by Lauren Galli
Being vulnerable and building confidence in-and-out of the classroom can be extremely scary when just starting out in university.
Having just recently finished my first year, I personally felt hesitant to speak up and voice my opinions entering a new academic space. When placed in a completely new environment, with new people, new expectations and new material, it’s completely normal for even the most self-assured to feel the pressure.
No matter your program or school, this obstacle will always be there to greet you in your first few months or year, but thankfully, with a few tips, and a little perspective, you can overcome it and use your experience as valuable lesson that can be applied to every area of your life.
Learning how to build confidence and share your voice is a crucial skill you’ll develop in post-secondary school, and whether you have to participate in class discussions or simply want to be heard, there are many ways to improve at it.
Here are a few things you can try that I personally found extremely helpful throughout my first year of school, and the specific challenges they helped me overcome.
While this may seem like an overused or redundant tip, a lot of my anxiety in school stemmed from a fear of being underprepared. To me, there is nothing worse feeling than arriving to class only to find out you missed an important date or key piece of information.
Luckily, this anxiety can be easily avoided.
To alleviate my concerns, I found that regularly checking the course syllabus and reading any course-related emails was extremely helpful. This helps you familiarize yourself with the lesson plan prior to class and can help you make sure you stay on top of key deadlines. It can also allow you to start thinking of how you want to contribute to the class discussion.
By pre-planning and preparing for what you want to say and how you want to portray yourself in class, you can keep your nerves in-check and ensure you won’t freeze up when the time comes to speak up, allowing you to appear calm and well-educated. Even the simplest preparation can ease first-day anxieties and will set a strong precedent for the rest of the semester.
When I first arrived in my dorm room last September, I was terrified.
I put on a kind face and tried my best to be outgoing and have fun with all the new people I was constantly interacting with. Yet, underneath I was still a struggling introvert in a scary new environment.
The first week was the hardest, I constantly felt lost and isolated considering I had never lived away from home before, but one day I stopped and noticed that things were slowly getting easier. I didn’t have to try as hard anymore and I had found people I felt I could be myself with. While I’m sure it’s comforting to know that things do get better at some point, I’m sure it doesn’t help the slowly approaching threat of a big life change and the fear of growing up.
One thing I found that helped me during that first fever dream of a week was slowing down every once and a while to take in my surroundings. If you look hard enough, you’ll likely notice how afraid everyone else is behind their warm exteriors.
Post-secondary education is a new experience for everyone, and it’s a huge step away from the small high schools we all just left behind.
What you’ll find though is that this collective sense of chaos and unknown can help forge a sense of togetherness, community and comradery with others. It can allow you to get to know people extremely well and help you break out of your shell and create an electric and fun shared atmosphere that is completely different from those formed through the rigidity of high school.
By identifying shared feelings and interests in others, and using them to form strong, supportive bonds, I found that participating in class was way easier. I was often surrounded by friends, and once I started feeling confident enough to regularly speak up, I quickly realized that all my peers were extremely respectful and supportive of any and all ideas I decided to share. Because we’re all in this together, you’ll find that many of your ideas will be acknowledged, accepted and even used to build off of.
Communicating with your Teaching Assistants can be extremely helpful.
They can be less intimidating to contact than a professor and they still have all the information you need. Remember, they are there to help you thrive!
Don’t hesitate to send them an email if you ever have a question. Your TA will be more than happy to assist you and they’ll appreciate your dedication to the course.
Teaching Assistants also do a lot of the grading, so keeping a line of communication opened with them can help you better understand what they’re looking for in any given project and can help you boost your marks. Just keep in mind that they’re still students too, so treat them with respect and give them ample time to support you.
At the end of the day, building a relationship with them can help you become more comfortable with the work and speaking up in class, knowing that you have yet another advocate on your side to support you.
A big fear for students participating in class is the fear of getting it wrong.
It takes time and effort to leave this fear behind, and ironically, this idea is often one of the biggest barriers to success.
Failure is just success in progress.
By treating your mistakes as a trivial bump in the road and learning from it, you can identify areas for improvement and often be in a much better place for it. Being prepared, showing mutual appreciation among peers, and building a respectable relationship with your class leaders can all work to help you to improve and overcome this fear, but it’s important to remember that getting an answer wrong or making a mistake is part of learning and it is almost guaranteed to happen at some point.
Classrooms are a safe, risk-free space for you to expand and test your knowledge prior to examination. Always try your best to make the most of it!