Do I need to make friends to learn? By Guest Author: Amelia Hurd

On the first day of Kimberly’s class, Teaching as a Profession, I knew it was going to be good. I showed up five minutes early to a silent room of about thirty five students. Her Teaching Assistant, Kira, was also there early and broke the silence by making a joke about it, telling us that the class changed her life. I was excited to see what a ‘life-changing’ class would be like and quickly accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to relax in my chair this time while the teacher did all the intellectual work.

Kimberly sent a welcome message on Canvas the day before and there was a picture of her next to her name. I couldn’t really tell what she looked like, but for some reason, I didn’t picture her being that warm. She had a very straight back and looked very serious in the photo, standing behind a podium. But then she showed up, having been waiting outside with a bunch of other students, not aware that the last class had let out early. Her genuine kindness and energy radiated across the whole room. She seemed so happy to see us all. This kind of energy is not something a student forgets. She explained that everything she did as an instructor had a rationale behind it, pointing out techniques she employed that made it easier to form a classroom community that supports deep learning.  She let us know when she didn’t do anything to fill the silence when a question was asked to the class, and told us it was up to us to fill it. She stepped back often and put the leadership in our hands.  

This was a class full of interactions with other people. While I found that a little difficult, especially the task of finding my own partner or group, I really liked having that guidance and nudge. I took comfort in the expectation that we had to talk, because it wasn’t the talking I was uncomfortable with, but the initiating. Sometimes, I would show up to class feeling kind of down, not looking forward to the high energy discussions, but somehow I would always leave class in a good mood, feeling more connected to my classmates and validated by them, which was apparently what I needed to cure my bad mood.  

As much fun as I had in this class I avoided arriving at the classroom early, when it would have been more convenient, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the awkward silence of everyone being on their devices or just staring ahead. I also didn’t know how to talk to Kimberly, even though she was nicer than pretty much anyone I’d ever met. I didn’t realize before how much I planned every little part of my day to avoid awkwardness or any interaction that wasn’t being facilitated by someone else until I was in this situation where I had gotten to know my teacher and classmates quite well, liked them, and still avoided non-facilitated interaction with them.      

I knew I had some social anxiety problems before, but my experience in this class got me to see that it’s really not a preference of mine to be silent. Maybe it’s simply a discomfort or unwillingness to take on everything a new relationship entails; getting to know someone else, keeping up with said person, helping out when something comes up. Is this just a form of laziness disguised as social anxiety, or can it be both? 

Maybe it comes from a place of not knowing what the relationship is supposed to be, so avoidance is easier. I’m used to being separate from teachers; below them, the recipient of their knowledge, a spectator of their performance. My priority concerning teachers has always been get good grades from them, not to establish a relationship with them. I’m not remotely used to the idea of authority figures being anything like a friend to me, but I am realizing that I don’t need to see their role in grading as a form of control, but simply a measurement of my growth as a way to help me.  

In my College of Education courses, it’s been made clear to me that teacher/student relationships are one of the most important factors in successful learning. Relationships are important factors to success in life. The fact that I’ve kept my own head down in class, quietly ‘playing school’ by getting good grades is ironic. The habits that stem from this mindset are not easy to thwart. Learning and socializing have been taught as separate activities to me. I’m happy to finally found out that they’re not.  

Sadly, in all my undergrad experience, which involves two community colleges and two universities, Kimberly’s class has been the only one to feel like a community, so it has to be up to me to make my other classes feel that way, too. While I wish it could always be up to the teacher to make that happen, they more often prioritize content knowledge and lecture. Besides, I am an adult who is preparing to be a teacher, so making up for professors’ choices and cultivating my own community in each class will only benefit me. But just having that one dream, utopian class with Kimberly needed to happen. I needed to find out what being on the receiving end of good teaching felt like and it felt really good.

My goal for next quarter is to introduce myself to the professor at some point during the quarter. Usually, my obstacle is thinking that I don’t have any questions, so there’s no reason to talk to the professor. Now, I know to jot down questions in my notebook throughout class, so I have no excuse to back out when the time comes. Even just introducing myself for five seconds with nothing else planned is a heck of a start and a small, helpful goal that can help build the relationships I know are so crucial to learning.