I was one of the students in school who found it difficult to stick out the 9-3 (wait until you’re older and it’s 8.30am-5.30pm) and wasn’t particularly academically receptive, my academic side kicked in at University. I know too many young teenagers who simply lack the motivation and affinity for school and it is extremely relatable. Allow me to do something your teachers didn’t manage to do; impart some wisdom, my own brand of course.
I was studying Psychology, taught by two teachers, one of whom I was acutely aware did not like me very much. I never did find out why that is but I didn’t care too much about it either. It just meant I treaded more lightly around her and tried not to book appointments with her for parents’ evenings. We studied serotonin the day before and it was routine when she began the class with a recap. Now I hadn’t been concentrating on her monologue because those tended to be quite long (her dislike is starting to make sense to me now) and I’m sure she spotted my dazed look when she asked me what serotonin is. Now I knew the answer to that, it was there, somewhere, in the back of my mind. But I also knew my teacher; she hated the time buying ‘errrr’ and ‘mmm’ and so I blurted out ‘happy pill’. For some reason or another, she didn’t find the answer lacking and moved on.
My classmates were giggling because I couldn’t have sounded more of a fucking moron answering so absent-mindedly and so colloquially. Still, it worked because I understood that as long as I have a general idea about the topic at hand, she’s unlikely to lose it on me. A little later on in the lesson we (and I use the term ‘we’ lightly) were discussing the toilet training theory by Freud which is absolute garbage for so many reasons (he was a sex-obsessed maniac clearly suffering from his own severe attachment disorders). For some reason, I was still not listening as much as I should and once again (okay I get it), the wolverine pounced as she asked me for a weakness to the theory. One thing I learned in my years of studying Psychology is that any and every theory is reductionist because none will ever be able to incorporate the immense complexity of human psychology. So again, I answered very offhandedly ‘reductionist’. Apparently I didn’t use full sentences back in secondary school. She frowned a little as she said that this can be applied to pretty much anything but it did the job; she stopped picking on me.
Now go back a few more years when I was studying French. Whenever we were late, we would have to recite this massive French paragraph stuck to the door that I believe entailed an apology, an excuse and an underlying humble attitude. We were in Year 8, so no one had the accent down and anyone who attempted to parrot it just came across as ridiculing the language. So you know where this is going next; my friend and I trotted in 10 minutes late. For the life of me, I don’t know what we were doing that day, the school bells were deafening but we still managed to be tardy. We tried to rush in, hoping she’d forget her sadistic (not really sadistic) way of punishing her latecomers but she led us back and told my friend to read out her mini-essay.
She sounded awful, had a good pinch of teenage attitude sprinkled on top while trying to get through it as fast as she could. Now, as you probably figured out, I wasn’t too much of the academic type and so I tried to take a shortcut as my teacher looked at me to now do my part. I came out with ‘moi Aussie’ which means ‘me too’, the only phrase in French, other than the basics that I managed to remember after two years of learning the language. It worked; in fact, my teacher was quite entertained and had me take a seat while my friend was ranting on about how unfair that was.
Your teachers want to cut you some slack. They know the whole 5 minute attention span theory. It is up to you however to give your teachers something to work with, an indication that you weren’t goofing off for the past hour and the best way to do that is give them something. Even if it is extremely abstract, your teachers are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if they think you put something in. Silence simply points to the opposite direction. Your teachers want your brains to be filled with new information by the time you leave your lesson and if they find that you left with nothing, it is soul-sucking because they tend to be passionate about their job. That’s why they get mad, not because they enjoy yelling at you but because they try so hard to give you a better chance at life but you won’t do your part; listen. You know it is embarrassing getting a telling-off in front of the whole class, answer with something, anything; improvise. This means you have to switch on now and then and grab some keywords before you tune them out again.