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The Quiet Kid in Class

Combating social anxiety in the classroom.

By Allie Richter

Photo by Pinterest

I went to a small, unorthodox high school, where raising our hand to speak was a foreign concept— students learned through open discussions, no matter the class subject. With 80 students in my grade, every voice was familiar. I knew everyone’s background, opinions, and who would chime in when. I could forecast any conversation’s trajectory. I found comfort in the predictability of this small learning environment and used it to participate confidently.

So, when I came to college and began adjusting to large lecture style settings, I became afraid of the unknown. Though very opinionated on the subject matters at hand, I found it hard to voice my thoughts in a class full of students who don’t know anything about me. Having no idea what the reaction to my contribution would be, my points were stuck in my thoughts, and I realized I was now only a listener; the quiet kid in class.

There is nothing wrong with being known as such, but I began to feel that nothing would change whether I participated or not. I missed feeling as though I could sway the direction of a conversation. Social anxiety is not a switch one can turn off, but here are a few tips that lured my opinions out of my head and into the class discussion.

Try to speak within the first five minutes of class.

My mom always reminds me that the sooner you contribute to a conversation, the less it builds up in your mind and paralyzes you until the clock runs out of time. The first time you speak will always make your heart race the fastest, but you’ll gain confidence in participating more as the class goes on because you’ve done it once before.

Ask the person next to you a question before class starts.

“Does this class end at 11:45 or 11:50?” “Chapter 7 was due today, right?” “Where did you get your backpack from?” I like to think of these simple questions as warmups for my voice. Even if these questions don’t lead to a longer conversation with the person sitting next to you, at least you’ve felt the feeling of speaking up within the classroom already.

A lack of preconceived notions is a beautiful thing.

In large classes, no one knows who you are, so no one expects anything from you. This takes the pressure off your participation’s value. Try to remember that no one is judging you based on your point.

Find joy in the unknown!

Though obvious, I wish I had reminded myself of this sooner. Class conversations are much more fun when you are surprised by the perspective of the person sitting next to you. Not knowing what the response to your point will be is what challenges you, and entices further thinking. Diving into the unknown is how you learn.

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