Change the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 13 2013

Introverts in Education?

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.

8 Responses

  1. Nicole

    I think you verbalized exactly the tension I’ve been feeling as I start my first year teaching. I’m asking my students to do group activities and actively participate in class, but I know that I would have hated being asked to do those kinds of activities when I was a student. I’m trying to remember what was going through my head when I was in school and plan activities that would appeal to the quieter, more introverted student.

  2. jbales

    I thought this interesting article talking about introverts:

    Some interesting quotes from the article:

    “Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.” So true for me.

    “An estimated 40 percent of CEOs have introverted personalities.” I think introverts would make strong CEOs because they can be super thoughtful.

    “Many introverted children come to believe that there’s something “wrong” with them if they’re naturally less outspoken and assertive than their peers. Introverted adults often say that as children, they were told to come out of their shells or participate more in class.” Their is a difference between being outspoken and assertive and being able to communicate. Many introverts are excellent communicators/ orators; they are just never given the chance in a school system that praises and rewards the loudest students.

  3. jbales

    I agree that group work or classroom discussions are a vital part of our learning construct. I am arguing that introverts may thrive better if they are given more time to process their thoughts and, like you mention, independent work time. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. You made some clear points there. I looked on the internet for the subject matter and found most persons will agree with your blog.

  5. mches

    “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.”

    Haha, WHAT? This was super unethical, but also way wrong because you showed no academic need!

    Also, ditto!

    PS – Small group work is not necessarily in conflict with introversion! The focus in not socialization for socialization’s sake, but because learning is a socially-constructed thing. It doesn’t mean there is not an appropriate time for learning alone, though.

  6. Meghank

    I was very similar in elementary school. I didn’t ever say anything except to answer a question. But I was “normal,” at home, so it was kind of creepy for me when my brother and sister started attending the school I was at. Were you the same way?

    I had wonderful teachers in my neighborhood public school. I HATED group projects. But when I was in school, there weren’t that many of them. I think schools today are a lot worse for introverts than they were in the past.

  7. houstonheart

    YES YES YES. Thank you for posting this. I’m an introvert too, and I’ve often thought about how my even more-introverted-middle-school-self was perceived back then. It frustrates me that the things I grade my kids on (zest/curiosity/etc.) may be only visible from students who are more extroverted, and it frustrates me even more that so much of my lesson is dependent on games & gimmicks that I can tell annoy the introverted students.

    Just anecdotally, I’ve found a HUGE skew towards extroversion within TFA and at my school. I’m still fairly introverted (though it surprises most people when they find out) and let me just say – Institute as an introvert is incredibly challenging. Being introverted as a teacher is tough because I don’t necessarily get energy from my students, and since I teach double-blocks, I have three groups of students for two hours each. That’s a lot of energy to keep up.

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this! Quiet is a great book & one I believe everyone – but especially teachers and administrators – should read.

  8. Shannon

    Wow…this really hits home. I think part of the reason I wasn’t accepted into a MAT program was because I did not score high enough on “extroversion.” It’s nice to hear from a successful teacher who isn’t an extrovert.

Post a comment

About this Blog

A teacher can change the world for a child.

High School

Subscribe to this blog (feed)