Schafer: I’m hyperfocusing on… dumb questions

Columnist Schafer urges students to connect with their professors early on in the semester even though it may be intimidating. Schafer also stresses the importance of asking the dumb questions. 

Cameryn Schafer

This column is a part of a series called “I’m hyperfocusing on…”.

It’s officially a new semester, and with that comes a lot of questions for most students. Even as a junior, I’m still questioning if the lecture hall I walk into is the right room or forgetting the fastest way to Curtiss. (Fun fact: it’s not taking a big loop around the neighboring courtyard and around the parking deck. It’s straight past the other side of the parking deck.)

Despite all the questions we have right now, there’s bound to be more questions as the semester goes on. It’s what we sign up for when we enroll in an education. We’re also signing up for months, and even years, of high stress. There is a way to lessen some of that stress, and it starts with you and your professor.

Growing up, I never had any issues with speaking up in class. My geometry teacher even told my mother during parent-teacher conferences in high school that I was henceforth banned from asking or answering questions in class because my classmates relied on me to do all the participating.

I grew up in a K-12 school. I saw my teachers in the hallway for years before I ever sat in their classroom, and I knew the teachers talked about their students enough that I was recognizable. I knew every student in my class, and had for years, so speaking up in class wasn’t going to change anybody’s perception of me. I could be the only student answering questions in class and that was a normal day.

However, that all changed once I got to college. I didn’t know the professors, I didn’t know who was sitting next to me and the coursework was way more challenging. I was self-conscious. I wanted to participate enough that the professors noticed me without coming off as a brown-noser. I wanted to be engaged without saying something that could possibly be incorrect. I wanted to be a good student without setting an unobtainable expectation for myself. I was so afraid of the possible negative effect that I stayed quiet. I didn’t take the time to talk to my professors and I became passive in my education.

I’ve decided to try to break that cycle this year and I hope that new students can do so too before the cycle starts. In one of my labs today, my professor asked the class to define a term and let us know that whatever we were taught, it was wrong. Regardless, I stuck my hand in the air and offered up the definition I thought was correct. I was wrong. My heart was beating in my throat and I was afraid the professor would think less of me as a student because I was, in fact, wrong.

I kept sticking my hand in the air throughout the lecture, and eventually the professor came over to read my name off the worksheet saying, “I should get to know your name if you’re asking this many questions.” It was reassuring to hear that and I realized the panic I’d been feeling was two things. It was unnecessary, but also, it was worth the outcome. I stayed after class to talk to the professor and we chatted for quite a while. I know that this interaction has set me on a path to have a positive relationship with this professor, which will be reassuring as the semester goes on and coursework gets more difficult, as well as in future semesters (he teaches 13 courses in one of my majors).

In the past, I’ve waited until I was in a tough situation before I reached out to my professors. By talking to them early on, the established rapport will help prevent those tough situations early on. Don’t make the same mistake I did for several semesters. Be engaged in class, participate in discussions, ask the dumb questions and talk to your professors.