Are you “that guy” in your classes?

Published on USA Today College blog May 19, 2011. Found here.

We’ve all been in class with him. He sits in the front. He interjects unnecessarily. He speaks with a pretentious tone. He pretends like he’s done the readings but everyone and professor can tell he hasn’t. He snarks out unfunny jokes. He’s “that guy.”

Ladies, you’re not off the hook — “that guy” is a gender-neutral caricature. “That guy” can be anyone, from an eager-beaver freshman who took the well-meaning tips from the umpteen freshman advice pieces they’ve read too far, to upperclassmen who never learned any better or are too cocky to care. And he’s oblivious to the frustrated sighs of the other students whenever he raises his hand (or just chimes in — “that guy” often feels like he’s above that silly formality).

Sure, all those freshman advice columns are well-intentioned and filled with valuable tips: join clubs, go to office hours, get to know your adviser, exercise, study abroad and, the obvious, go to class. But rarely are you discouraged from doing things. Sometimes, holding back pays off.

Think before you open your mouth. That favorite saying of your mom’s, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” still rings true. Yes, participation points can make or break your grade, but professors and classmates can sense genuine comments from shameless attempted grade-boosters. And that clever one-liner you just thought of is probably only witty in your head. Chances are that’s not what she said and your professor will not appreciate your Michael Scott reference.

Just because Blackboard allows you to email everyone, doesn’t mean you should. No, we don’t want to give you the notes you missed from last class.

Don’t abuse office hours. Professors may hold six office hours a week, but you don’t need to be there for all of them. Profs say to drop by and introduce yourself, which is all fine and dandy in the beginning of the semester — and stopping by office hours is incredibly helpful before that research paper is due — but other times, save it for class. If you really did read a super interesting, relevant article, bring it up at the beginning of next class. It can launch into a solid discussion and the professor will likely be able to tie the lesson back to it. (Hey, there’s those participation points again.)

Large lecture classes are not the setting to ask argumentative questions that lead into a mini-discussion with the professor. You’re one person. The other 99 of us would like to get through the PowerPoint. Now that’s what office hours are for.

Let the professor be the professor. If you start a sentence with “Well, actually…” eyes will roll. Don’t even think about trying to refocus the discussion should it veer off — the professor will decide when it has become too tangential.

Now all of this might seem inhibiting and vaguely contradictory, but there’s a balance to be reached and it’s completely possible within these standards. There’s a difference from occasionally holding back and sulking silently in the back all semester, and from being an active, informed member of the class and “that guy.” The key? Thinking. Making the conscious effort to deduct what is valuable input and what is plain B.S. can make you a respected participant instead of the angsty, muttering-inducing “that guy.” And when has thinking ever hurt anyone?


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