4 Things Teachers Should Know About Introverted Students

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As an introverted child in school, I did pretty well academically. I always had good grades and made honor roll. Despite that, I struggled heavily with the social aspect of school and, more often than not, I found classrooms to be a nightmare. For me, the constant noise of the other students combined with the ever-looming possibility of being called on to speak was a recipe for anxiety.

When I was in grade school, my mother considered moving me to a private school because she thought I would do well there — but my teacher told her not to because I daydreamed too much. I can’t argue with her on that, because I did spend a lot of the school day lost in my mind. I felt so alive with thoughts and ideas, but I couldn’t translate them into words and get them outside my head. My biggest fear was that my teachers would think me not worth remembering.

I know teachers have a difficult job, and they can’t cater to every student’s individual needs. But I do feel that introverted students get the short end of the stick — and teachers could be doing more to make the school experience more comfortable for them. Here are four things I wish teachers knew about introverted students.

What Teachers Should Know About Introverts

1. We’re quiet, not stupid.

There are generally two kinds of students in a classroom: Those who talk all the time, and those who rarely talk. I, of course, was in the latter group. That meant, during class discussions, there were a few students who were always piping up with answers, while others, like me, remained as silent as a mime. There were many times when I did know the answer and had something to say, but speaking in front of a large group was extremely uncomfortable for me. I did have the occasional teacher who recognized students like me as quiet and thoughtful yet still very capable, but most glossed over me for what they considered the “smarter” students.

Teachers, pay attention to how your students perform in all areas of your class, not just in class discussions. Do you adore their essays and always give them good marks on tests? If so, they might be thoughtful and knowledgeable, even if they remain silent.

2. Please let us work alone.

How much did you cringe when you heard the words “group project”? If you were lucky, you got to choose your own group and managed to land a couple of people who you liked. Other times, the teacher chose the groups, and you got plunked straight into an unfamiliar circle of faces.

At this point, you may have gotten your gumption up to ask the teacher if you could please be your own group. Some teachers went for it, but most did not (at least in my experience). Most of the time, their reasoning was the project was meant to be divided up by a few people, so it wasn’t fair to have one person do all the work.

But hey, if doing all the work means avoiding awkward conversations, after-school phone calls, and being in a perpetual state of anxiety for the next week, introverts are so okay with that. Introverts tend to do their best work alone, when they are able to go internal and focus deeply.

I’m not saying that teachers should never encourage introverted students to work with others. Introverts need to learn social skills, too, because as adults, there will be times when they have to work on a team, and their career might depend on how successfully they can do that. However, all too often in classrooms, group projects are the default. If teachers simply provided the option for students to work alone when they chose, it would save introverts a lot of pain — and ultimately, teachers might get better work out of them, too.

3. Stop grading us on class participation.

I understand that grading students on class participation is a teacher’s way of trying to encourage students to be active and engaged. But for many introverts, this is torture, because, in addition to not being comfortable speaking up in large groups, now we have added pressure to do so for the sake of our grades.

There are much better ways to get introverts to speak up on their own. Try breaking the class into small groups for discussion, which are less overstimulating for introverts. Also, make your classroom a safe place. Don’t pressure students to participate or make your students feel like they must agree with you or anyone else. Instead, allow different voices to be heard (respectfully, of course), and let those students say why they feel differently. Introverts thrive on opportunities to safely share their opinion, and if they feel like their voice will be just as valued and listened to as others’, even quiet introverts may pipe up.

4. You’ll never fully know us.

When teachers see a student almost every single day of the school year, they may think they know them pretty well. But if that student’s an introvert, there’s a good chance they don’t actually understand them well at all. Introverts tend to be private by nature and need plenty of time to open up to others. Going to a place like school, which is an absolute black hole of overstimulation and unrealistic social expectations, means that many introverts have to be on guard at all times. It also means that we’ll always be a little out of our comfort zone. The comfort zone is where introverts truly shine, and anywhere else means that they will only show a glimpse of who they are. So don’t think that what you see at school is the full story.

When I moved on to college, my experience was better in some ways. Even so, a lot of the same problems, like being quiet in the classroom, were still there, and I had to go through that struggle all over again.

In school, so much importance is placed on speaking up, socializing, and group work that introverts often slip through the cracks. Introverted students have valuable things to contribute, and when we help them shine in the classroom, they grow up to be adults who make valuable contributions, too. 

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