Being kind to the quiet

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(This is another post for newbies especially, but more experienced teachers and others should find the content interesting as well.) josez

Teachers are disproportionately extroverted by nature. We picked a profession where we occupy the center of the room. In professional development seminars, presenters are often drowning in helpful contributions from the audience. Not all teachers are extroverts, of course. Some introverted people are called — and this profession is a calling — to help children learn. But a lot of talkers, huggers and hand-shakers hang out in the teachers lounge.

What are some characteristics of extroverts? (http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydevelopment/fl/5-Signs-You-Are-an-Extrovert.htm)

•Numerous, broad interests
•Likes to communicate by talking
•Enjoys being at the center of attention
•Tends to act first before thinking
•Enjoys group work
•Feels isolated by too much time spent alone
•Looks to others and outside sources for ideas and inspiration
•Likes to talk about thoughts and feelings

Extroverts love to hear the sound of their own voices. True extroverts will talk about feelings, the state of the weather, their imaginary, childhood friends, lawn care, whether a virus could zombify America, or just about anything, most of the time. Extroverts also tend to want to help introverts.

“Quiet? Are you unhappy? Is something wrong? Are you having a bad day? How can I help you? Why don’t you join us?”

Some less outgoing teachers end up eating in their rooms because they want a few moments of silence in their workday. I am sure many spouses retire to their man or woman-caves in search of quiet as well. Extroverts are a helpful, talky bunch and sometimes we are just too much for some people.

Eduhonesty: I was going to write about decorating classrooms as part of my late-August posts for new teachers but, while surfing, I got diverted. Extroverts are easily diverted. Part of my reason for going sideways rests in the content of education classes. We are taught how to coax out answers from the quiet kids in class. We are advised to set up situations where quiet students have no alternative except to contribute. We are pushed to create group projects; we often oblige all students to present part of that group project to the class, assigning presentation points in the project rubric. We are taught to make children participate.

I’d like to suggest that we give introverted kids a break, offering five characteristics of introverts for thought: (http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydevelopment/fl/5-Signs-You-Are-an-Introvert.htm)

•Being Around Lots of People Drains Your Energy
•You Enjoy Solitude
•You Have a Small Group of Close Friends
•People Often Describe You as Quiet and May Find It Difficult to Get to Know You
•Too Much Stimulation Leaves You Feeling Distracted and Unfocused

The art and science of teaching demand that we help our students to fulfill their potential. Learning to speak to a classroom undoubtedly helps that potential. Learning to work in groups has become de rigueur in many corporations. But I’d like readers to think about the list of characteristics of introverts above. We don’t want to drain our students energy, not often anyway. We don’t want to make our students feel distracted and unfocused. Most importantly, we don’t want to scare our students. Public speaking may be fun for extroverts, but introverts frequently find that same experience genuinely scary.

If you are new to teaching, you have probably been taught all sorts of tricks to help you draw out the quiet students. Here’s today’s suggestion: Only use those tricks when necessary. Yes, students need to learn to give group presentations, but students also need to be respected for themselves. Introverts may take suggestions for change as criticisms and they tend to take criticism to heart much more often than their easily-distracted, extroverted counterparts. They may mull on comments that were meant well, feeling that they somehow failed by not speaking up when asked, and becoming ironically more afraid to speak up as they chew over the latest thing they wish they could somehow have done differently.

I suggest letting the quiet be quiet. If you have concerns — perhaps are worried that a quiet student may be unhappy — talk one-on-one to that student. In groups, let the quiet students be recorders or time-keepers. Sometimes teachers must push students to try new group activities and speak up publicly, but those pushes should not be daily occurrences. Students should be able to live within their individual comfort zones, wherever the boundaries may be.