Group learning is not for everyone

As a person who has taken multiple classes involving group projects, as well as a person who struggles with social anxiety issues, I know my limits. Returning to school to finish my legal assistant degree this semester was a bigger challenge than I had anticipated. Perhaps if it hadn’t been coupled with a new job, which has presented its own difficulties, it would have been a little easier to manage.

My daily triumphs are small, yet tremendous. I have a child I am trying to raise with no support (aside from my parents, right now), and another whom I have little contact with (mostly my own fault on that one). I am working as an intern, writing as a contributor for a blog. I had another writing internship back in December, but I decided two internships, plus a job and 10 credit hours of school seemed a little overwhelming so I gave one up. The reason I take all of these things on is because of my ambition. The reason I cannot handle them all is my mental instability.

Right now, I am in the depths of the first episode I have had since I began my final semester. My bipolar mood cycles always begin to build when I am working really hard toward something. I can feel myself getting more stressed as time goes on; but instead of dealing with it, I ignore it and hope it goes away like shadows when the sun sets. What happens though – almost inevitably – is the shadows resurface, and usually with a vengeance.

It began about four weeks past the start of the semester, which coincided with the start of my job. Obviously, I was aware the new transition of the two positions would be a trigger. Yet somehow, no matter how much I mentally prepare myself for something, it never compensates for the actual events that are to come, no matter how mundane. Traffic, for example, or waiting in line at the coffee shop. Things I am typically grateful for the right to access, such as a job, a car, or even something as innocuous as coffee, can cause irritation if I fail to see past my mood swing at the moment.

This week, we returned to class from spring break. I, however, did not make it into class yesterday because I injured my back while coughing and sitting in a chair doing homework. Prior to that, I hurt my back while sitting at a computer at work. Ironically, part of why I wanted a desk job was so I wouldn’t injure myself! This comes after years of waitressing, which is physically exhausting over time.

Tonight, I made it to class, but it seemed just as much of a failure because I didn’t stay to complete the assignment. I want to say I couldn’t have stayed, but I could have. I chose not to stay because I felt overwhelmed. Sometimes, one needs to choose one’s health over one’s (educational) wealth.

Before class began, a peer in my group said, “I’m not interested in politics…because I am moving to France”; that put a bad taste in my mouth. How can I be learning about the legal system, about law, with a person who thinks moving to another country means the next American presidential elect is not important? The truth is, sweetie, France is part of the world, and anything the United States does affects the world. It’s called global warming, not American warming. It is this type of ignorance which I simply cannot disregard. It is sad and selfish. This is a person who I am supposed to be working with, in a group, calling my teammate? As for the other group in our class, that’s a horse of a different color.

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Let me backtrack. This class is very small; I believe there are eleven of us altogether. I came back to school after almost two years to finish this degree, so things are slightly different now. All of the students know each other from before, which was not that big of a deal until the week before spring break.

One of the younger students and I had a disagreement about whether she was too young to know who Siegfried and Roy are. My argument was that it wasn’t that long ago; she said it was before her time. I said I guess it wasn’t relevant to her at the time, whatever age she was. Fine, moving on…until I am standing right behind her and her group – there are only two groups – when I hear her make a remark to her group about how she wouldn’t want to ask “that new girl” for anything, i.e., a book they needed.

Okay, take a breath. First, of all, I am not new. I went to school here before you even graduated high school, girly. Second…I called her out for talking about me to everyone and it became very uncomfortable. Ever since then, including tonight, the group has edged me out of the way anytime I am working in a place they want to go to find their own work, even if I was there first. Only one person in the opposite group has remained cordial with me, K. Taylor. Despite the French defector’s attitude, my group is quite amicable. However, that does not change my position on group learning.

I understand the premise behind teamwork, and I especially understand why it is necessary for this particular class. Our professor needs to ensure we are capable of research with access only to law books, I get that. My issue is with the structure of the group projects. Because there is such a small class size, we are divided into only two groups. In my previous class (the prerequisite) we had the same structure, but it was not as competitive. For some godforsaken reason, this class feels like a race every time we work in groups, which, for me, is not conducive to learning. I struggle with racing thoughts enough without encouragement. Competition is distracting and delays my concentration on the assignment at hand.

I recognize that the nature of law is generally adversarial, but in practice, the idea is that one (hopefully) doesn’t get bullied out of the way when trying to do research in the library for the case she is working on. I admit, some of it is my own difficulty with groups in general, but it is more than this. Some people thrive in a group setting because they are social. Others like groups because they get to lead and prove themselves to their peers and superiors.  Then there are those who just go along with what everyone else is doing because they are lazy, don’t care, or don’t know very much. Finally, there are those who would rather work alone.

I fit into the latter category because the frustration of trying to get through each day is enough to make one want to snap without the aggravation of feeling bullied by one’s classmates. I will make it through this semester, and I will graduate. If I must endure the difficulties posed by participating in these assignments, then it will still be worth it because I will have earned my degree. However, I can only hope that in the future, alternate assignments will be available for students who are not as capable of participating in group projects, so that people like myself will not have to struggle as I have.

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