. For being pleased when I got an answer right. For unapologetically using big words and wanting to sound smart. I couldn’t wait until college, where I expected the teasing to stop. And actually, it did. The Future CEO may have been a disruptor, but it was only because she had already distilled the readings down to their most important points. She answered just as well as I did when Professor Just got all Socratic on us. At Wellesley, it finally felt OK to be smart. I got used to that. I swam in it and let it wash over me. And then, at 30, I went back to school.

I find myself back in a classroom where I have to walk a fine line. I count the number of times I answer questions (three to five is acceptable, but any more gets me dirty looks). And it’s not that I’m bouncing and waving my hand in the air. I’m as passive as I can be considering my natural instincts. I sit quietly and try to avoid making eye contact with the instructor. I’m also not the only one in the room who gets it, I know I’m not, but it’s just not cool to follow along or have an answer, so the others stay silent.

I’m not in high school any more (praise Aristotle), so I can quickly let it go. My self-worth isn’t wrapped up in any notion of popularity amongst virtual strangers and I step out of that classroom back into my life where I feel comfortable being smart and proud that I love to learn. But for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday, it sucks.

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3 Comments

  1. Jess said,

    Oh gosh. I took a class at a university here that was probably one of the worst classes I had ever taken in my entire life. The students simply didn’t care about the material, the professor asked leading questions (are students these days incapable of rational higher thought?), and the coursework was ridiculously easy compared to the class I took as an undergrad with the same content. It was a total waste of time and money.

    I hear you.

  2. amber said,

    I was a good student in college (I was paying my own way, and it was costly) but I suspect I was annoying at best. I feel for you (and for me, as I’m considering going back to school in the fall). 18 yr olds suck.

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