When I was eight years old, I did not talk…ever.
I answered adults with head nods and shoulder shrugs, yet I was in the top of my class academically. The principal pulled me out of class one day to tell me that they were considering putting me in special education because of my lack of verbal communication skills. Twenty years later, I had the highest parent and student satisfaction on a school-wide survey and helped lead my school to the highest high school math growth in the State of Colorado, in my second year of teaching. I attribute my success in the classroom to being very thoughtful and intentional around how and what I taught, traits that were often discouraged in my own education.
I share my story because I recently started reading the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. She talks about introverts living in a world that praises extrovertism, especially in K-12 education.
“Many of the most important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation. As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert.” ~Susan Cain in Quiet
This has prompted me to think about and discuss questions with others, primarily extroverts, about how we think about education.
Is the ideal learning environment a structure where students are facing each other and constantly interacting? Are group projects that are focused on socialization the best way to prepare students for the real world?
I do not know the answers. The response I get from extroverts is a resounding…YES!
Still, I wonder what kind of messages are we sending to introverts? Are we saying that unless you change your personality and become more extroverted, you will not be successful in life; that while the introvert in you may want to go home and prepare for your big presentation, you have exactly five minutes until you present…ready…go?
How many times does an introvert need to be told to speak up before they decide to give up on schooling altogether?
I know that I would not be where I am today without a few adults in my life who believed in me and taught me to take stock of my own talents. I am inspired by my personal hero, Rosa Parks, who changed this country with her quiet resolve. I am confident that the extra time I took preparing and reviewing and reviewing will make my speech in front of a classroom of students or to an audience of seven hundred adults successful.
Have you ever thought that the quiet student in the back row is actually an intellectual genius or a gifted orator? She just needs to hear that she can be successful. He needs to have someone believe in him.