Long live the Introverted Student!

Long live the introverted student

I have a confession to make—I am an extrovert. 

Of course, anyone reading this who knows me is saying, “No kidding. You’re one of the most obnoxious loudmouths we know!” And that’s probably just coming from my wife. She likes to say that talking is my favorite thing to do and hearing myself talk is my second-most favorite thing to do.

And she is right. 

I’m outgoing. I’m talkative. I love a good debate. Heck, I’ll pick the opposing viewpoint just to have a good argument. My idea of participating is a good ol’ fashioned verbal slugfest where blood is shed, curses are hurled, mothers are insulted, and the hopes and dreams of your opponent are crushed like the spirits of teachers on the last day of summer break. 

But that’s me. Extroversion works for me. As a teacher, however, it is unfair of me to expect all of my students to be as extroverted as I am, but that is what I used to do. I expected all of my students to actively and verbally participate in my class, telling myself I was such a great teacher that I could even draw the introverts out and have them yammering away like Hoda and Kathy Lee on their 3rd bottle of Sutter Home! 

My junior high social studies classes have always been heavy on conversation, debate, and the oral exchange of ideas. When I started teaching 11 years ago, I was determined to work with kids to teach them how to speak their minds, in a clear, coherent, and hopefully semi-intelligent manner (kind of the opposite of Facebook arguments). I was going to award weekly points to those who openly participated in class conversation and deduct points from those who did not. I believed that for students to be engaged and participating, they had to be speaking and sharing their ideas and thoughts with everyone. If they were not joining in the conversation, it meant they were not engaged. And if they did not like openly participating, I believed I could turn them into extroverts like me because I was “Super Idealistic First-year Teacher Man” and I knew everything since I, you know, had a teaching degree. 

And, as is so often the case, I was wrong.

I was wrong to think every kid should participate outwardly. I was wrong to think that if a kid was not talking, he was not paying attention and being engaged. I was wrong to think I should try to change these beautiful, thoughtful, insightful, intelligent introverts into extroverts. 

In short, I was wrong to think every student had to be like me.

Adam McHugh, an author, and minister who often writes about introversion says “Introverts bring a bounty of gifts to the table”: 

  • Introverts bring a sense of calm
  • Introverts help others slow down
  • Introverts are loyal friends
  • Introverts see things
  • Introverts are funny
  • Introverts are creative
  • Introverts listen (McHugh, 2015)

All of these things are so very true. I know my introverts are paying attention and I count on them to keep me honest, bringing my mistakes to my attention. I regularly find myself checking for understanding with my introverts, looking for that little nod or head shake to know whether I am getting through or not. I look for that little smile that shows me that they are listening and that I really AM funny! The calmness of my introverts calms me when I get scattered or go off on a tangent about something and that reassuring calmness gets me back on track. And even at 53 years old, I still sometimes need a quiet, perceptive, introverted teenager to keep me on track. 

So, teachers, I beg you not to overlook your quiet students. Do not mistake their silence for apathy, lack of interest, or boredom. Do not make the mistake I made of thinking you can change every student into a talkative, verbal, eye-contact-making, showman like myself. We should no more try to change the introverted nature of a student than we should try to change their eye color. Learn to use your introverts as calming, stabilizing, insightful, and creative parts of your holistic classroom, balancing the craziness sometimes created by your extroverts. 

I love my nutty students. I love my talkers. I love the kids who can’t sit still and the ones who probably ate too much paste in kindergarten. And yet they all drive me crazy sometimes.

Except my introverts. Because when they finally DO contribute in class, it’s meaningful, and it’s thoughtful, and it’s clever, and they are not just talking to hear themselves talk. And I’m happy they are not like me. 

Long live the Introverted Student!


McHugh, A. (2015, August 28). The gifts of introversion. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.quietrev.com/the-gifts-of-introversion/

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