“I’m sorry, but I’m dropping this class.”

Flashback time. It’s 2009 and I’m in my spring semester at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I was studying, among other subjects, Italian renaissance art. (It was an elective and inexplicably seemed like a good one for a journalism student back in registration.)

Here’s something I didn’t know when I signed up for that class: I do not have a gift for art history. I am sure people who majored in it will vehemently disagree, but to me, the many paintings we examined looked more or less the same.

We got to the first major exam of the semester and I had studied as hard as I could, but it still felt as though next to nothing had sunk in. I sat down in class and looked at the first image projected onto the front wall of the lecture hall. We had to identify the artist, title, and a few other details of each painting.

“Madonna and Christ Child Enthroned,” I wrote, because I’d seen that name more than once during class and that’s what this painting appeared to show. Then a few minutes later, we flipped to the next image.

At first, I thought it was a joke because initially, all I could see was a repetition of the first painting. Then, I started to notice minor differences–yet no useful information was coming to mind.

Rather than waste the TA’s time as well as my own, I made a decision and wrote in my blue book, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have no idea what this is. I’m sorry. I tried. I’m going to go drop this class now in the student union.” I handed in my book, walked across the street, and dropped the class.

This is an extreme example of when I actually left a class altogether.  I’ve dropped classes only a few times in seven years of undergrad and grad work combined. In this case, it was probably the right decision even though I could have handled it better.

When I started seminary several years later, I had another class that baffled me. It was Biblical Hebrew. It started out great, but once we got to verb conjugation, I was entirely lost. I had no idea whatsoever of what was going on.

This time, I wanted to take things a little differently. I found a study buddy. I asked the TA for help. I talked to the instructor when I was convinced I was failing. Once, I bumped into multiple parked cars while trying to read Hebrew while walking to class (not recommended).

I couldn’t have dropped this class if I wanted to; it was a requirement for my degree. So I stuck it out, worked at it… and am still not an expert. But I got a B and have some building blocks to work with if I want to use Hebrew on a (very) basic level someday. It wasn’t a waste of time.

I found that dropping a class is not always the worst possible option, but it isn’t the first option when trouble arises, either. At this point, I wouldn’t drop a class if I was struggling–not before exploring all other opportunities. Shockingly, professors and TAs are people who will often hear you out if you’re having an issue and are still trying hard. It definitely saved me from having to explain myself in a blue book come exam time.