I didn't think I belonged in college. It was my first semester and I was failing my intro to algebra class. The professor was intimidating when he spoke and when he turned away he furiously wrote figures on the chalkboard. I figured if I couldn't do well in a low level class like his, I probably should quit. I dropped the class but stayed in college and discovered something: That professor wasn't doing it right. He disappeared from the schedule the next year. I heard rumors about something being wrong with him and it dawned on me that the reason I wasn’t doing well wasn't me but his poor teaching. Whew! What a relief.
But back when I was sitting in his classroom, I didn’t know what was ahead. I didn’t know I would eventually attend graduate school and one day teach students in their first semester—just like I was.
Some students will be sitting in college classrooms for the first time this week and by the end of the semester they will think that they don’t belong. They won’t know until another semester or two rolls by that the first semester was an adjustment to a new life. They won't know the context until later. They were just figuring out how to survive college and after that first set of classes they will slowly find their footing.
There are other students about to have the opposite experience. They will have an easy time during their first semester and assume the rest of college will be a breeze. But somewhere along the way they will hit their ceiling. They just haven't been challenged yet. When they begin to struggle, they’ll have to adjust as well.
Throughout our lives, we’ll be tempted to think that first experience is “the way it is.” Sometimes that’s true. Don’t count on it.