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The Problem of Participating in Class as a Shy Person

Everyone knows you’re supposed to participate in class. Raising your hand to ask and answer questions is encouraged from elementary school. And it’s not hard to see why; there are tons of benefits to speaking during class. Contributing to discussion forces you to follow it, and articulating your thoughts makes sure you understand them, and asking questions helps clear up confusion as soon as it arises. Maybe most importantly, participating in class means contributing to the discussion. The ability to talk to your classmates and professors in real time is the only part of college that you can’t get online. All the small seminar-style classes that are promoted when you apply to Kenyon are only valuable if you take advantage of them.

But however valuable talking in class is, it can still be difficult for quiet people. Whether talking in class just doesn’t come naturally or whether it’s actively frightening to you, it can be hard to participate in class even if you want to. I’m generally a quiet person, and even when I remember all the benefits and really try to talk in class, I find myself staying silent more often than not.

There are a few things I’ve found helpful for remembering to talk, feeling confident enough to talk, and sometimes just making yourself talk.

One of the simplest things you can do is just try to talk at least once every class. This works better in seminars than lectures but I’ve found that when I get into the habit of talking, often it becomes easier. You’re less likely to feel like speaking up is a big deal when you’ve already done it a bunch of times. A lot of the time, the problem isn’t that talking is impossible or even really hard. The problem is that participating in class is a step over the edge of casual or easy, so it doesn’t feel worth it. Getting into the habit of talking can help tip the scale so that the effort isn’t disproportionate to the reward.

Establishing this habit early can also help. I read at the beginning of the school year that students who don’t talk in the first week often won’t speak for the rest of the year. I definitely think it does help to speak early. If you wait to talk, it can feel like you need to have something important to say when you finally do speak. When you get in the habit of talking in class early on, it’s much easier to do so casually.


It also helps to select easier times to talk. Like I said, I try to talk once a class in seminars, but not all comments are created equal. I find raising my hand to ask a question can be a lot easier than jumping into a discussion. And asking questions is a valuable form of participation, too.

The bottom line for me is forming the habit of speaking in class until it becomes second nature. And I think any speaking contributes to that habit, from asking questions to responding to comments to raising your own points. They all chip away at the wall of reluctance and nerves until participating in class is an instinct instead of a chore. I’m not there yet, but I’m definitely closer than I used to be and hopefully I’ll keep getting closer as time goes on. And I think other people can as well.

 

Image Credit: Faculty Focus,

Ariel Neumann is a sophomore and cat-lady-in-training studying neuroscience and English at Kenyon college. The only things she likes in the whole world are avocado toast and Dave Malloy musicals.
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