By Liz Mutter
Volume XXXVII, Issue 2, April 4, 2014
The Awkward Pause Ender. Your professor posed a question 20 seconds ago and no one has answered. Your heart sinks at his expectant look and just as he begins to rephrase the question, you come to the rescue. Kudos for empathizing with your professors, understanding that silences must make them uncomfortable too. You let them know, “Hey, I’m engaged with this stuff. I’ve been listening to you. You and your subject matter matter.” But have you thought about why the other students don’t answer questions right away? Are you assuming that they haven’t done the reading, they genuinely don’t know the answer, or they’re daydreaming? Next time, consider that perhaps some students are engaged and do have an answer, but just need an extra time nugget to organize their thoughts and gather confidence. Side note: Awkward Pause Enders are great with parents.
The Devil’s Advocate. Friends might affectionately call you “The Devil.” Your choice phrases include “to counter that” and “to push back on that.” Or my personal favorite, “piggy-backing off of that, [insert something that contradicts the previous speaker’s point].” You find holes and you poke at them; you push others to consider an issue from multiple perspectives; you’re critical, and that can be good. On the other hand, you might come across as combative towards or dismissive of others’ ideas. Try beginning your counterpoints with concessions, or at least aim for contemplative, rather than aggressive, body language.
The Expert. You have a lot of knowledge to contribute. This class is your jam and your brain is peanut butter. That’s a PB&J sandwich. That’s wonderful. You’re especially good at synthesizing outside information with the course material. But pay attention to the scope of your contribution. Are you talking way more than the average student? Maybe you should cool off for a class and see what you can learn from your peers. Are you constantly referencing David Foster Wallace or asking your professor about material she hasn’t covered yet and that you only know exists because you took AP in high school? If so, consider that your classmates might find this annoying. When you reference something like this, it isn’t helpful to the whole class’s understanding. It can make people feel inferior, which can translate into anger towards you. It’s hard to enjoy a PB&J when people are angry at you.
The “I haven’t really spoken yet and it’s halfway through the semester so if I started now everyone would think I’m weird” Person. Your lack of participation isn’t necessarily for lack of trying. If I had a nickel for every time you’ve kicked yourself because by the time you formulated an articulate response in your head, either the topic of discussion had changed or worse, a classmate made the point you were about to, then I’d carry those nickels to the nearest vending machine and go nuts. Even if you do participate sometimes, you’re simply not a presence. You respect the intellectual conversation, but your high standards for yourself hold you back. Good news: You’re probably a freshman, and you’ll probably grow out of this once you’ve grown into yourself. Regardless, it’s your responsibility to contribute. As much as it’d be nice if certain professors were better at facilitating discussion, or if certain people in your classes would hold back to make room for you, it’s ultimately in your hands to force yourself to just say something once in a while, even if you haven’t found the perfect way to express a thought. Class is a great opportunity to share who you are as a person. The more you showcase yourself, the more likely you are to find a mentor in a professor or a friend in a classmate or a pea under a mattress.
The Alpha. You know you’re an Alpha if you’ve ever lounged so hard in class that a profes- sor thought your yawn-stretch combo was a raised hand, and instead of correcting him, you pulled a contribution out of your ass. Give yourself a high five because you’re never afraid to share what’s on your mind, even if what’s on your mind is a question, and that question is “What in the actual hell is going on?” You get answers for classmates who are just as confused, and you’re not afraid to call out bullshit. Give yourself another high five, this time because it’s fun. Now use one of those hands to grab a mirror and do some reflection. Your confidence is a beautiful thing but be wary of seeming like you don’t take the class seriously. And keep in mind that not everyone is as #blessed as you, so be patient with shyer classmates.
The Once And Done-er. You participate exactly once per class, convinced that all professors keep a class roster under their desks and check off the names of students who’ve participated at least once in a given class session. You want that check and oh, you get that check. An expert multitasker, you fill the remaining 99% of class time browsing Reddit, making a mental list of classmates you’d make out with, or doing work for other classes—all while making eye contact with the professor and nodding thoughtfully. While your strategy is somewhat successful, you might actually enjoy class more if you were fully engaged and participated more spontaneously.
The Apologizer. If you typically begin contributions with “I don’t know if this is right, but…” or “Sorry if this is way off base, but…” then you are a bona fide Apologizer. Fundamentally, you lack— or at least convey a lack of—confidence in the value of what you’re saying. So while it’s great that you’ve overcome this insecurity enough to speak up, it does a great disservice to your points to begin them this way. Imagine Biddy’s tone when speaking up in a meeting: cautious in order to be precise, but never unnecessarily self-deprecatory. Fortunately, Apologizers usually speak this way out of habit, and habits (like hearts) can be broken.
The Grand Theorist. You don’t speak often, but when you do it’s out of left field with an explosion instead of a baseball (and you thought I didn’t know sports). Your phrase of choice is “just throwing this out there,” and if you’re not blowing minds, you might as well be blowing yourself. One time, you tried to convince a class that the narrator of a story was actually a dog. That’s cool, you do you. But don’t be surprised when your theories, untethered by supporting evidence, run away and, according to your parents, are living happily on a farm up north.
So there you have it. If none of the above types seems like you, then you’re probably a figment of someone else’s imagination. Cheers!