I work in higher education as an academic advisor, and I spend a lot of time giving advice I myself didn’t follow as a college student. Welcome to “What I Wish I Knew In College!”
Spring is here, and it’s a busy time of year at your local university. Everyone’s a little tired and stressed, but the finish line is in sight! I’m meeting with the last of my advisees (mostly freshmen) to talk about classes for next fall and assess how the current semester is going, and that means I’m hearing a lot about my students’ classes: what they like, what they don’t, and why.
A big part of working in higher ed is helplessly watching your students make the same mistakes you did (despite advice to the contrary). I imagine it’s a lot like being a parent.
Anyway, one of the biggest mistakes I made in college was failing to realize that my attitude had an effect on the professor. “Wha?” you say? Read on, for I shall explain!
Staying Engaged in Class
As a college student, I wasn’t shy about participating in class if I liked the professor or thought the course was worthwhile.
I was also frequently pretty disengaged. If I wasn’t into a class, I had no problem staring at my desk, doodling in my notebook, or sometimes even putting my head down on the desk and going to sleep. What an ass, right?
Being on the other side of the podium has opened my eyes, boy. Let me tell you, the receptiveness and interest of the students is hugely important. When I walk into a classroom to give a lecture (I teach a study skills/life skills class), the first thing I assess is the mood of the group. “What do I have to work with today?”
Now, I happen to love public speaking. I’d rather give a lecture than eat a Big Mac (really). Even for me, though, a disinterested audience really kills the vibe (and anyone who’s ever given the last speech of the day in a public speaking class knows this).
Here’s the thing most students don’t realize: there are really two potential versions of each college lecture: the prime rib version and the Nutraloaf version.
Prime Rib vs. Nutraloaf
An engaged, receptive class gets me excited and makes me a better speaker. I take more chances, I’m more animated, and I involve the students to a higher degree, because hey, they’re into it. My lecture is prime rib: juicy, succulent and cooked to perfection.
A sleepy, bored class is a chore to speak to. I start out as my usual chipper self, but if no one’s working with me, I end up taking fewer chances and involving the students less. This is the Nutraloaf version of the lecture: sufficient, but dry and bland.
Two important distinctions, by the way:
- The Nutraloaf version might still be really good! I put enough time into content and preparation that none of my lectures is a snoozefest, but each one is way better when the audience is into it.
- One of the skills a great speaker needs is the ability to win an audience over. This is something I’m finding myself getting better and better at, but it’s still an uphill battle that I’d rather not fight, given a choice.
It’s cyclical, too, like all human relationships. A bored class gets a boring lecture, which bores them further.
So, what to do?
Meet the Professor In the Middle
Put yourself in the professor’s shoes, and remember that it’s no fun to lecture to a group of people who look like they’d rather be anywhere else. You don’t have to sit ramrod-straight in your chair with a big fake grin on your face (definitely don’t do that), but make an effort to dig it and show that you’re digging it. You’ll find that you’re getting better lectures and getting more out of them.
You’ll get the prime rib.