What I learned from slacking off in class
I wasn’t trying to take physics my junior year. I was originally going to just take an Environmental Science/Forensic Science semester course because I thought it was way more interesting. But my counselor encouraged me to take physics as well, since it would look really good on a college application and I seemed to be “aiming high.” She didn’t just suggest it. She HIGHLY suggested it.
It turned out that physics and I don’t mix. I was able to understand the basics and kept up during the first couple of months of the course, but as we started to delve into more complex topics, I started to feel lost. I should have asked the teacher to slow down, re-explain or help me after class, but I didn’t because I just wasn’t used to having to ask for help in academics. At this point, I was too arrogant and proud (and well, a little lazy) to bother with it. I started to slack off, I stopped doing homework just for the sake of getting it done and started not doing it simply because I didn’t want to. I even got too lazy to ask other people for the answers or to explain the lesson to me, and if somebody offered them to me I would wave them away and tell them I didn’t care.
Several of my classmates and I just stopped participating in the class altogether. If our teacher handed out a test or quiz, none of us bothered to try. We just sat there on our phones and stared at him. Some people would start arguments with him for no reason. I enjoyed the freedom from his homework for a while. I used the period as a study hall to get any of my other work done. If he was giving a lecture or showing a PowerPoint, I caught up on much needed sleep. And when my parents started asking me about my falling grade, I just blamed it on my teacher not being good at his job.
In hindsight, I think my physics teacher felt kind of bad for me. I had started off the year so strong, with the first marking period grade in the class, and when it was obvious to him that I was struggling to understand the material, he would give me a few extra points for no reason other than so I wouldn’t have a straight up zero in the grade book. But he started being fairer when I didn’t make any effort to ask questions or even seem to care. Later on in the year, my teacher stopped trying to do much about the group of students who decided against doing work. He just accepted it and taught the people who actually cared about getting a somewhat passing grade.
It also turned out that me just sitting there like a bump on a log was actually pretty exhausting. I don’t know exactly what it was, but there was something really tiring about actively not taking out my binder or putting all my energy into not taking a test. Actively trying to ignore my teacher or be rude to him just left me pooped. No wonder I was so tired in that class.
My grades were all over the place: A 93 in the first marking period, a 38 on my midterm exam, and my final grade for the class at the end of the year was a 68. I passed by 3 points. While the grade didn’t hurt me as much as getting a low grade in a required class, like English or math would have (which would prevent me from graduating), it took my GPA down by 5 points. Although I am still in fairly good academic standing, the mark of a 68 on my transcript makes even my counselor’s brow furrow. I can only imagine how a college admissions officer would react, since it seems that just one bad grade can cripple your chances at a getting into college. As an added plus, I don’t qualify for many of the scholarships that could help my parents pay for my future education.
In addition, the attitude I had from slacking off in one class was contagious and spread to me not trying in a few other classes also, though luckily not to the level I was in physics. My final grades from junior year were average — in the 70-85 grade range. This was not something my parents were exactly overjoyed about, especially since I had started the year off so well. It didn’t feel good to see their faces fall when my report card came in the mail. Seeing such low grades on my transcript lowered my self esteem, and I stopped expecting good grades for myself. It made me care even less, and sometimes I still have to remind myself that there’s always a way to do better.
In my school, you’re only required to take three years of science in order to graduate, and most people choose to take physics their junior year to top everything off. Since I still passed, there were no remedial courses to take. I was done with science for the rest of high school, and that was that.
In terms of my GPA, however, I’ve had to work extra hard to raise my GPA by just a point. While my other classmates are relaxing because they did well the first three years of high school, I’m still trying to make up for my low performance in physics and it’s straining.
This year I was sitting on the floor of the hallway looking at my phone waiting for some friends to show up. When I looked up, I didn’t see my friends, but my old physics teacher.
“What’s up, Flores?” he asked me.
“Uh, I’m good,” I said apprehensively.
“I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for any trouble I caused you last year. I know you didn’t really like my class, but I tried my best.”
I was dumbfounded. I could barely get any words out. That wasn’t what I expected to hear from him, and I felt super guilty for being so horrible last year. I told him everything was okay, and he shook my hand, said goodbye and walked away. When my friends finally showed up, I told them what had happened sarcastically and nonchalantly and we laughed it off. In reality, the brief interaction with my physics teacher made me feel sick to my stomach when I remembered all the things I did and said. I ducked out of hanging out with them early and called my mom to ask her to pick me up.
That was the last time I spoke to him, but it left a huge hole in my chest, and made me rethink how I was treating other people. Having someone you treated like dirt come up to you and apologize for something that wasn’t even their fault is something of an out-of-body experience. Up until that point, I had assumed that my teacher would just forget about me, forget about everything that happened the year before, and just keep on keepin’ on. I never realized the effect of my actions until he confronted me about it.
We all liked to make fun of him and his awkward demeanor and his weird accent, but at the end of everything the joke was on us. We were the ones who ended up with grades that sucked. We were the ones who didn’t learn any of the material. I was so discouraged by my grade, but I realized that if I had just sucked up doing the work and actively tried to learn instead of being lazy, I would have felt way better about myself. Who was I trying to be? Was I trying to look “cool?” And of course, I would have a higher GPA and be a much better candidate for the colleges I’m applying to now that I’m a senior.
On the bright side, I’ve learned how to properly handle situations where I don’t understand what to do, and I’ve learned that it’s more work to avoid doing the things you need to do just because you don’t want to. Most importantly, though, the experience opened my eyes to the consequences of my actions, even the most seemingly inconsequential ones.
Aleisha Flores is a high school senior living in the suburbs of New Jersey. She will be attending Rutgers University-New Brunswick in Fall 2015 and plans to major in Journalism. In her spare time, Aleisha likes to read creepy Wikipedia articles, eat, sleep, and slay at karaoke.