I find it odd, and a bit fascinating, how both my learning style and my general attitude towards school has changed over the last forty-plus years.
When I was in high school in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the model student, behavior-wise. I always paid attention in class and was somewhat of a teacher’s pet (although I never went so far as to remind the teacher when she neglected to assign homework). I am less of an academic brown-noser in college now, but I do pay attention and am usually among the first to participate during interactive exercises in the classroom.
In high school, I took reams upon reams of notes for each class. Rather than having one of those five-subject notebooks, I had a separate binder for each class, and often had to literally run to my locker, change notebooks, and run to my next class so as to not be late. Now, I just open a word document on my laptop and type – much easier, much more efficient.
Most interestingly, though, is how my level of effort has changed over the years.
In high school, I tried to be a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. I tried to always be among the first to class so I could sit up front, and was usually among the last to leave when class was over.
As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, and as my classes now seem to overlap with previous classes more and more, I find myself relying more on memory. How many different ways can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be covered in a classroom setting, after all?
Perhaps most tellingly, though, as I no longer hold teachers, instructors and professors on a pedestal as I did when I was (much) younger. I can see now, as an adult myself, that they are just people who are playing the role of teacher, just as I’m playing the role of student.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I prepare for tests and writing assignments. I have now been doing this long enough that I’m confident – perhaps too confident – in my academic abilities, and so I find myself putting into the class 1) as much effort as it takes to get an A, and 2) as much effort as the instructor puts into it.
Currently, I am taking two college-level courses.
One class is being taught by an instructor who, while he knows the subject material very well, is new to teaching and therefore is still finding his way. He always comes to class prepared for lecture and discussion, but many of the assignments are not well thought out, and as he isn’t quite sure what to expect for the wide range of students in this class, he tends to grade more leniently than might be expected.
I find myself doing the bare minimum in this class, which thus far has been more than enough to carry a high grade. I would consider this class to be less than challenging, which is actually a good thing considering everything else I have going on (full time job, family, etc.).
My other class is being taught by a seasoned veteran of teaching. He also knows his subject extremely well, and his lectures are always entertaining and engaging. He assigns a plethora of written assignments, gives a quiz after each chapter, and tests frequently. This class has been a challenge because of the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed.
However, due to the sheer number of students he has over his numerous classes, he rarely has time to review the written assignments, electing to give this task over to his teaching assistants instead. It quickly became evident that these papers were not being graded for content, but rather that they met a strict set of structural criteria (correct font, specific formatting, etc.). This realization has made writing these papers simultaneously easier and more difficult. Intellectually, I know I just have to meet the physical requirements and stay relatively on-topic to get a good grade on these papers, but psychologically I still find myself trying to write the best content possible for an assignment that I’m reasonably certain no one will be reading for content.
So, upon further refection, I guess I haven’t changed so much, when it comes right down to it – I’m still doing what is necessary to get the grades I want. I’m still learning new things, of course, much of which will have no real application outside of the classroom. But my focus remains on doing well within the system – i.e. getting good grades – just as it was forty years ago.