What I Wish I Knew In College: Staying Engaged In Class

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!

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.

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.

Mmm, adequate.

Two important distinctions, by the way:

So, what to do?

You’ll get the prime rib.