I went to a very small, Catholic grade school. My graduating 8th grade class consisted of only 22 students, most of whom had been in class together since 4th grade. We often conspired together on different “projects.” In 7th and 8th grade, our Social Studies teacher was Mr. Prybylla, and his class was BORING. Like most of our classes at this school, our work consisted of reading the chapter, answering the questions after each section and then going over them in class. In order to amuse ourselves, we’d often try to alter this lesson plan. One tactic we took was to ask a LOT of questions, not because we didn’t understand the American History information that we had learned every year since 5th grade, but usually because we hadn’t finished the assignment, so we figured if we could drag out the lesson, we wouldn’t get through all the work and would have an extra day to complete the assignment. Sometimes we’d just see how far off track we could actually get. Or we’d just sit there and say, “I don’t get it,” prompting our teacher to merely repeat the information we were only pretending not to comprehend. Our questions were all about manipulation.
In high school, it was very different. I attended a public school, my freshman class had over 500 students in it, and my questions really were to seek understanding. I took an Honors Biology class, and I soon learned that I just am in no way a Science minded person. This was the first time I ever sought out extra tutoring. I never could see whatever it was I was supposed to examine in those microscopes, and I failed my first test ever. This test has a list of characteristics and I had to state whether each one described RNA, DNA, both or neither. The only thing I knew about RNA and DNA is that they were some spiral thing that you really couldn’t see. Because I didn’t understand Biology, I asked questions….apparently A LOT of questions. (If I was talking about this with my husband, this would be the point in the conversation when he would ask me if this was when I wore those really thick coke bottle glasses, to which I’d have to reply yes). I really did want to understand what my teacher Mr. Joyner was talking about, but I just couldn’t grasp abstract concepts. So I asked a lot of questions, every day.
One time Michael Roane came up to me and in a very rude tone inquired, “Why do you ask so many questions?”
“Because I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Well, you sound dumb.”
That was all I needed to hear, and my days of public inquiry in Honors Biology were soon over. From that very brief conversation, I learned that asking questions in class made people think I was stupid. So I learned to just be confused, or try to figure it out on my own later, or ask the teacher my question after class.
I pretty much lived with this philosophy throughout most of my schooling….until I started graduate school, which was when I discovered that professors really like when you asked questions. And I am passionate about education, so I really had some concerns to address and practical understanding that I need to accomplish. In order to do this, I had to ask questions.
But I have to admit, as I sit in my educational research class that I am currently taking, I am encountering a lot of new information, and the questions continually run through my mind. Although I still ask questions, I often question my questions before I ask them. Is this question dumb? Does everyone else understand this? Should I just try to figure this out on my own? The teacher didn’t really answer my question, should I ask it again? Maybe I should e-mail her after class.
It’s amazing and ridiculous how a 30 second encounter with a silly boy 19 years ago still affects my confidence and actions today.