La escuela en el verano

Well, I made it. I survived summer classes. “Survived” being the key word, of course. I wouldn’t say I did poorly, but I certainly wouldn’t say I flourished either. I did well in three of the four classes I took, and was able to live with the results of the last – the dreaded Spanish 310.

You see, I’m good at Spanish. Or at least, I thought I was. After seven weeks of participios, copulativos, y el subjuntivo, I’m not so sure anymore. A great time to discover this, especially after I just added a Spanish minor.

This advanced Spanish grammar class shook me deep down in my bones. I started to stumble through sentences I used to be able to form without thinking. I began to question basic rules like where the adjective goes in relation to the noun. Simple, simple things somehow turned into something nearly as complicated as calculus.

Like you’ll find in most humans, there is a direct correlation between the things I like and the things I am good at. Usually, one follows the other, whatever the order. The problem with this class was, because of my incessant questioning of those basic concepts, my grades began to drop. I made stupid mistakes, panicking as I watched the allotted time for the quizzes run down. I started to see less than stellar scores. I was used to scoring 2.0s and 2.5s in math classes, but never in Spanish. First, I was only confused. I thought I was just in a funk and that I would quickly adjust to the upper-level course. Then, I began to dread doing the homework, and would feel ill before I took every quiz or exam. As the semester drew to a close, I actually began to  hate the language and its nonsensical little rules and quirks.

Furthermore, because it was an online class, I wasn’t able to compare notes with classmates to see what on earth I was missing. Was it just me? Or was everyone else having similar problems? I also couldn’t seek out help from the teacher as easily as I normally would have been able to. Try as I might, Skype conversations were just not as effective as in-person communication.  I also found my professor’s grading scale to be confusing and rather inconsistent – a problem compounded by the fact that technical problems sometimes caused homework answers to be marked wrong when they were, in fact, correct!

So, you ask, what did I do? Well, reader, I did the only thing I could do. I cried, then I got mad, and then I decided I was going to beat this blasted class and move on with my life. I ended up earning a 3.0 (the lowest grade I’ve ever received in a class related to my degree program) but that was good enough for me. I knew I had tried my best.

I also knew from talking with friends who were also studying Spanish that this particular class was the most challenging of them all. Quite possibly, it’s also the least relevant, since most native speakers don’t even know the rules of grammar in this much depth. (I certainly know I don’t know these things in English!)

So, dear readers, as many of you are returning to school and starting a new semester, I leave you with a few tips about difficult classes.

1) Do not, do not, DO NOT give up!! Sure, you can drop the class and pick a new major. That’s one way to go about it, but it’s not the best way. You picked that area of study because it matters to you. If another one was important to you, you should have picked that one. Don’t be ready to give up on your dreams just yet. Sure, you can also just quit trying and plan to take the class again next year. But I caution against that, too. For one, if you have to take it again, you’ll do so much better the second time around if you’ve actually put forth all you have to give in the first place. Additionally, you might surprise yourself at how well you actually do. I had mentally prepared myself for an overall grade of a 2.0, and I ended up with a 3.0. Don’t throw in the towel so easily. College is supposed to be hard. That’s the point.

2) Talk to your professor. This goes for every class – no matter if it’s easy or hard, important for your major or not. You need to talk to your educators. Let them put a face to the name on the top of that exam paper. Let them see you as an individual with unique learning goals. Ask for help – that’s what they’re there for! They don’t bite. A lot of them even care about your education. Whoa. I know, crazy, right?

3) Utilize the tutoring on campus. Every school is a bit different, but here at MSU, they have free tutoring for just about everything. If your school doesn’t have tutoring 1) Where are you going to school anyway? And 2) I’m sure you can ask a classmate or your professor. Even if you have to hire a tutor, do it. Remember, you’re paying for the classes anyway. You might as well do well in them! If you don’t, you’ve lost out on a whole lot more than the $100 or so you might have to pay a tutor.

4) Know when to put it away. Surprisingly enough, I’m not going to tell you to study that one subject for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You have to give your brain a break. Take a walk, take a nap, eat something, watch a movie. You cannot work on the same subject all the time – especially if you’re struggling. The words start to jumble together and you get the ideas mixed up and it’s impossible to tell what’s what. You will do better after a break. Conversely, know when it really is time to study. Breaks are important, yes, but be sure not to go on a permanent break. That isn’t good for anybody.

5) Set little, realistic goals. Don’t automatically expect to get a 4.0 in a “weeder” class (a “weeder” class is designed to include very difficult material in order to sort out the students who are truly serious about the major/minor. The idea is that students who love the major will stay, and those who are less enthusiastic will go elsewhere.) That doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself to get a high grade in the course, but don’t forget to take pride in se e in that 3.0 or even 2.5. There is nothing wrong with that. Celebrate those little accomplishments. More often than not, earning a 3.0 or a 3.5 on a bunch of small assignments will boost your grade more than earning a 4.0 on a big exam. Read the syllabus, check the grading scale – don’t let those small opportunities to boost your grade go unnoticed. Don’t be the kid who wakes up to go to class one day only to find they missed an assignment or, worse, an exam. A lot of the biggest problems students face are, in theory, preventable. Stay organized and work  hard.

6) Don’t worry. You’ve got this. You can do it. And, in the worst case scenario that you actually can’t, it isn’t the end of the world. This class doesn’t define you as a person. This semester is just a few, short weeks of your life. Yes, they are a very important few, short weeks, but they’re not your whole life. You will get through it. Just hold on till then and enjoy the process. Semester break is only 15 weeks away.  🙂