There’s a girl who sits in one of my classes – and has done for a couple of years – who says almost nothing. She works hard, indeed is one of the best in the class, but I can’t get her to say much at all. Even direct questions elicit only the shortest of replies, albeit clearly and confidently given.

She’s by no means the only one I’ve known over the years, and I’ve always worried that I was in some way failing those pupils by not drawing them further into the class activities. This has been reinforced by professional wisdom that one should draw out such people because introversion, quietness even, is it seems, a weakness that needs tackling.

There’s an interesting link on the Huffington Post to an article that has made me think again. While it may be true that quietness can result in your being overlooked, it should not mean that being outgoing is necessarily ‘better’. That’s simply a social value-judgement dictated by – well yes, the Group.

Kate Bartolotta’s article makes the point that introversion is not, for a start, the same as shyness. It simply means that some people draw inwardly for their strength, rather than on that of a group. It may also imply a greater sense of independence and resourcefulness, and more confidence simply to be themselves. The skills they develop may be at least as useful as those of extroverts, though as Bartolotta says, society tends to value extroverts more. I am thinking about the preconceptions of those conducting a million job interviews for a start…

There’s a link to an informal test on the Huffington page, which I took and came out as fairly introverted. No surprise there.  It’s worth doing, as the questions clearly point up the advantages of being more inwardly-focused. But my students would never call me shy; I can certainly act the life-and-soul in their lessons – though they do seem to recognise and apparently value my reflective disposition. (It did however take me some years initially to gain full classroom confidence – partly, perhaps, because I was trying to conform to extrovert expectations).

Despite that, it is extrovert qualities that are apparently prized in a modern teacher – outgoing, ‘fun’, energetic, the visibly busy team-player, up for all the end-of-term daftness. Introverts, it seems, are less wanted, even though those reflective qualities might suggest they could cultivate students’ similar aptitudes more effectively than someone who is always bouncing energetically but perhaps superficially round the classroom. Even class control is largely seen as an extrovert matter; on that front, years ago I found much more success when I stopped trying to be outwardly ‘strict’ and started developing a quieter form of authority.

Bartolotta also observes that forcing people into dispositions that they don’t feel comfortable with can be distressing for them. So, as a fellow introvert, maybe I’ll stop worrying so much about the girl in my class and just let her be; after all, she is clearly learning well, and there are plenty of roles  for which quiet people are suited.

Maybe she, and the others like her, could actually do with a few more introvert teachers…


4 thoughts on “Introvert-extrovert?

  1. Excellent article! It reminds of a conversation I had with a parent who said she was “worried” that her son was so “quiet” and even cited that he didn’t like playing football like the other boys. Why is being an introvert so often seen as a negative?

  2. Thanks. I think it’s seen as negative 1) because the rules are set by extroverts, 2) because introverts don’t so obviously demonstrate their strengths and 3) because it’s seen as antisocial, and even selfish.

    The Huffington article was a bit of a lucky find yesterday, but it’s really got me thinking. For instance, my instinct is always to base my own lessons round individual work; I have actively to make myself think about group activities. One needs both of course, so a useful personal check-point, but I think I’m going to pay less attention to the constant ‘good practice’ calls for group work.Individual work may be a better way of developing individual understanding – obvious when you think about it.

    • Yes, I actually read a couple of days ago (just tried to find it again, but couldn’t), a post from a first-year teacher. She was questioning the preference for so much collaborative work in the classroom. She was reflecting on her own group-work experiences at school and university and how much she hated it. Yet, she’s been taught, as a new teacher, that traditional independent learning is a no-no. She also noted that most classrooms now are set up as tables of 4-6 students, facing each other, rather than the desks of the bygone era, so when independent work is called for, the children are still effectively sitting in groups, leading to a constant classroom management battle to get kids to stop talking!

  3. Well my desks are all in rows facing the front, I’m afraid. It’s partly to do with room shape, but also I too got fed up with the constant casual chatting between students when they’re face to face. I am wondering whether there is some formation that could be used to create a ‘thinking circle’ at the moment, with the desks pushed back round the edges, but I’m not sure it’ll work – and my colleagues who also use the room might not like it…

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