Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Expounding on the super smart Honors undergrad...

...if you recall my weak little post from the other day (here) I was venting a bit after a particularly frustrating day in class in which a very intelligent undergrad showed up all of the graduate students--yet again. I mean, he busted out with some Hebrew vocab! A student of this sort has been in every one of my graduate classes, it seems, and I'm going to venture to say that this has happened to just about every gradstudent out there--getting shown up, consistently, by a know-it-all undergrad.

What really bothers me is that I used to be one of them. My hand would shoot up before the question was even fully formed and my answer, even if half-baked, would be enough for the professor to lead me into its fully fledged form. (Recalling my undergrad days, and my pompous self-assuredness, I shudder to think what my fellow students thought of me. )

I've had this in my own classroom, of course. Sometimes it's a relief (at least someone is entering discussion) but oftentimes I want to finish my questions with "anyone other than...?" It can be a frustration as well as an excuse for other students:

frustration: I really want to say something, but I'm not sure how to articulate it. By the time I think of a decent sentence, the question has been answered and we're moving on.

Excuse: Why do I need to bother talking or adding my two cents, when dude will do it for me?

Depending on the day, I can include myself in either category.

* * *

My final undergrad semester, I took an upper level English lit course with my sister. On the first day, she leaned over and whispered: Look at all the grad students--they always sit in a pack and no matter what they say, they're just repeating what the teacher has said, or some critic.

And four years later, here I am. Front row: Grad students only. I am frantically searching in the extra notes I took for the sole purpose of outdoing this kid (though I'm trying to look thoughtful and deliberate as I do so). In the meantime he raises his hand, sounds out his answer on the spot without eventhinking about it*, and its a go. On to the next stanza...

*well, I'm sure he thought about it. But he wasn't racking his brain for the best way to articulate it, and coming up with back up defenses just in case...

Where is my own head? What happened to my own thoughts? Didn't I come into this with genuine questions and lots of curiosity? What am I so afraid of? It's possible that I have been contorted by my own competitive zeal, and now, rather than being self-confident, I am overthinking everything.

But why? This is embarassing...[allow me to digress for just a moment]

I have the teacher evaluation sheet nearly memorized. When I talk in front of my classroom, I keep it in mind almost constantly. I have this paranoid (okay, delusional) fear that my students do, too. Yes, I know--half of them don't even realize that teacher evaluations exist (despite the specific entry on the course schedule). Some of this has translated into my life as student. I imagine my professors tallying up my comments in discussion (okay, delusional), making notes here and there "Beeyotch unable to recognize simple pronoun antecedent..." or "completely out of touch with the text..."

I don't know where it came from, but I do believe I've got a genuine case of discussion anxiety. I don't mind expressing my thoughts and interpretations on paper (er, screen); the process is often exciting and rewarding. But when I've got to just spout out answers and defend the holes that are poked in them, I crack up into little stuttering pieces of nonsense.

No comments: