Doing disservice to introversion

Reading this article this morning about a teacher — admittedly extrovert — claiming she does her students all a service by forcing class participation riled me up a bit. Read it, then come back.

What Lahey does, and what the commenters point out, is equate social anxiety and shyness with introversion. But those are entirely different worlds and spheres.

This past summer, I did a presentation with Jackie Parker at ALA Annual on passive programming in libraries. Something that was crucial for me to bring up in the discussion was how passive programming and passive readers advisory are easy ins for patrons who are quieter. Who take in their stimulation and their worlds differently, through much more internal and self-reflective means. These are the people who aren’t going to shout from the rooftops what it is they want or what it is they need from the places they’re a part of. Passive programming and passive reader’s advisory are means of reaching that demographic.

I’m an introvert. A big introvert. I took a pass in all those classes where participation was a graded component. It’s not how I learn, it’s not how I function well, and if anything, it drained me and ruined educational experiences for me. Those classes where I was called on randomly filled me with not only anger but fear. And it’s not that I am shy or afraid to speak up — I can do both just fine — but rather, I can’t learn or think like that.

I live and I function internally, with an eye toward how any and everything applies to something in myself or in my own world. It’s not a selfish world view, though. It’s taking the things I’m learning and making them applicable.

Lahey’s idea that forcing introverts to conform to the extrovert way devalues the very means by which introverts learn and apply their knowledge. It tells them they’re not good enough because they’re not loud enough and because they’re not loud enough, they’re somehow failures.

But that’s not true.

I’m thinking about how Lahey’s class works. Does she allow students to read and reflect in their own right? Are students given an option to write their thoughts out in essay form as a means of earning credit or as proof of thought? Because if the mindset is that louder is better and that talking and speaking out verbally is the means of getting ahead, then there’s something to be said about her failing to recognize the value in the internal process and mechanics of learning. More than that, it forces her students — both introverts and extroverts — to take a shallow approach to the world through immediate action and reaction. It doesn’t allow for the slow burn of knowledge to occur for either those who need that or those who may benefit from it.

It privileges the loud in a world which already does so. And that’s not to say there is anything wrong with extroversion — there absolutely is not — but it is to say that it puts further pressure on people who think and take in the world differently to conform. By conforming, they’re giving up a huge piece of themselves and the huge piece of what it is that makes them as they are. It tells introverts that the way they see and interpret the world is wrong and in this particular instance, Lahey is telling these students that they will never succeed in life if they don’t suck it up and conform.

I value quiet time in my head. I need reflection space. It’s how I get from point A to point B. Were I forced to do differently, I’d be crippled.

Introversion is why I blog. This is my space to think about the things I’ve read and the things I’ve seen. It’s my way of processing the world around me and applying it to my own life. Introversion doesn’t make me non-social — in fact, I’d say the opposite. In being aware of my introversion and in being nurturing of my own needs, I’ve developed better social relationships because I know what it is I need from them and what it is I have to give to them. It’s made me keen on how much I need to speak out and when and how to do it.

The take away here is this: respect the ways everyone takes in their world. Offer options. Don’t force conformity because it only devalues the individual. It further privileges those who are already in the privileged class. And in this instance, I do think extroverts are in a more privileged class because their outspoken, socially-fueled natures (which again, is not a knock on them in the least) mean that their voices are heard more readily and more often.

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  1. says

    I require class participation, but I don't grade students on how often they speak up. Normally, what I do is a lot of think-pair-share. Think about it, get in groups, talk to the groups, and then the groups share. What usually happens is my quieter students will share in the very small groups, and the students who always talk tend to represent the group in the discussion.

    I definitely don't want to punish my students who don't speak up, and that's one way I can get them to engage with other students without necessarily putting pressure on them to perform for the whole class.

    It only took me about a year and a half of teaching (two to three semesters) to figure that out, btw. Which is a nice way of saying the teacher in the article is kind of a putz.

    • says

      Small group work is a way of helping both types of learners, absolutely. I think it takes time and experience working with people to learn how to accomodate all types — to push them just enough out of their comfort zones not to alienate them but to also at times offer experiences that allow their own strengths to shine through.

  2. Anonymous says

    This is the biggest load of crap I've ever read. I'm usually right on board with you, but you're acting like being introverted means you should be entitled to special, tailor treatment. Just because introverts can't act like normal human beings doesn't mean they're some special snowflakes who deserve to have education tailored especially. We should not be making exceptions for people who won't grow up out of their stupid "introversion" and accept the world doesn't exist to revolve around them. Oh no, you got ANGRY because your personal learning style wasn't how you were told to do it.

    This kind of nonsense is why education fails. We spend too much time on this crap and not enough on the actual education. Don't like being called on? Suck it up. The world does not revolve around your buggaboos.

    I can't believe you'd actual argue that extroverts are privileged. Says the cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical white girl. Think about what privilege ACTUALLY is. Things being "unequal" doesn't mean privilege.

    • says

      I think you give me a fair criticism in my sloppy use of "privileged." It's a very loaded term and I wasn't using it in that manner. However, I can see how it can be read that way and I own that. Mea culpa.

      That said? Introversion isn't something you "get over." It doesn't work that way. I'm not asking for entitlement or special treatment. I'm saying there's something to acknowledge here as a legitimate means of thinking and processing.

    • says

      Any introvert can tell you that the world is set up to value extroverts. Yes, introverts sometimes need to figure out a way to get along in an extroverted world, but what everyone needs to recognize is that that requires A LOT OF WORK. What comes naturally to extroverts – expressing themselves in public, approaching and talking to strangers, etc. – is a lot of work for an introvert. It's draining. Yes, I have to "put on my extrovert face" pretty often, and it's taken a long time to learn to do that.

      Who wouldn't want our children to be able to learn the way that they learn best? As librarians, we very often see children who don't like to read. We DON'T say "Suck it up, here's a copy of a book every child likes to read. Now you read it and you like it." We make every effort to match readers to the books that will speak to them, that might inspire a love of reading. Even if that is harder than simply handing a child a bestseller or a classic that many other kids enjoy.

      Yes, I do think that introverts need to learn some strategies for getting along in the extroverted world (something that Kelly HAS DONE – she works with the public, leads programs at her library, presents at conferences, organizes events). But extroverts need to realize that it's not as easy as telling a child to suck it up and do it. That kind of thinking is not going to inspire anyone to change themselves or develop new skills.

      Adults are able to choose a path that works for them. Going straight to work out of high school, continuing on to higher education, attending a large school or a small school, maybe attending a specialized school that meets their interests. Children have the choices that adults give them and if adults choose to give no choices that work for a child's particular learning style or personality type or level of ability, that child is out of luck. Why shouldn't our children have as many options as possible?

    • says

      I agree with Kelly 100% that introversion isn't something a person needs to "get over." Characterizing individuals who are closer to the introvert end of the spectrum than the extrovert end as "stupid" or anything other than "normal human beings" is a lamentably common exercise in demonization, but it doesn't change the fact that individuals who tilt toward the introverted end of the scale ARE often forced to navigate through institutional structures that are optimized to meet the needs of extroverts to a much higher degree.

    • says

      Well, we've heard two reasoned and thoughtful replies to this hostile little comment, so I'll add this: Education does not fail when you recognize that different students take different paths. Education, and reasoned discourse in general, fails when one person says "I disagree, and here's what I think," and another person immediately labels it "the biggest load of crap I've ever read." Also, please note the irony of your slamming introversion through anonymous commenting. Stay classy.

    • says

      For what it's worth, Kelly, although I agree that privilege is a loaded term, I don't think you used it improperly here. (But then again, I'm a introverted, cisgender, bisexual, able-bodied, neurotypical middle-class white girl, so what do I know?) Seriously, there are many types of privilege and not benefitting from one hardly negates the existence of others. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that extroverts are privileged in our culture.

      Having said that, the comment you were responding to saddens me. In a very real way (I'm not being sarcastic here), are we not all "special snowflakes" who deserve to have our education tailored to our needs?

      For a good discussion of the term privilege, I recommend this blog post: Privilege Burnout? She's responding to criticism of her use of the term literacy privilege, but I think that what she says applies here as well. Here's the takeaway quote (the blogger is quoting another blogger): “Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal.” [Emphasis in original]

    • says

      These responses have been so great and not in the sense of what you're saying about MY post but rather, what you're adding to expand my thoughts on introversion vs extroversion, education, communication, and more. So thank you.

      I'm going to check out the privilege article now, so thank you for sharing that one, too!

    • says

      I am a blow-you-out-of the-water extrovert. I need no more attention in my life. Nor do I need all my dear, good friends and colleagues who are introverts and from whom I learned to lead a "life of the mind" to change one iota. On my wall is a sign that I live by shared by one of my large-lifed introverted friends (I think it is aimed at parents but has helped me as a friend and as a manager):
      How to care for introverts
      1. Respect their need for privacy
      2. Never embarass them in public
      3. Let them observe first in new situations.
      4. Give them time to think; don't expect instant answers
      5.Don't interrupt them
      6. Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives
      7. Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing
      8.Reprimand them privately
      9. Teach them new skills privately
      10. Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities
      11. Don't push them to make lots of friends
      12. Respect their introversion and don't try to re-make them into extroverts.

    • Lacey Earl says

      I can't believe how much of an idiot you are. Introverts aren't asking for special treatment any more than anyone else. You are obviously an extrovert (and a jerk) because you think the introverts aren't 'normal human beings'. Also, introversion isn't something you can grow out of. You can learn how to utilize it and how not to be hindered by it, but it's not like there's a special switch you can turn to make it go away. The argument isn't that extroverts are privileged, but that it's is easier for them to communicate because they naturally are more predisposed to be outgoing. Introverts can force themselves to be outgoing, but it takes a lot of energy. Extroverts generally are energized by spending time with/talking to people. Introverts are also more likely to have emotional problems like depression and anxiety. There's nothing wrong with either, but they are different and it's important to know that people do learn in different ways, especially if you are responsible for teaching them. I could recommend several books on the subject of introversion if you're interested in educating yourself, but if you're only interested in spewing venom, you're on your own.

    • says

      The big irony is that it is the extroverts who need special attention, the whole concept of being introvert is that your are self driven with energy coming form the inside, I have always been like this, I motivate myself 100%. Tbh I have always felt like it is a bit child like to need attention and encouragement from others all the time to get things done. I think following your own mind and heart is nothing that needs getting over at all. I need no special attention, just need the world to not be as plain stupid as the clearly angry 'Anonymous' commenting on the angry introverts haha… and end of the day, there is no right or wrong, but we must have Ying AND Yang, simple as that… what an idiot indeed :s

  3. says

    I think this is less a plea for special treatment and more an argument that introverts have something special to offer too. In all our urging to express and contribute, are we also valuing listening and connecting? Conversations can turn sour when one side or the other express without being open to listening. I think we can all come up with examples of this. Some of them quite recent. :)

    I'm a natural introvert who has learned the value of being extroverted when the situation calls for it. I think it could be just as valuable for extroverts to take a few lessons from introverts. That doesn't indicate that one is better than the other, but that both deserve their place and their value.

  4. says

    My intensely introverted self thanks you for this insightful post, Kelly.

    "Or I can ask them to open their mouths, turn on their brains, and share their ideas with the rest of the class."

    This quote from the Atlantic article really grated on me. You can be sure an introvert's brain is turned on. Because they give concepts deep thought it takes them longer to process and articulate them. I find it odd that the writer used Rosa Parks as an example of an introvert yet seems to want to encourage them to speak up in the very same ways that extroverts do. If anything this example should prove the opposite, that introverts do speak up, just using a different style than extroverts do.

    • says

      Exactly. That quote bothered me to no end as well. Just because someone isn't sharing openly doesn't mean they're not thinking. It might, in fact, be the reason they AREN'T talking up and out.

  5. Anonymous says

    LOL, it's amazing. You people are so wounded by the idea that not everyone wants to, or should, cater to people just because they are spineless and can't speak up. Or, heaven forbid, they're "uncomfortable" and don't want to, OMG, get called on in class!!! This is seriously why we have so many people out there who have such ridiculous entitlement complexes.

    The world does not shift around your needs all the time. In fact, it shouldn't have to. If you're incapable of adjusting, putting on your big kid underwear, and learning to adapt to the world around you, why should other people be forced to adjust their behavior? Introversion is not a protected class.

    I can't roll my eyes hard enough at people getting so offended. This is like that infographic on "how to care for an introvert" that basically treats them like they're nothing more than skittish cats. Unless you've got some actual anxiety disorder, seriously, get over the victim complex.

    • says

      I don't think it really has anything to do with being "spineless." When I was in grad school for teaching English (before I got my library degree), they taught us aaallll about how we needed to tailor our lessons to different modes of learning. What it boils down to is that there's no ONE correct way to learn or teach.

      Also: "The world does not shift around your needs all the time" – that goes for everyone, doesn't it?

    • says

      Love the use of the word "spineless" in a comment by a person who can't even find the guts to put a name to her nastiness. There have been plenty of thoughtful responses to your argument that you either haven't read or can't comprehend, so I'll just say that I'm an extrovert, and you're an asshole. (And Kelly, this was terrific. Thank you for writing it.)

    • says

      Actually, a lot of us are having to shift around your needs to be heard right now. Most of us are just saddened by your immaturity and bullying but we are 'shifting' our needs to ignore you

    • Anonymous says

      The fact that you think this is "bullying" is telling of your understanding of what bullying actually is. The second something becomes a hot after school special topic, it loses all meaning… and it just goes to show that the "introverts" really are trying to make this some big thing about how oppressed they are. Sheesh.

  6. Anonymous says

    By the way, if you guys have a problem with someone making these comments anonymously (basically the only reason for that would be so you could take to your little twitter accounts and try to publicly shame someone for disagreeing with you, how awful!), maybe you should make it so you can't comment anonymously? Not using my name doesn't make my comments any less valid than yours. Wouldn't you understand that as an OMG INTROVERT?

    • says

      Introverts aren't necessarily /afraid/ to speak up and take responsibility for what they say. Wanting to remain anonymous or not has nothing to do with introversion, thank you.
      (I can understand that you'd rather stay anonymous. I just don't like that when introversion is mistaken for shyness and secretiveness.)

  7. says

    As a supervisor and an EXTREME type-A extrovert, I have had to learn over the years how to facilitate relationships with people of all…umm 'verts'. LOL! That's part of being a human and part of life.

    I don't expect my introverts to attribute too much to heated dialogue at meetings but this doesn't mean they don't have a voice…I know when something is on their mind and I make it a point to bring it up later.

    But what I sure as hell hate, and sometimes even about myself, is when extroverts try to reign supreme over introverts. It takes a strong person to identify what they are, accept it, and find a learning style that works with how they learn. It takes a weak individual to belittle someone and demean them for who they are.

    Great post, Kelly…and definitely food for thought.

    • says

      I can identify with this comment as a supervisor myself. One of the first things they talked about in my management training was finding ways to communicate with all different types of people. It might sound a little cheesy, but one thing mentioned in management training was "The Platinum Rule", which is that you get best results by treating people the way THEY want to be treated (i.e. the world doesn't revolve around you and different methods of communication/rewards/criticism are going to be effective with different people). I guess what I'm trying to say is that this concept is NOT limited to introvert/extrovert, but is recognized to be effective with all methods of communication.

      As a supervisor, it's MY JOB to communicate effectively with my employees. If someone's not getting the message, it's MY JOB to figure out why and how we can improve our communication. If I choose not to do that, I'm failing as a manager. I'd argue that the same goes for teachers or anyone else whose job entails communicating with other human beings.

  8. says

    It IS heartening to see that the body of literature on introversion has gained so much visibility in recent years. Susan Cain's book QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING is the most high-profile recent example (and her TED talk is a stunner,, but Marti Olsen Laney's work is lucid and compelling. Also, I know clinical psychology professionals are less than united in their feelings about Psychology Today, but they've published more than one article that as a layman I've found informative and thought-provoking.
    Thank you for the discussion, Kelly. This is a topic worth examining.

  9. says

    For me, not just an introvert, but also someone who has social anxiety, I've found that things do get better. I remember once having to give an oral report in high school English and my hands and, therefore, my report, were shaking so hard someone said to me afterward that he thought there was a huge wind blowing into the room.
    Now I'm a children's librarian and each storytime gets easier and easier. Public speaking will never, ever be my forte. But I do it more and more and take a small tranq if need be. Lately, that hasn't been necessary. And I hope that one day the dread I feel before a presentation will ease. The stress headaches are so not worth it.
    I understand that teachers often need kids to participate — it may be a way to show if a student understands the material and/or is keeping up with class. But the good teachers know their students and how how to use various teaching methods to address different students and different learning styles.
    Unfortunately, just as in the saying "the squeaky wheel gets oiled," the more extroverted kids in class do get more attention. But I think the introverts find their niches.

    • says

      I definitely think as people grow up and figure out these things about themselves, ti gets better for them. It's funny — I don't have an issue with public speaking. But it's because it's my own choice to offer to present. It doesn't change the fact I get nerves or that, when finished, I need complete downtime because I do not get energized from them (quite the opposite).

      Teachers who are good — and I think that's the bulk of them — know the value of offering lessons and means of education that reach different learning needs of different students. But pushing students into one mentality and one line of working is not okay.

  10. says

    I'd ask the anonymous commenter to take a step back for just a moment and see that what all of us introverts are doing here is exactly the opposite of being spineless. We're speaking up and taking a position, but unlike the teacher who wants her students to "open their mouths, turn on their brains, and share their ideas with the rest of the class," we want to turn on our brains first, and only then open our mouths to share.

  11. says

    As someone who is an introvert everywhere but the classroom I find this fascinating. I think this is connected to other things Kelly has written about like being told to smile. Sometimes I'm like "Wait? Was I interacting with you? I wasn't aware, let me psych myself up and we'll continue" I've talked to people online on a daily basis who I have trouble approaching in person.

    It only makes sense that just like we make an attempt to accommodate other learning styles we should also accept that not everyone wants to interact in the same manner. Diversity is more than skin color.

    • says

      It's definitely connected to other things — about being nice, about not apologizing for who you are, for being authentic. And like those other things, I see no reason to be ashamed of being introverted (nor should extroverts feel shame for that either). But it's a matter of realizing there are other means and ways and empathizing with the challenges therein.

  12. says

    I'm not sure which part of this lady's teaching disturbs me most:

    *success focused on professional or perhaps financial terms
    *the idea that to get said success you must subvert aspects of yourself that are deemed less desirable by society
    *disregard for the many benefits introverts bring to society and to her classroom
    *the fact that she sees her job as creating students who bend to the world rather than make it a better place

    I also think she has a certain amount of misunderstanding of introversion. As an introvert I have no issues answering in class or presenting to groups of people. I'm comfortable in front of a crowd or a classroom. But cocktail conversation wears me out and my best work is produced in silence. To define introversion only in terms of classroom participation is inaccurate.

    Kudos to Kelly for a great post.

    • says

      Everyone's experience of introversion is different. For me, class participation was brutal. So I just chose not to (willingly – I knew it meant certain things but I also knew that's not how I operate). It doesn't mean I didn't speak up when I had something to say, though.

      Cocktail conversations are tough, too. I get less stressed about them when I find a small group to interact with, but even after, I need plenty of "me time" to recover.

  13. says

    As both an introvert and a teacher, I do see value in the underlying premise of that article – part of an educator's job is to help students cope in the real world, and, as you've rightly pointed out, the real world places high value on extroverts. In that respect, helping students become more confident at speaking up is a good thing.

    But the key word here is HELPING. There are ways to guide and encourage introverted students towards greater classroom participation without tossing them into the deep end by, say, calling on them randomly on the first day of class. Speaking out in large groups, for an introvert, is a learned skill – and just like any other learned skill, it takes time, confidence, and small steps to become proficient. The linked article, to my mind, misses the mark on this point.

    • says

      I think helping students develop speaking skills is important. But good teachers (and as I said above, I think most are good!) know how to balance those requirements with others. There's no force to be only one thing.

      Time, confidence, and small steps = exactly. And even then? It still doesn't make it tough or draining internally. And that is a valid feeling.

  14. says

    This is such an interesting post and even more interesting thread to follow! I appreciate your reasoned approach to why it is important that various learning models be offered as well as your mea culpa on the use of the "privileged" term because it is a loaded term and one I would argue doesn't accurately fit this scenario. I personally believe it is important to give introverted students the tools they need to participate in school/work/community in the extroverted way that seemingly is more valued in our culture. But offering other learning opportunities that value the introverted experience doesn't conflict. If anything it broadens the conversation which is beneficial to everyone.

    That being said, I'm most intrigued by the disconnect between the reasoned, measured responses in this thread versus the vitriolic response by the same respondents on twitter. While I personally believe in signing my name to everything I write, I can understand why some would adopt the anonymous title. If that's a feature offered on the blog, I don't really see why critiquing a person for remaining anonymous has any value. Critiquing ideas has value but personal attacks just makes people seem petty. Calling people spineless or assholes or saying you are being bullied in this context detracts. I'm sorry to see it being allowed on a blog I quite enjoy for its great YA discussions.

    • says

      "But offering other learning opportunities that value the introverted experience doesn't conflict. If anything it broadens the conversation which is beneficial to everyone." Bingo.

      As for your second part, I think there is a need to vent out feelings sometimes. And I don't see where the problem is in doing so on Twitter, especially since names are attached. I think everyone's owning his/her words here. It's less of a critique of the anonymity (from my perspective) and more about the way the approach was made.

    • says

      I agree that the wording of anonymous definitely contributed to how his/her thoughts were perceived but the fact that people explicitly pointed to the anonymous handle as somehow mitigating the argument was problematic to me. We'll have to agree to disagree o people owning their own words. If you're capable of politeness on a blog thread but then switch to name calling on your twitter it makes me view the persona as disingenuous.

  15. says

    "Those classes where I was called on randomly filled me with not only anger but fear. And it's not that I am shy or afraid to speak up — I can do both just fine — but rather, I can't learn or think like that."

    100% agreed. I spent most of my years in school afraid to speak up and, if required to give a presentation of some kind, spent the entire class dreading it and entirely missing the lesson because I was so anxious. I've gotten better about speaking up, but I still far prefer taking time to consider my thoughts and present them in writing. Considering what technology affords us, I think there are many ways introverted students can be included in class discussions without making them feel awkward.

    • says

      It was much less presentation fear than it was speaking up without adequate time to prepare that got me! I can do the presentation fine since it's something I can control the thoughts of and direction of. A discussion in class? Not so much.

      I agree, too: there are definite ways to allow introverts to be included in discussion without making them feel like they can't/don't have anything to add.

  16. says

    In my teen years, I was both an extrovert AND shy. Painful combination. Since then, some would say unfortunately, I got over the shy part. I am perfectly capable, however, of seeing that the introvert, who thinks things through first, often has better things to say than I, with my mouth running full speed ahead of my brain. Good teams (and marriages) have a little of both to balance each other out. Trying to force one group to become like the other does everyone a disservice. As a supervisor in a field of work that often requires teamwork, I need to look for and value both personalities. I would thank this teacher to stop destroying half my work force.

  17. LM says

    I'm not sure giving introverts the space to be introverts is helping much if we don't also guide them in how to either compete with extroverts or choose careers where they don't have to. You might be the smartest guy at your company, but there's a good chance your boss is an extrovert. And hey, introverts aren't necessarily smarter than extroverts to my knowledge so there's also a good chance you AREN'T the smartest guy at your company, and then you don't even have that as a way to stand out. Introverts are going to need the social skills to deal with people like this misguided teacher. So even though I don't agree with the standard, I don't find it unrealistic as preparation for the future either.

    • says

      I think the notion of "guiding them" to "compete" is what I'm getting at entirely. Introverts don't need to be guided or helped along their path to compete. They can do it on their own. There's no one standard for how to live or think or interpret or work. And if an introvert is quiet at work or doesn't speak up in board meetings, it doesn't mean they're not present or engaged. They may just be figuring out what it is they have to contribute in a different way.

    • says

      I didn't add more to this because I've said as much in earlier comments. There is a difference between educating, in giving people places in which to practice speaking and engaging verbally and in presenting, but "guiding them" to "compete" isn't the answer or reasoning behind it.

    • LM says

      I'm not saying introverts aren't present or engaged or making valuable contributions, but rather that they run a very real risk of one day having a superior who undervalues introversion.

    • says

      Which is why it's important to educate both types of learners, rather than funnel everyone through the same sort of learning style. Part of what makes humans great is how different and how complicated they are. Why change that?

  18. LM says

    I didn't mean that all bosses are extroverts. Just that the crazy crap teachers come up with isn't as isolated as I would have liked to believe when I was in HS. Turns out people in the "real world" also have some issues; learning to adapt to the situation turns out to be a pretty useful skill.

  19. Anonymous says

    I would ask the anonymous commenter which other Myers-Briggs personality traits need to be "fixed"? I am an introvert, but it doesn't mean I don't speak in public. As a teacher, I've found that there are many reasons that a student doesn't speak in class: anxiety, boredom, distraction. It's actually very seldom that they are introverted. However, I also don't force participation, but I encourage it. If a student gets it, I can see that from their writing assignments. I think that its possible that you are equating introversion with shyness, but that's a fairly common misunderstanding. Also, I think perhaps that using a less abrasive tone and refraining from saying someone's personality type (not changeable) makes them "not a normal human being" would facilitate the discussion. We are as human as you, thanks.

  20. says

    I've been through a master's degree and reading this article I see the same issue I always have. When we look at participation grades we do not distinguish between meaningful interaction and just talking. I remember having college level courses where teachers kept a tally. A person who made the same basic simple statement as 5 other people got equal credit to someone who made a thought out in depth response. I think participation is important and I say that as an introvert, but I think that like so many things we try to over simplify. Teaching styles have been mentioned and I think that part of the journey needs to be teaching students how to be comfortable speaking up. I have had classes where I enjoyed being part of the discussion and contributing, I also had classes where I never said a word. I think it is all about the culture created in the classroom.

    • says

      "I think it is all about the culture created in the classroom." — Exactly. It makes me worry about what the classroom culture in Lahey's looks/feels like. I, too, sat through too many classes where participation was tallied. That roused such anxiety and rarely led to meaningful discussion. I can take part in a meaningful discussion. But I'm going to say one thing I've been thinking about for a long time, and that's where I'm going to start/end. It's not that I'm shy. It's that I like to think and digest for a period of time before just saying something.

  21. says

    I taught a performance workshop several years ago that was designed to give "onstage" opportunities to everyone who signed up. I ended up with 9/9 introverts. Within the classroom setting, they tended to be equally collaborative and generous because they knew and trusted one another, but by the time we got to live performance before an audience, it was a different story. One of them had a paralyzing fear of speaking in public (practically phobic). We re-located her position to a still-necessary stage management role where she could be seen and provided a vital service to the show but did not have to speak.

    I bring the example up because the goal of the class was to provide an opportunity to stretch, not an opportunity to be punished. If I'd made her read lines, she would have felt attacked. Obviously in a class of nine there's a great deal more leeway to be flexible than there is in a class of 75, which I've also taught.

    Although the Atlantic article focuses on introversion as an almost-willful self-disabling, the comments here seem to be more productively focused on recognizing individual needs with the i/e continuum as being emblematic.

    Part of the trick of industrialized education – particularly in classes of 30+ – is developing a curriculum that is achievable by students and teachers alike. As an instructor, I can certainly provide more to one student than I do to another, but I feel morally obligated to make an equal offering to all concerned. That being said, I can also be fairly confident that most students will not take me up on my offers of assistance and/or guidance. It doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all (in which you must be Such and Such a type of learner), but logistics demands that education be a one-size-fits-loosely and that not everyone's needs will be perfectly met, especially if you're trying to meet everyone's needs a little. This struggle becomes much more apparent in a classroom with, for example, a hearing-impaired student who has a sign-interpreter in the class – but it's the same underlying issue.

    From my perspective, those opportunities provided me some of my best experiences teaching because they foregrounded my own assumptions and made me re-think my approach and how I might develop alternatives to reaching different students. The author of the article seems to want everyone to come to her way of teaching instead of developing and expanding her way of teaching.

    • says

      "The author of the article seems to want everyone to come to her way of teaching instead of developing and expanding her way of teaching." Bingo. And I think what struck me and got me riled up about this was how the teacher suggested that it was never her problem, but rather, the problem of the students. If you're the teacher, you are the one in charge. You're the one with the ability to try new things and encourage engagement and make people excited about education. It does mean stretching yourself sometimes and you make a very fair point that it's not always easy. But, it can be done in increments. It's not about forcing people who, at their very nature, aren't extroverts to become such. That can be traumatizing.

    • says

      Some of the most unaware presentations I've ever witnessed/listened to were people trying to teach teachers how to teach using a greater variety of teaching styles in order to deliver to different learning styles – presented to us, invariably, in a lecture format.

  22. Anonymous says

    If that was my child's teacher, I'd be demanding a new one. NO competent teacher takes the position of 'If every child were the same, and better yet JUST LIKE ME, things would be perfect.' which is exactly what this woman is foisting on her kids. Maybe it's easier to try and force kids to follow one way of learning, but teaching isn't an easy job. If anyone needs to suck it up, it's the whiner who wrote that article. She chose to be a teacher, maybe she was too busy talking out loud in class the day they explained what it is to really be one.

    • says

      Any job where you're working with people and educating them — teaching, librarianship, etc — requires a real understanding of people. People don't all work the same way. They don't all think the same way. And it's not to say you have to bend to the needs of every single individual because sometimes that is impossible (time, inability to communicate needs, and so forth), but being aware of difference and embracing that as the challenge of the field…that's where this teacher goes so wrong. Not all pegs are going to fit a single hole. Nor should they!

  23. says

    When I was about seven, I was reasonably well behaved and above average in intelligence thanks to all the reading I did. I wasn't a genius, but my comprehension and retention skills helped to make the subjects I was less interested in go well. We moved to a new school district about halfway through the year.

    My new teacher, who we'll call Mrs. S, introduced me to the class and then had me sit down. She had been told by the guidance counselor and my father beforehand that I had a speech problem (that I was in therapy for) and to take that into consideration.

    A week went by and she called on me to read aloud a passage in the story we had for classwork. I attempted to, but too many of the words were difficult for me to pronounce and my classmates were none to shy about giggling over my mistakes. Finally Mrs. S told me to sit down and that she expected 'better' from me next time. The next day she did it again. I did even worse because I could hear the whispering even before I began reading. Again she told me she expected better of me.

    This went on for a week before I couldn't even say a single word at all. As soon as she called on me I burst out sobbing and she took me to the principle's office. She explained I was being a willfully ignorant child and purposely mocking her by refusing to speak. Behind doors I heard her call me a brat and intentionally acting stupid.

    The principle saw that I was in speech therapy, but Mrs. S insisted that I was doing it deliberately. Eventually we went back to class, but she took away my desk. "Until you decide to behave you will not have a desk." I was not allowed to sit with my classmates during lunch (which we ate in the classroom), during free time or on half days.

    Each week she would call me to read out loud the passage I couldn't speak and each week I heard my classmates' whispers, heard the giggling and the laughter. They had several nicknames for me at this point and taunted me relentlessly whenever they could. I was so scared I bit the inside of my cheek until I bled (I still have the huge scar from it).

    About a month before the end of the year a student teacher told me I could sit with my classmates for recess. I only had one friend at this point, another socially awkward young girl who suffered from a limp because of a deformity in her legs, and together we giggled in the corner. Until Mrs. S came in and saw me. She marched me in front of the class and demanded that I read out loud the passage. "If you can speak so easily with your friend, then you've obviously been lying all this time haven't you?"

    I tried to open my mouth to explain, but she just kept saying I was lying and undermining her authority. That she had been teaching too long to not recognize when a child was being a brat and willful. I couldn't breathe, felt cold all over and before I knew it I was passed out on the ground.

    My father was LIVID. My speech therapist was LIVID. Heck even my mom, who agreed with Mrs. S that I was being willful, was LIVID. Mrs. S got the boot for that, but as for me? It took me YEARS to even so much as speak in a small group of unfamiliar classmates. Even longer for me to speak up in class. I still won't read out loud if I can help it and as for anything remotely public…well.

    Lahey sounds like she has the same mindset. Reading that article terrified me. When I was a daycare worker and a nanny I worked with kids who were not group people. Who preferred one on one or took longer than the other kids to acclimate to a classroom setting. I know now if Mrs. S had been more understanding and not forced me time after time, I would have been more comfortable. Not completely, but enough so that if I stumbled over a word I could have asked 'Can you please pronounce this for me?' instead of being terrified of asking.

    • says

      I always wonder about that last point. Are parents really more pushy these days? Parents were pushy when I was a kid, and I suspect they were pushy 50 years ago, too. It's just much more obvious to us now. I'm not certain since I'm not a teacher, but it's something I think about quite a bit.

    • says

      That cartoon pretty much sums it up. However, many more parents are involved in a good way and I think communication is much greater between teachers and parents. Unfortunately there are many who think that the teacher is always in the wrong and don't make their child take responsibility for what they have or haven't done.

  24. says

    I very much agree with what you've said here, especially "respect the ways everyone takes in their world. Offer options. Don't force conformity because it only devalues the individual." I think I can see where this teacher was coming from too. It can be easy to say "hey, you need to learn to teach all kinds of people" but really, if they're not given the proper training, how can this be done? On another note, a teacher can see well over 100 students a day and many things can get muddled. She probably thought she was doing the right thing because trying to figure out how to teach 100+ different kids all in one day can be hard. I'm still in high school and I've had all types of kids in my classes and in many cases, trying to teach even 25 kids in one class can be hard.

    But I'm not sure I understand your use of "privilege." I am an extrovert yet I have never considered myself "privileged." I am not saying that being an introvert is wrong or anything but honestly, how does it make the world more privileged for extroverts? Is it because they speak their mind more often or something else entirely? I can say as an extrovert that not all people simply like to hear themselves speak yet my questions are honestly sincere. I just feel like I'm being labeled as someone who doesn't respect other people who learn differently than I do because I am simply…myself.

    I mean no disrespect and I don't agree with the teacher but it's not just about personality type, in my opinion. Some can be about how comfortable you are with the people around you and in some cases, nothing the teacher can do might make you more comfortable.

    • says

      I noted above that the word "privileged" is loaded and I shouldn't have used that term. But to answer your question, extroverts are more likely to get what they want in the world because they're more likely to be outspoken and speak up for it. It's not a bad thing, and it's not meant to say you're not respectful. It's rather the way the world works — the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That's the introvert's burden in many ways.

    • says

      If you haven't, I suggest picking up Quiet. While I think Cain gets a little angry toward the extrovert in her book (which was my biggest criticism), she does a spectacular job of highlighting the ways extroverts are more readily heard, listened to, and responded to in the world.

  25. says

    Introverts process differently than extroverts. Extroverts needs some time to process internally before they express externally. Introverts words are well-chosen and planned. When an normally quiet introvert speaks out, you should listen carefully. Extroverts process externally and talk "off the top of their head". Thus, extroverts can seem random and disorganized.

    My education degree taught me about 3 methods of leaning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile. I have come to realize that this is not all there is, because I am a didactic learner, who gathers information by asking questions and interacting with the material. We were never taught about how introverts and extroverts process material. This impacts how they interact in a classroom environment.

    To force you process in a foreign method puts you at a definite disadvantage. Still, there is an time in everyone's life when this will happen. Interviews are biased towards extroverts, who can quickly react and answers random questions. Introverts can look less polished, if they need to think awhile to formulate an answer. Thus, they need to practice,and consider questions that might be asked, so they are prepared to quickly respond. In contrast, extroverts might be well-served to formulate answers, rather than spout out the first thing that pops into their head.

    To promote learning, it would be best to allow each type of student to pick their method: class presentation or written paper. Allowing introverts the option to present in small groups, rather than the entire class is another alternative. In addition, randomly calling on introverts instills great fear. It is better to allow volunteers, or go in order, so they know when they will need to answer, and plan ahead. To hold introverts to extrovert standards and methods is problematic, yet it does seem that our world holds a bias.

    • says

      These are excellent and thoroughly thought-through methods of learning that do benefit to both introverts AND extroverts. I agree with you, especially when it comes to things like interviews — they do tend to allow better answers from extroverts by their very nature.

      I think there are many, many methods of learning. I'm very much a visual learner, but I process it through my introversion, too, if that makes sense. I think no matter what kind of learner you are, you still process through intro/extro version. It's one of the strongest characteristics we possess and it guides how we take in the things in our world.

  26. says

    Introverts process differently than extroverts. Extroverts needs some time to process internally before they express externally. Introverts words are well-chosen and planned. When an normally quiet introvert speaks out, you should listen carefully. Extroverts process externally and talk "off the top of their head". Thus, extroverts can seem random and disorganized.

    My education degree taught me about 3 methods of leaning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile. I have come to realize that this is not all there is, because I am a didactic learner, who gathers information by asking questions and interacting with the material. We were never taught about how introverts and extroverts process material. This impacts how they interact in a classroom environment.

    To force you process in a foreign method puts you at a definite disadvantage. Still, there is an time in everyone's life when this will happen. Interviews are biased towards extroverts, who can quickly react and answers random questions. Introverts can look less polished, if they need to think awhile to formulate an answer. Thus, they need to practice,and consider questions that might be asked, so they are prepared to quickly respond. In contrast, extroverts might be well-served to formulate answers, rather than spout out the first thing that pops into their head.

    To promote learning, it would be best to allow each type of student to pick their method: class presentation or written paper. Allowing introverts the option to present in small groups, rather than the entire class is another alternative. In addition, randomly calling on introverts instills great fear. It is better to allow volunteers, or go in order, so they know when they will need to answer, and plan ahead. To hold introverts to extrovert standards and methods is problematic, yet it does seem that our world holds a bias.

  27. says

    I love this post! I am also an introvert. If participation is part of a grade for class, then I can make myself participate, but it has to be on MY terms. I don't want to be randomly called upon – in fact, if that's how a teacher functions, then I generally have spent those classes sitting in fear, wondering when and if the teacher will just call on me to present something. I agree with everything you said; I don't think introversion should ever be seen as a problem, and I do think that society really does need to stop privileging extroversion. We've come so far in some ways of teaching (like accepting that people have different visual and auditory learning needs), so I don't think it should be that much of a problem to accept the differences between extroversion and introversion at some point.

  28. Anonymous says

    Although an introvert, I do not consider myself to be a naturally shy person. In fact, as an adult I discovered I was quite good at public speaking. However, I did experience several years of shy behaviour when I was at school due to severe and persistent bullying.

    Frankly I'm amazed that the bullying/malicious teasing angle hasn't been given a whole lot more coverage, considering the storm this article has triggered in the blogosphere.

    I was being tormented by my agemates for my Asperger traits, which "didn't exist" of course in the 1970s and 80s. I needed no accommodations academically, but would have been grateful for any responsive actions from teachers that kept me away from situations that only served to attract more (negative) attention from classmates.

    Jessica Lahey writes: "A student who is unwilling to stand up for herself and tell me that she does not understand the difference between an adverb and a verb is also less likely to stand up for herself if she is being harassed or pressured in other areas of her life."

    Forcing a student to speak in front of the class is NOT the way to deal with the problem if she is being bullied or maliciously teased. I'm astonished that as a teacher Ms. Lahey seems completely unaware of the extent of the problem. Does she think that bullying behaviour is a rarity that doesn't require her to change her modus operandum from time to time?

    When I was in school, if I put my hand up to answer a question, kids would start staring and snickering. If the teacher called on me to answer, there would be a rapt silence as they just waited for me to make a mistake or answer incorrectly so they could take the mick about it for weeks or months afterward. Even a correct answer would be repeated back to me in silly voices for weeks. Is it any surprise then that I learned not to speak up in class?

    I don't know how far this affected my grades overall because our school reports weren't broken down and itemised like that. But nearly every teacher made comments about how I didn't speak up or participate, needed to develop "a more outgoing personality", and "shouldn't be afraid to ask questions". (Yet in the same report they would comment that I wasn't liked by the class and sat apart from the others. Duh – what does it take to connect the dots?)

    When I complained to one teacher that I couldn't say anything in class because kids would only take the mick, in an astounding 180 degree twist she claimed that kids were only taking the mick because I wouldn't answer or participate!

    As I've said, I wasn't naturally shy. No, I was being picked on. Teachers who can't see malicious teasing going on in their classes, or think the problem will solve itself by "encouraging kids to speak up" are living in cloud cuckoo land. At the very least, they should count their blessings as such an attitude reveals they have obviously never been bullied or teased themselves.

    • says

      As a student I was often ignored or passed over because I wasn't always the first one to raise my hand or shout out an answer. What most teachers didn't realize is that I was processing. It was the few teachers who did recognize this that I still remember today. I have tried in my teaching/librarian career to allow all my students to have their say in whatever way worked. Extroverts often don't realize that sometimes an introvert just doesn't want to talk. It isn't that we don't have anything to say. I do not Twitter and I am pretty sure there are many introverts who think Twitter is, well, just a lot of twitter!

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