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Making class worthwhile

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AUGUST 16, 2019

Looking back on my high school years, I can recall there being a few teachers whom everyone in my class agreed were great and cool and made class worthwhile five days a week. To this day, I still remember my favorite teachers’ names and the subjects that they taught because they had such a positive impact on my education.

When I transitioned from high school to community college, the teachers weren’t really called teachers, but professors or doctors. I began going to class only a couple days a week, which made it a little harder to form connections with my professors, especially in classes that had more than 50 students. When I transferred to UC Berkeley from community college, the classroom setting and the engagement with professors seemed almost the same. At both community college and UC Berkeley, I have encountered professors who are somewhat inspiring through their knowledge and enthusiasm for what they teach.

During my first year at community college, I was struggling to pinpoint what I wanted to major in, so I took a variety of classes in hopes of finding something that sparked my interest. At first, I was set on studying music production, but after struggling to produce my own music, I found out that I didn’t have the ear for music that I thought I did. After that attempt, I took a class in education because I thought I wanted to be a teacher.

The introductory education course that I took neither convinced me that I should become an educator nor dissuaded me from doing so, so I just stuck with it and told my parents and friends that I wanted to be a teacher. I stayed on that route for about two semesters until I took a class to satisfy one of the two English requirements at my school, which turned out to be one of my favorite classes I ever took at community college.

The class was a requirement for all students who were on the path to transferring, and as is the case with all first days of class, the professor had each single person state their name, major and year. There were quite a few students who hadn’t declared their majors yet, but a majority of students stated their majors with gumption and sureness. When it was my turn, I stated the major I had settled with, but it didn’t feel right. I knew that I still hadn’t found my calling (so to speak). The professor for this class was very enthusiastic about the literature we read and would check our books every class to make sure we’d been annotating them, because it was the best way to read and fully understand the novels and short stories.

I loved every single work we read. I loved discussing and, most importantly, writing essays about what we read. This became the first class in community college in which I actively participated and was actually ahead of the reading schedule. I went to the professor’s office hours to discuss my essays, and I received very positive feedback, which gave me a confidence boost in my writing skills.

Halfway through the semester, I was convinced that English should be my major, so I spoke to my professor about the possibility of me changing my major once again. He assured me that it would be a great path for me and that I could still go down the education route if I wanted to. Because of this great professor and the great syllabus he compiled, I found my calling. From that class on, each literature course I took convinced me that I had made the right decision.

Many professors have the ability to change students’ academic careers and motivate them to achieve their goals or, in my experience, set those goals. Now that I have completed a full academic year here at UC Berkeley, it seems as though the professors, in comparison to those at community college, aren’t much different. Many professors, like those at community college, actively engage with students by memorizing their names and recalling what they are majoring in or what they wrote about in their last essay. A major difference between my classroom experiences is the presence of graduate student instructors, or GSIs.

At my community college, there aren’t GSIs — just in-class tutors in some compacted classes. In my first semester at UC Berkeley, my American Cultures class had more than 100 students and multiple GSIs, which was a first for me in my college career. My GSI was great at leading discussions, gave me great feedback on all my essays and also had great availability for students like me who love to go over ideas for essays and review feedback.

Before I transferred to UC Berkeley, I was worried about the academics being too competitive and difficult for me, but now that I can reflect on my first year on campus, I can proudly say that it wasn’t as stressful and overwhelming as I thought it would be. The professors I have had this past year have all been great and friendly and just as engaging as the ones in community college. My academic transition to UC Berkeley went smoothly because community college adequately prepared me.

Mixty Espinoza writes the Friday column on her experience as a first-generation transfer student. Contact her at [email protected]

AUGUST 16, 2019