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I Like My Classes. So Why Am I So Bad In Them?

Image: Chris

Two months here in Ithaca and I’m learning a few things about myself. One, I relied way too much on working air conditioning and heat. Two, it is entirely possible to get around without a car, although not all that enjoyable. Three, I’m just really bad in an academic environment.

Before when I wrote about personal problems within a classroom it was my not being able to speak up and state my opinion. I think I’ve gotten better at that, in spots. I speak more in some classes than others. In workshop every single person must comment on the story up for that day. While I may not speak much compared to others, I am doing a hell of a lot better than I was just a few months ago.

But better than I was a few months ago feels like failure in so many ways. I don’t have that atypical graduate school lingo, the one that comes out of Ph.D. students’ mouths as if they were writing a theoretical paper in real time. More than once I’ve had to pull out my phone and look up words or ideas that weren’t common to me just so I could have an idea of the conversation being held. The ideas that I get from the readings venture so far away from a good portion of the class that I feel like I’ve read the work wrong.

And then there are the days when the work exhausts me and I don’t want to think critically or write essays or plan for presentations but simply want to enjoy reading the work for itself. There are days when the cloudy weather gets to be too much. There are days I feel lonely and alone. There are days when I ask myself if I made a wrong decision in going to graduate school so soon after finishing undergrad.

It’s been a struggle at times trying to acclimate myself within this greater graduate environment. I think it’s been too much of a struggle. And I guess I take the blame for some (a lot) of that struggle. I could study the text more. I could try to think through them in different ways, different patterns and see if that leads me to a result more closely in line with the rest of my class. I could do extra readings or just devote more time to the work.

But I already devote a hell of a lot of time as it is. So much so that I’ve put my own writing to the side in favor of doing the work for other classes. So much so that I’ve skipped hanging with some dope people in favor of doing work for classes.

It’s disappointing feeling this way because I like so much about the academic environment. I like listening to the discussions. I like when I do have that one idea to speak up about. I like speaking to my professors outside of class about the work. But none of this stops me from feeling like I’m drowning at times.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think there is a solution, not really.

I’m trying to forgive myself of these doubts and to realize that I don’t have to be like everyone else, I just have to be me. That what I do is okay and what I bring to the table is appreciated. But it’s hard. And I sit there and wonder what else I need to do to stop from drowning.


  1. Shakarean,

    We’re friends on FB though we haven’t interacted very much 😉 I just wanted to say that I am so glad you wrote this article and that I relate to what you’ve said so much it’s almost eerie. I might have written this myself. I’m also a black first-year MFA student, also find myself surrounded by people who often speak as though they’re writing thesis papers in real time, also have trouble speaking up sometimes during discussion, also tend to feel like I’ve read texts differently than everyone else, etc. etc. At times it’s draining and isolating, and I can’t wait for class to end. I’m beginning to think it’s a complicated combination of cultural, racial, and socioeconomic factors. I also don’t have a solution, but I do think there are different ways of being brilliant, that we both are, and that our programs are lucky to have us! 🙂

    Take care,

    • Rachel, let’s talk more. Is that ok with you? Cause what I’m slowly starting to learn is that it’s vital to have a community while going through this, that we can’t do it alone. I’ve talked to people who have said it’s taken them a good year or more to find their footing and I just cannot do that. I don’t know if I could survive that. You’re so right, it’s a combination of all those factors, and it just makes me feel out of place, like I’m not supposed to be here. And how dare graduate school make us feel like that, you know? Like you said, we’re brilliant in different ways and we deserve to be where we are.

      Community doesn’t just have to be in the literal place you are, it can be online, especially when you find someone going through the same things as you. Would that be okay with you, to talk about these things more among ourselves?

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