Being an introvert isn't easy, especially when you spend your entire school life being told that you need to participate more in class, stop being so shy, or (my favourite) come out of your shell. What schools don't understand is that the preference for quiet, less stimulating environments is not an affliction, it is a character trait shared by nearly half the population.
I was recently reading through my old school reports and I found that each one, from reception to year 11, said something along the lines of, "Bronte needs to participate more in class" or, "Bronte is a great student, but could be even better if she contributed more to class discussions." I remember at the time being completely confused. I didn't feel the need to do any of these things, yet I was been judged for them. My school work was good, my grades were on track and my behaviour was good, so why did I have to put my hand up in class? I could only draw the conclusion that there must be something wrong with me, maybe I was shy or perhaps I lacked confidence.
Why was not contributing in class considered a bad thing? Why was my work being marked down just because I didn't put my hand up?
The frustration continued at Parents Evening as I listened to my teachers saying the same thing every year: Bronte needs to speak up in lessons. When were they going to get it? When were they going to understand that I just didn't need to constantly put my hand up in class?
The sad reality was that they never did get it, and still, like many other schools, they tell introverts they are wrong for not living up to the gregarious, out-going and extrovert ideal.
Introversion is not a defect, it is just the enjoyment of quiet concentration, listening and thinking before speaking, only adding to conversation if there is something meaningful and thoughtful to be said.
Yet we get the false reputation of being shy, timid, and unconfident people who spend their time hiding at the back of the classroom, which couldn't be more untrue. I am out of my shell, I'm not shy. I get along with people just fine and can hold an enjoyable conversation. I didn't put my hand up in class because I didn't feel the need to, I felt it was pointless to tell the teacher what I knew could be expressed far better in written word. Tell me again, Mrs Teacher, why we need to create a poster in groups? It's not that I hate people, I find most of them tolerable, it is just that all of this interaction leaves me wanting to take a nap. Where is all the deep independent thinking in this group work? Doesn't the school know, studies have shown that groups follow the most charismatic person, even though there is no correlation between being a good speaker and having great ideas? Enforced teamwork can stifle creativity, not improve it. Oh, and part of this group assignment will be marked on our participation; there goes that A grade yet again.
Please Mrs Teacher, introverts are strong, independent people who don't need groups to do our work (if anything, group assignments actually decreases the quality of our work), who don't need to put our hands up in class and certainly don't need marking on participation. Just give us a pen, paper and essay title and we will be on our way.
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain describes how introversion in children is not a defect, but instead may involve a careful, sensitive temperament that may bring stronger academics, enhanced creativity and a unique brand of leadership and empathy. And she continues that introverts win a disproportionate number of awards, cheat less and are more likely to be described by parents and caregivers as empathetic or conscientious, and are less likely to get into car accidents, participate in extreme sports and place large financial bets.
Surely, school should also value, quiet contemplation, independent work and deep thinking as much as it values participation, quick acting and gregariousness.
Isn't that what's wrong with the schooling system, not the introverts themselves?
So please Mrs Teacher, jobs you convince us we won't be able to get if we don't change our ways are jobs we don't want. We aren't shy, we just don't need to talk. We are not disengaged, we just prefer working independently. There is nothing wrong with us, we just like to be quiet.