Teachers, Quit Telling Introverts They Should Participate More

IntrovertDear.com introverted students

I listened closely as my mom reported back to me what my teachers said at the parent-teacher conference she had just attended. The report was always the same—I was an excellent student, I worked hard, and I didn’t have any behavioral issues. My teachers only had one complaint: I should participate more, because, as they put it, they “wanted other students to benefit from hearing my voice.”

At 8 years old, this led me to start subconsciously internalizing a dangerous message: I was too quiet. However, I did not actively try to change my quiet nature. At that point, I didn’t see the point in trying to speak up more. I was convinced that I didn’t have anything to say that was original enough or important enough that everyone needed to hear. And frankly, the thought of speaking in front of 30 other people terrified me.

In middle school, it got worse. We had to do parent-teacher-student conferences which I, the student, had to lead. First, I had to go to all my teachers and talk to them one-on-one about how I was doing and what my strengths and weaknesses were. That was torture enough, but then I had to meet with my parents and advisor and report back, presenting the information my teachers shared with me. Then we had to discuss how I could improve. The whole ordeal was a total nightmare.

Every teacher I talked to had slight variations on my strengths but always said the same thing for my greatest weakness—I needed to participate more. “Participate” quickly became my least favorite word. At one of these conferences, my advisor set a goal for me—to raise my hand at least once per class. We had about six classes a day which meant I would have to raise my hand six times a day. I outwardly agreed to give it a try, but it seemed impossible. It took a lot for me to raise my hand. I had to be sure I was unequivocally correct.

I felt alone. No one else seemed to have this problem. It appeared easy for my friends to speak up in class. Even students who were shyer than me did not seem to have as much trouble as I did.

In high school and college, the pressure to participate intensified. Now my GPA depended on it, because in many classes, there was a participation grade. This grade was the bane of my existence. Even though I did well on tests and papers, my final grade was lower because of my dismal participation scores. In my senior year of high school, my English teacher did these Socratic Seminars in which there was a circle of people on the inside and a circle of people on the outside. If you were on the inside, you had to say something at least three times during the discussion, and someone on the outside kept track of when you talked and what you said. For a shy introvert, this was a living hell. As much as I tried, I could not be the outgoing, talkative person all my teachers wanted me to be.

Stop Trying to Change Introverted Students

During college, I learned to embrace my introversion and look at it not as a character flaw but rather as a strength. Even my quietness was something that made me unique. Instead of feeling guilty for not speaking as much, I began to appreciate the truly thought-out responses I could give. I also began to understand the distinction between introversion and extraoversion and the power and stigmatism that come with being an introvert. It took me over 20 years to embrace my introversion, and I didn’t get any help from any of my teachers growing up. I had some truly wonderful teachers but that does not negate the pressure they put on me to be someone else. It should not have taken so long for me to accept the most fundamental attribute of myself.

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To every single teacher out there, from those who teach kindergarteners to college students, there is one thing I beg of you: do not forget, overlook, or attempt to change your introverted students. I know you have one of the hardest, most under-appreciated jobs and I do not know how you do what you do. I also know that there are not enough hours in a day to get everything done. However, look at the quiet kids in your class and give them the same amount of attention that you give to others. Teach them to embrace who they are, and above all else, do not try to change them. “Participation” means more than just speaking. It’s paying attention when you speak, it’s completing homework and in-class assignments, it’s being on time and prepared for class. It’s also working with and helping the other students in the class.

We need to change the misconception that those who are the most outspoken are the most intelligent and engaged. There are many ways to be engaged. The child who does not speak in a large group may feel more comfortable in a small group. Break the class into small groups and give quiet students the chance to speak in a lower-risk situation. Or give them the option to write their thoughts instead of speaking them. There are many ways to cater to quiet, introverted students without imposing the extroverted norm upon them.

Most importantly, appreciate your introverted students. Appreciate their strengths and verbalize this to them. Do not let them grow up thinking they need to change or that they would be better if they were more like their outgoing peers. Introverted children are the strong, independent leaders of our future. Celebrate them.  retina_favicon1

Read this: Why All Teachers Should Advocate for Quiet Students

    • A

      I wish that many teachers could read this, it would help so much

    • Omnilord

      Except, (and I am guilty of not participating, too) by not participating more, you are setting yourself up for career failure in a world where participation is paramount. Participation is an analogue for societal conformity. Participating is the hallmark of the socialist/democratic socialist/communist societies the world is begging for, so those of us who don’t do our part to participatem we are the downfall of society, somehow. There is also the work-factor: how can you earn a living if you don’t participate in the work your employer does? Participation is a life-sustaining activity.

      And this is something I am struggling with in my current job search. As a software developer, there is the onus on teams, not individuals, to deliver products. They want participation in giant “open offices” where you can hear ever single conversation going on around you. It’s not quiet. It’s not private. It’s constant sensory over-stimulation in a very unquiet office environment. It’s a melting pot of expected participation. People who do not participate and collaborate get fired because there is no room for loners or heroes or mavericks. Conformity to the extrovert expectation is a must or you fail at life.

      And I hate it. I had the unique privilege of working full-time from home with my last job. For two-and-a-half years I worked with a well balanced team of people who were all working from home. We communicated thoroughly throughout the day via asynchronous communication (text, email, skype, etc.) and had some collaboration of effort, but only where it made sense. That “virtual office” was the most amazing thing ever. And in my current job search, I am having a horrible time finding another job like it. Because of so many things, but the whole “participation in teamwork” thing is mantra in software development.

      Therefore, because they will struggle with being an adult if they don’t participate, teachers strive to whip the introversion out of their students by pushing them “beyond their comfort zone” so they will grow. For me, it meant growing more reclusive. And being introverted has never helped me in my career, only led to me being unemployed for the last year when my previous employer went under.

    • Then maybe we need to fight harder to change social norms. Although forced participation in some makes us stronger, it can destroy others. People need to feel supported and understood. It’s one thing to push your own comfort zone and another to be forced into mental instability.

      As for your job issues, you’re projecting. Maybe the universe is attempting to help you grow. There is probably an intended path that you are needed to walk and you are not yet seeing. Yes, part of being an adult is sometimes sucking it up and doing things we don’t like to do, but it’s also knowing your boundaries and not being afraid to tell others.

      Maybe it’s time for a career change. Or maybe you are needed to help others in your field who feel the same as you. In life we have choices. Either you can complain about your problems or you can do something about them. Either you’ll keep feeling sorry for yourself, or you’ll find pride is making a change. Best of luck Omnilord.

    • mindbird

      This is more than introversion.. A child noticed for not talking is a child that can feel a continuous feed of the teacher’s attention by — not talking! And the child enjoys simultaneously the rebellion that so frustrates the teacher, who is seeking feedback from a student who may be in trouble or not understanding the material. That’s a real catbird seat — preening with the attention from being “good,” being the quiet child and causing no trouble AND irritating the teacher to boot.

      An introvert would have cringed from that attention. An introvert would have found some question to ask, or something, to slide back into anonymity.

    • You didn’t read the entire article. You missed a crucial point.
      “Participation” does not equal “talking a lot”.

      “Participation” means more than just speaking. It’s paying attention when you speak, it’s completing homework and in-class assignments, it’s being on time and prepared for class. It’s also working with and helping the other students in the class.

      We’re sorry for you that you don’t understand this and that you blame introversion for leading to your unemployment. Given that 50% (yes, that’s correct of All people are introverted, obviously introversion does not immediately lead to unemployment.

      There are many introverts who work within their comfort zones, stretch and grow their comfort zones, participate and collaborate in their jobs… and don’t spend the entire day talking.

      It’s not possible to “whip the introversion out of” a student (or an adult). Introversion is in the brain-wiring. This has nothing to do with “growth”. It’s as abusive as forcing left-handed children to only use their right hand.

    • My comment above was in reference Omnilord’s comment.

    • @Mindbird – I see nothing in Shona’s article about “preening” with attention. Only confusion and remembered pain.

      Just because you would have “found some question to ask, or something, to slide back into anonymity.” doesn’t mean everyone would.

      Please note the part where Shona writes: “It took a lot for me to raise my hand. I had to be sure I was unequivocally correct.”. Read that again.

      For some of us, this is a deep-seated requirement. I’m that sort of Introvert.

      There are (at least) 8 very different Types of Introvert. Do not assume we all think alike.

    • Thank you Shona for the fine article. I would like to add that introverts often make very good listeners, and that is a rare quality in a world where everybody likes to talk. We also tend to think more before we open our mouths, and that’s fine too, especially since so many people are flooding us with nonsense, and they not even care to check the accuracy of what they say. I started off in life as a shy introvert but I did learn a few skills as I got older that do not come natural to us introverts. Those skills do help me with my current job. I still consider myself a shy introvert and I hate to speak in front of crowds but by now I do accept that fact. I do agree, there are many ways to participate and contribute. In your case Shona, you are a good writer. Thank you.

    • Melanie

      Wow, that’s nasty-minded. I can guarantee you the introverted child was not ‘preening, from the attention; more like dying.

    • Santosh

      I loved class discussions. Class is a safe place and every view point should be heard. Introversion is not shyness.

    • Heather

      Thank you so much for this article. I totally agree. I too was told over and over I “did not participate enough”. One teacher even told me at 5 years old that I was “just destined to be a passenger in life)”. I didn’t care really. I still got top marks without participating. Luckily even from a young age, I learned that other’s approval is not the be all and end all; especially when their “approval” involves changing your entire personality. No thanks.

      My dad (another introvert) says that without listeners, the talkers would have no-one to listen to them.

      Thank you for a wonderful article. I am so tired of those who try to make others conform and change and make those who are different feel wrong.

    • Brenda

      I wish my teachers could’ve seen this. I wish my MOM could’ve seen this. She forbade me from writing during breaks to force me to talk to people. I was incredibly shy and I hated it. I wasn’t an excellent student but I did my best, always listened and took notes diligently; but no one could make me speak up comfortably.

    • kiwimusume

      ““Participation” means more than just speaking. It’s paying attention when you speak, it’s completing homework and in-class assignments, it’s being on time and prepared for class. It’s also working with and helping the other students in the class.”

      I’m suddenly very grateful to the schools I went to (and perhaps my whole country if this is a New Zealand-wide thing), because this is EXACTLY what they did. It was even called an “attitude” grade, not a “participation” one. Grading done right!

    • Ric Douglass

      Viki Brown you clearly did not understand what OmniLord was saying. He was talking specifically about being a programmer. There is a methodology called the Scrum method where team members meet every morning to talk their way thru a problem. That statement clearly screams extroversion. Introverts don’t want to say a word until they have a chance to think through a problem and derive a solution. Extroverts talk their way to a solution. Scrum is one of the agile methods that have come to prominence in the last five years, maybe a little longer. It clearly is of benefit to extroverts who typically are the ones managing the groups. Almost all programming groups are moving to some version of the Agile methodology and OmniLord was correct in saying that if you are a programmer this will affect your employment. This is very different from say ten years ago when as a programmer you were locked away in your cubical which was a benefit to Introverts who like to hear themselves think vs Extroverts who tend to avoid silences. You jumped in on OmniLord without seeming to understand the shift that is happening right now in the programming world and yes it will affect his employment.
      OmniLord you probably know this already but there is one agile methodology that can work for introverts. It’s called pairing.

      OmniLord, I am with you brother. I dread those daily scrum meetings. I hate how extroverts change scenarios everyday while they are talking their way to a solution and you don’t want to code anything until there is actually a final solution because it feels like a waste of time.
      Please understand that I am not saying I hate extraverts. I just understand that the process that works best for them cuts my efficiency by 30%. I do get though that the advantage for the customer is that they get immediate gratification.

    • Kudos to the author to have built her confidence on knowing herself truly and building on strengths and also to actually try to participate in talking when asked to do so rather than just rebelling.
      However, i disagree with the request to teachers to stop encouraging participation in talking.

      In my opinion, schools cater to build basic essentials in personality in all students rather than specific qualities in each student. For instance, if an 8 year old student is excited in singing class but can’t do math, schools should not be deciding a singing career for this student at this age, applaud for his singing alone and allow the student to ignore any further study in math.

      In the case under discussion, decision to participation in talking is governed by two aspects, ability and will.
      I would say, if the student is having no issues with ability, well then yes, maybe shouldn’t be forced to talk against will.
      But I believe that is not the case that an 8 year old would have. In that case, isn’t it the teachers responsibility rather to bring up the student’s ability?

      And in this case then, I believe that the teachers did an excellent job in encouraging and hope that they continue to do so.

    • This is 30 years too late for me.

    • Mare

      “It’s as abusive as forcing left-handed children to only use their right hand.”
      That was exactly what I was thinking when reading the article. Noone should be forced to say something just for the sake of saying something. And people should never tease or push for the response in front of a group. When pushed, I clam up and will not say a word. Perhaps later, in a different situation or privately, I can calmly give the answer.