While they are a fun time for students to experience living away from home and for meeting new people from around the country, the college years are also a time for learning. They are a time to be challenged and to think beyond what you have thought before. Whether that is in the form of a challenging biology exam or lab course or a philosophy class that asks you to think abstractly, not all classes should be as easy as classes were in high school.
One class I am taking this semester is known to be more challenging than other social work classes. This is because of the professor’s expectations for students to do all of the reading. On the first day of class, he gave out the Dean’s number in case anyone wanted to call to complain about the fact that he calls on students during class. Apparently a student had done this in the past because they did not like being called on to offer their opinion on a reading in class.
Everyone’s learning styles are different, but if you aren’t asked to challenge yourself and think about your own opinions—or even to have an opinion on the topics you are learning—then I don’t believe that learning can truly happen.
I am not sure if my willingness to talk in class comes from my background in History and English, where most courses are designed around the task of reading for class and then having discussion about the material, or from high school. I had a great high school experience with a teacher who fundamentally shaped me as a student.
It was my first Advanced Placement (AP) class and it was the most challenging class I took in high school. As a sophomore, I had glided through most classes with ease, but did not realize that I had not been challenged until I took this class. The course work was demanding, as it was the first class in high school to require real essays along with handwritten definitions for historical terms and people, which would take hours to complete every week. The format of the class was also challenging, because the teacher called on students randomly and asked them to state their opinion and analysis on various topics.
As a high schooler, this was a frightening experience. I had never been asked to think critically before and had never been challenged by a teacher like this. He would question every student about “why” they stated what they did and push them to further analyze situations. He was not afraid of confrontation, and although it was scary at the time, it helped shape me into the student I am today. Talking in this AP class in high school helped prepare me for conversations in my college courses.
Learning styles can be completely different, but there still is no harm in taking yourself out of your comfort zone in order to learn. In fact I have found that I have learned the most from the classes and experiences where I was uncomfortable, such as traveling abroad and being put on the spot in a classroom. College is not just all about Greek Life, sports and going to parties; it is also about learning and a time to broaden your knowledge about many topics.
Even in graduate school, where one might have more focus on what their profession is and the training for this profession, classes should be challenging and foster opportunities for students to think. I was fortunate enough to get this experience early on in my education thanks to this dedicated high-school teacher, but not everyone gets that kind of opportunity. When it is presented, I feel that people should not shy away from the challenge and should be grateful for the learning experience despite their initial fears.
Abby Assmus would like to thank her high school Advanced Placement U.S. History for being the first teacher to take her out of her comfort zone and inspire critical thinking in the classroom.