Arriving at the college, my initial worry of how I would find the classroom was forgotten when the Caretaker's request that I park furthest from the building as possible allowed me the opportunity to joke with another student. By chance this was one who would be joining me on the course. We talked our way to the cold, thin classroom and, being the first arrivals, sat down. In my usual manner of never quite knowing what to say and not being the kind of person to fill the air with nervous talk, I listened as she talked briefly about the 10 week counselling course, I hadn't attended, and the books that had been laid out upon the desks.
As more people arrived I picked up one of the books and leafed through it, listening to the conversations springing up around me, but not joining in. If I don't have anything to add, I won't; although, I was already aware that I wasn't making myself available to conversation and was, to some extent, segregating myself from everyone else. Knowing no one, there was that slight anxiety of not wanting to stare at people too much or start conversations that, I felt, would inevitably lead to lots of pregnant pauses: 'Hi, I'm Richard, nice to meet you... erm...'
It isn't as if I have a fear of communicating; in big groups I tend towards quietness and possibly this is so that I don't make a fool of myself in front of too many people too soon. I know I'll get to know the others in due course so it doesn't really bother me, but, I was aware of myself sticking out like a sore thumb by not being involved - which was compounded when a student sat on the other side of me and I was essentially blocking her off from communicating with the rest of the group - but, I held out for the beginning of the course.
What with a good portion of the group already knowing each other, from their 10 week courses, they already had something in common that I didn't. Again, this didn't help me integrate and as they kicked off raucously I was reminded of how I had felt when I'd worked with a lot of smokers. Not being a smoker myself, there was a feeling of not partaking in some important socialising when they all went out for a cigarette break, and I didn't - I tried not to think of the others in the classroom as 'clicky'.
As time marched on there was a real feeling of growing ease. Certainly, it took a couple of tasks and a break to help us all relax, but by the time we'd reached the last half hour everybody was commenting upon the gelling of the group. I must agree that we have all, through some kind of natural connection, found the same level; harmony. I'm under no delusion that it will all be plain sailing but I think the course and the people are going to be interesting.
I must admit, despite the contract, I have already judged some people - well, it's impossible not to: the talkative, the reluctant, the know-it-all, the done-it-already, the judger, the timid... though, I am more than prepared to be proved wrong; it isn't as if I have let any other character type annoy me in the past. I don't consider it to be a problem now.
One thing I do think may be a problem is my inability to keep listening. My mind wanders, through my own complete fault, though I try to stop it. I spend my whole day at work thinking about something else, planning the next stage in my book, developing a character arc, remembering some long forgotten memory, comparing my surroundings or other people to other places and people, thinking about food, or simply staring off into space; I'm also prone to do this while reading and particularly at the moment as I attempt to read Pride and Prejudice. In a lesson environment it isn't so much of a problem since I can usually backtrack and work out what a discussion or topic is about. It is a problem in one to ones, where I stop listening properly and become aware of myself: listening to the other person, studying their features, wondering how long I should maintain eye contact, scrunching my toes in my shoes because I am aware of myself being aware and thus not really being a part of the conversation (almost in an out-of-body way).