HAMBURGER: The “interesting” problem within the classroom

A plea for a new way of talking in class

I walked into my class one recent Monday with a plan I had laid out for the entire week. But within just a few seconds trying to escape that early morning sleepiness through my first cup of coffee, I had already messed up. Any data I would collect after that point would be inaccurate. But it just went on to prove my point: People say that something is “interesting” too many damn times in class.

I’ve noticed this for a while now, but I think I reached my tipping point this semester, as a senior down the final stretch of his time at Vanderbilt. Nothing frustrates me more when somebody talks in class and starts off their comment with “I found it interesting that” or “something interesting from the reading.” You know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve ever taken a discussion-based class. If you think it really isn’t too common, I implore you to listen carefully in your next class and count each time. If you go in looking to hear this phrase, it’ll strike you to how severe an issue it is. You’ll also never be able to unhear it again, so be warned. Now that I’ve even alerted you about it, you’re forever doomed.

There are a few reasons why I have this anger towards this simple word, namely the amount of times people say it. Heck, I heard one person say “interesting” three times in one 20 second answer in class. That’s excessive. Beyond how annoying it is to hear so often, another key issue is: What does something being “interesting” even mean?

When you enroll in a class at Vanderbilt, is it not because you had an “interest” in the class? When you raise your hand to answer a question or bring up a point in class, is it not because you had an “interest” in the material? It means practically nothing to preface your responses that way. In fact, it’s just a waste of a few seconds every time it’s said. You don’t need it, but there are options if you can’t live without some introduction to your thoughts.

Better words exist to more accurately describe your “interest” in a matter than just using that humdrum word. In weekly reading responses for one of my classes, the professor asks a question towards the end to “discuss a passage that inspired, frustrated or provoked you, explaining why it did so.” Look at those words: inspired, frustrated, provoked. These words are beautiful, especially against all the mundanity of that word, which I refuse to write anymore. Each one of these, and the many other choices found throughout the dictionary, incites some type of emotion. That terrible aforementioned word has no emotive meaning, while each of these elicits an actual response to the class material.

I can’t reckon why people choose to stick to the same word: How can one word start every thought in class you have? I’m certain that everything you study creates some response that differs from something else you learned in that class or another. I don’t know why people continue to speak in this way, beyond it being the easiest, most common opening.

It’s amazing how much I’ll hear the word in class, but once outside of it, it rarely comes up in conversation. I’m certain it’s used more in the 10 hours of class each week than the other 158 hours of the week in casual conversation.

Let me be honest though: I do catch myself speaking this way on occasion. But after realizing how common it’s used, I have definitely cut my usage to a minimal, and here’s the catcher: It isn’t that hard. Just take a couple seconds as you’re collecting your thoughts before you raise your hand to develop an opening that is truly reflective of what you want to say. Wow people! Really get them going with a strong first few words and get more people engaged in it. If the word does slip through your mouth, be sure to recognize it; let it bother you. Associate it with something negative and learn to hate it. It might be difficult at first, but I can guarantee you that it will come out as a positive in the long run. You’ll sound more sophisticated and unique, and you will more automatically connect words that better spark an emotional response. If nothing else for yourself, at least it’ll be one less time I don’t have to listen to you talk like that.

Josh Hamburger is a senior in the Peabody College. He can be reached at joshua.d.hamburger@vanderbilt.edu.

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