Thanks for your comments Connie, Melissa, and Mike! It is so nice to hear from BU parents, and I appreciate your insights.
I have been thinking a lot about this issue, and your responses, and I’ve formulated a theory. The big theme of freshman year is transtition. A freshman has (most likely) been transplanted from everything familiar in his or her life–city, state, home, friends, sports, school, job–and dropped into a completely new way of living where all those elements are different, and the skills required to handle them have to be mastered all over again. It’s like being on Survivor. And the learning curve for all this is about three-and-a-half years long.
How does this relate with students visiting with professors? Well, trying one intimidating thing is hard enough, but when you ask students to take on all of these changes, and then on top of it walk right up to the person who represents the particular thing that is most challenging for them, and say, “I need help,” that’s asking a lot.
I think this is also especially diffcult for BU students because they are, generally, very bright. A lot of them have spent their academic careers at a high level of performance, and when suddenly confronted with newer and more challenging curriculum (and, perhaps, a lower grade than they’re accustomed to), they’re also confronted with an unfamiliar predicament: a situation in which they have to admit what they don’t know. I think that’s the embarassment to which Melissa referred.
As adults, this admission of weakness is a skill we’ve grown into. We learned a long time ago that, most of the time, it behooves us to say, “Hey, this clearly isn’t my strongest suit. I’m gonna need some help.”
Adolescents though, are still coming off the high of “knowing everything” (like you do in high school), so showing up in the doorway of a professor and admitting that they need help may feel like failure. The irony of this is that professors know it’s often the surest way to success.
It’s an incredibly difficult struggle, but I think two of the most valauble things a freshman can learn are that a) you’re not going to be great at everything, and that’s OK, and b) admitting that you’re not the best at something is often the fastest and most effective way to improve.
In closing, I’ll say this: I learned a lot at Bellarmine. I got a tremendous education, for which I will always be grateful. However, I learned almost as much outside the classroom as I did in it. I developed relationships with professors in my department and touched base with them regularly. My visits were sometimes based on classroom performance and course content, but not always. I sensed their enthusiasm for their discipline and wanted to emulate it. I dearly hope that other students can continue to have this experience.
For other info about student/faculty interaction, check out this blog I’ve been reading, “The Teaching Professor,” http://www.teachingprofessor.com/blog
On a lighter note, I hope you and your families are looking forward to a bountiful, but relaxing, Thanksgiving holiday. I would love to hear comments about how you plan to welcome your Knight home for holidays.
I know this time of year is when students need a break the most. If they seem stressed, please pass along my favorite words of finals week advice from Satchel Paige: “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.”
Jessica Hume, Bellarmine University, c/o 2005
Director of Writing and Parent Communications