BY MIMI HUCKINS ’21
In my junior year of high school I had the same conversation with a teacher that I always had to. We had just split up the class for two separate, smaller discussions and I had not spoken. While we retreated back to our classroom after the brief conversation, the teacher made a remark about me not participating. “I’m trying,” I said timidly. He scoffed and said, “Really?” I spent the rest of the class trying not to cry.
I had been getting comments from my teachers probably since the third grade about my limited participation. It was never an acknowledgement of my timidness or how I struggled to speak in front of people, but always the phrase “Mimi needs to participate more” written on my report card, as if it could be changed with the ip of a switch. From then until the end of high school, I was made to feel unintelligent, less capable and lazy simply because I was shy.
Because no one could physically see what I was struggling with, it was ignored. It was just a personality trait, or I didn’t put in enough effort when public speaking because, even if it felt impossible for me, “it’s hard for everyone!”
After ignoring this part of myself and pretending it didn’t exist for years, my deepened understanding of mental health toward the end of high school al- lowed me to fully understand why every time I had to speak in front of a group, I physically shook and felt as if I was going to cry. I spoke to my parents about the anxiety I felt. They took every word I said seriously, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I had felt incredibly alone, but they listened and made my problems feel real.
Even though I am far more con dent now than I was a few years ago, attend a school where I have al- ways felt support from my classmates and take way more risks than I ever did in high school, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle in classroom discus- sions. And even if I suddenly became the most outspoken person on the planet, there are still many people struggling and being ignored. In every class I will probably ever take, part of the grade will be partici- pation. In-class discussions are important for learning, but someone who is struggling with speaking up should still be able to be involved in class and receive a fair grade.
I have never had a teacher or professor give me any sort of alternative for class participation or allow me to supplement that part of my grade with outside work. If alternatives were offered, more students would feel truly comfortable and valuable in the classroom. Being forced to participate made me
feel helpless, like I had no control over what grade I would receive. If a teacher’s goal is for their students to succeed, they should be open to accommodating students in these ways. Often my teachers and professors claim they want to create a comfortable and supportive classroom environment, but a class which punishes someone for their anxiety is not supportive and certainly does not allow these students to feel comfortable.
I don’t believe that applying for of official accommodations should be necessary for anxiety to be recog- nized. Mental illness is often ignored, and some people do not have the privilege to be diagnosed or treated. The idea that every student must speak a certain amount in class to prove their understanding of a subject ignores this fact. Mental health issues that inhibit one’s ability to speak in front of larger groups do not fully indicate someone’s understanding of the class material and should not be used to decide the grade someone will receive.
Class discussion is important, but it shouldn’t single out the students who struggle with it. Grading participation heavily and equally for everyone is essentially saying that people who are less outspoken are less intelligent. No one should feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or frightened in a place where they are supposed to learn. I will finally feel somewhat satisfied when I take a class that does not tell me I am lazy for not speaking as much as I am expected to, in which the professor is open to students seeking other forms of participation. I hope one day I won’t feel like the odd one out.