In my first class at Fairhaven, my teacher created a learning environment that I had never experienced before. A learning environment in which I thrived. I learned, I laughed, I explored, I loved going to class, and every morning two and a half hours would pass quickly.
I had been used to sitting in large lecture classes, listening to the teacher talk at the students. Classes in which the teacher knew not one of the students’ names, and it was a once in a lifetime experience for us students to actually talk to one another. This classroom was different. In the course of a quarter I went from the shy hidden-in-the-crowd college student I had recently become to the outgoing, outspoken, confident person that I had used to be. My teacher’s method seemed so simple. How could something so simple create such a big change within me?
I walked into the classroom. There we several couches and various chairs arranged in a circle. The walls were lined with bookshelves, and on my teacher’s desk was a basket with an array of different teas, mugs, and a water heater. The students drifted in, barely talking. Awkward introduction games ensued, and we managed to make it through the next two hours mostly comfortable. The following weeks passed slowly, as I began to learn the ropes around Fairhaven college. I mostly listened to my fellow classmates as they shared their ideas, experiences, knowledge, thoughts, and musings.
Back at home, I was a ball of passionate energy. I loved to discuss my opinions and passions, and had no shyness about expressing them. When I came to college, however, everything was different. Everything was big, overwhelming, and unfamiliar. 15,000 students was not a number I was used to, and speaking in a lecture class of 100 was, in my mind, out of the question. The high school friends that had grown accustomed to my passion and my outbursts were back at home, and I found myself striving more to fit in than to stand out as I had back home.
I don’t remember when or how it happened, but something changed in that classroom. I suddenly realized without really understanding that I had realized that my peers cared about me. They valued my opinions, they wanted to hear them, they would not judge them, they would not condemn me for being passionate, or even outspoken. My old self emerged, and I did not mind sharing her with them. I remember speaking passionately about a topic, and feeling their support. I remember my teacher telling me (after a particular hard day in class) that it was ok to cry in class. I remember reading my personal narrative, that deeply expressed my feelings for my cats that had recently passed away, aloud to them. I remember raising my voice, arguing, shivering, crying, clutching my fists, shaking my head, and nodding. I remember changing back into who I was.
This seems like a pretty profound experience for a classroom. But I would like to clarify, I didn’t change completely in that classroom. I simply remembered who I used to be before college had scared me into my protective shell. I remembered who I was when I was confident in my knowledge, and passionate about my beliefs. I remembered what it felt like to be comfortable in a learning environment. Growing up, my confidence and comfort was built during my home-schooled years by my encouraging peers, language and karate teachers, my karate dojo family, and my parents. When I came to college, it was lost. The upside? It only took one teacher to find it.
So what is the secret? What did that teacher do that was so special? He listened. He sat and listened while his 15 students shared their ideas, knowledge, and experiences. He guided the conversation, and would answer our questions when we got stuck. However, most of the questions were answered by fellow students. We had the opportunity to learn from the experience and knowledge of 16 different people, 15 students and one teacher, each of which has a very different life, different experiences, and different interests. Each person had something unique to contribute, and everyday we would hear from everyone. 16 different perspectives, 16 different sets of skills, 16 different passions, 16 different lives. There is so much more to gain from 16 people than you can possibly hope to gain from one.
I walked into my new classroom, surrounded by new people that I didn’t know. I wanted to talk, to argue my points, to state my beliefs, to share my passions. I wanted to hear their passions, their knowledge, and their life stories. I wanted to feel secure and confident like I did in that class just a few weeks ago. But with these new people, I was not sure that I could.