Stuttering in College Part 4

Let me wrap up freshman year today with this article — it’s something I talked about earlier. As I said before, the whole of an article may not be what point I want to make, but sometimes I find something in there that’s interesting and applicable.

The negative thoughts took different forms in each individual, of course, but they mostly gathered around two ideas. One set of thoughts was about belonging. Students in transition often experienced profound doubts about whether they really belonged — or could ever belong — in their new institution. The other was connected to ability. Many students believed in what Carol Dweck had named an entity theory of intelligence — that intelligence was a fixed quality that was impossible to improve through practice or study. And so when they experienced cues that might suggest that they weren’t smart or academically able — a bad grade on a test, for instance — they would often interpret those as a sign that they could never succeed. Doubts about belonging and doubts about ability often fed on each other, and together they created a sense of helplessness. That helplessness dissuaded students from taking any steps to change things. Why study if I can’t get smarter? Why go out and meet new friends if no one will want to talk to me anyway? Before long, the nagging doubts became self-fulfilling prophecies.

So my stuttering basically made me doubt whether I could ever fit in or not, and a few bad grades in a bunch of classes made me wonder if I could ever succeed long-term. It would have been nice to have someone there to give me a lot more guidance on all of this.

The counselors who we had there would help in selecting classes and figuring out a rough idea of a major. I wanted to do the whole pre-med thing. But there was never any follow-up. They never asked that we come back to see them and make sure we were making adequate progress. And since I was so good at hiding my stutter, they never said anything about that either.

For whatever reason, during freshman year I also signed up to become an undergraduate teaching assistant. I probably thought this would help my confidence out a little bit and get me some “public” speaking practice. I had done some one-on-one tutoring in high school and enjoyed it. I probably also thought I should do something extracurricular that’s academically-inclined to keep up that whole medical school dream.

Basically at Pitt they had math classes that were also given at the high school level. That is to say if a student wasn’t very strong at math, they still had to take algebra or trigonometry as part of their major. It was also for adult students who had to meet minimum requirements. So the teaching assistants could be undergraduates instead of graduate students.

The deal was that you’d take this single-semester course, and then in the next semesters, you’d be able to have a recitation of your own — going through course material, grading papers, helping the professors proctor exams. The odd thing was that I only remember doing one presentation in front of this class — and I’d be “presenting” during my recitations. I still don’t understand how I didn’t freak out and bolt this course. I mean, it’s public speaking. Weekly. With questions.

Despite all of that, during my sophomore and junior years, I enjoyed doing this a lot. I think along with the student newspaper, it helped keep my confidence in the black despite the heavy anchor of lousy grades.

Alright so next week I’ll take a break from talking about college to getting back to some situations I run into on a daily or weekly basis. Fun simple things like ordering food at Subway and then getting ambushed by friends bringing new people to lunch.

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