Ugh. September already?
I have had ambivalent feelings toward this month for fifteen years! Dread of September and of school quickly replaces the dissatisfaction of spending yet another summer day doing nothing. June, July, and August often feel monotonous—you are finally meant to have all this time and yet it is nearly impossible to find a meaningful way to spend it. You’re bored stiff, but that’s nothing compared to watching September inch its way closer.
The professor expects us to have the first novel completed on day one?
Why did I ever think signing up for an 8 AM class was a good idea?
There’s a quiz AND a response paper due each week?
The first days of school have always been a source of anxiety for me. My social anxiety takes me for a ride as I move from one new class to the next, encountering the people I’m meant to spend the next fifteen weeks alongside. If the class is small enough, instructors often like to go around the room and have each student share something about themselves. As I wait for my turn, my heart beats faster and my hands go clammy and I become a very noticeable red color. My brain likes to treat a ten-second introduction of myself like I’m testifying in court and could be held in contempt.
The first day of class is also when the instructor typically hands out the syllabus—the packet that outlines the trajectory of the course, when assignments are due and how those assignments will be weighted at the end of the semester. It’s as I look over the syllabus that it begins to sink in just what sort of commitment this class is going to be. I compare the syllabi I got for my other courses and try to prioritize and divide up my future time between them all. Despite fifteen years of exasperation and exhaustion, I love learning. I love encountering new ideas, materials and concepts and then applying and sharing my own perspective with others. I don’t even truly mind the hard work that it takes to accomplish this. I am extremely hard on myself, however, when I can’t do enough or come up short. When I get a poor grade or miss an assignment, I despair and worry and beat myself up. The assignment and the way I failed, no matter what other academic successes I may have had, become all I can think about. I find it difficult to enjoy being in class after that.
“Well,” you may be thinking, “you’re still in college after three years, what are your tips and tricks to work around all this anxiety?” I’m glad you asked.
- First day script—if an instructor asks for student introductions and there’s time before your turn, jot down a few key points that you would like to share. Doing something to prepare helps me to curve some of the anxiety I feel at addressing the class.
- Participation points—get to know your instructor and show them that you’re engaged with the material by answering their questions or posing some of your own! I find that I am much more comfortable speaking in class (and become more excited about the material) if I consistently contribute to the discussion every time I’m present. This can also win you some points (literal and figurative) with your instructor—I don’t know how many times I’ve had instructors tell me that student engagement and insight are what they value most in a classroom. Don’t feel as if you have to be the one to answer each and every question, though—even the smallest of insights can go a long way towards making you more comfortable and contributing to the discussion.
- And, finally, don’t be too hard on yourself—yes, in college getting the best grades you’re capable of is important. Still, this doesn’t mean that life and its pressures take a back seat. At the end of the day, a grade is not worth jeopardizing your mental well-being. Last semester, a family member shared the news of a devastating diagnosis with me the night that I was meant to work on a paper. After getting the news, I found that there was no way I could concentrate on my schoolwork. I sent my instructor an email explaining the circumstances and accepted a zero for the paper. I had never received a zero on any big assignment in my entire time at school, but I knew that I was too broken up to even attempt it. The time that I would have spent writing, I called my family member and then my sisters and lifted myself out of this despairing place into a more hopeful one. If life throws you a curveball while you’re at school, don’t be ashamed or afraid to prioritize yourself over your grades. You’ll often find your instructors to be very understanding of extenuating circumstances, but even if they aren’t, you should take care of yourself first and foremost!
These are a few of the things that have helped me in all my years at school and I hope they can help a few of you as well.
By: Hannah Kroeger, Anxiety In Teens Contributor