My daughter learned a few things about herself during her first year away at a private university not far from home, and one of those was, as she put it, “I’m just such an introvert.”
She is her mother’s daughter, so I feel for her. Her small school’s laudable emphasis on individual attention can come across as trying to work the introvert out of her, as if it’s a problem that needs to be solved or a wrong that needs to be righted.
To be clear, my daughter adores her school. Her father and I are thrilled she’s there. The college our girl chose almost on a whim is absolutely the right place for her. But its commitment to helping students become who they might be sometimes seems to trample on who they already are.
Maybe someday my daughter will have a chance to communicate these points to her instructors directly, but for now, this is what she says she’d liked to tell them—and what she wants them to understand—about the introverts among them.
Please quit singling the introverts out in class. If I had a dollar for every time a professor or a student leader told my class or my group, “You introverts are going to have to get outside your comfort zones,” I’d have enough to cover at least a couple textbooks. From day one, I’ve listened to you address my classes and sternly warn the introverts that we’re going to have to “speak up and participate.” Never once have I heard you tell the extroverts that they need to do anything different or be anyone different from who they are.
I will speak up and participate, but not if you keep trying to force me to do it. I agree that I need to stretch myself. I actually do want to be more vocal in class. I know this is important. But all your cajoling and coaxing are not drawing me out, they’re making me want to crawl further into myself. If you truly want to know what I have to say, make me feel safe, not ashamed. Give me gentle encouragement and time instead of telling me I need to hurry up and change.
Being an introvert is not a personality defect or character flaw. Introverts do not need to be fixed, healed, or persuaded to “cross over.” And just because I am an introvert does not automatically mean I am an inferior student to someone who’s an extrovert.
Introverts bring something to the table that the world—and your classroom—needs. We are deep, reflective thinkers. We process before we speak. We have complex, multi-layered ideas to share, but we take our time putting them on public display . . . provided we’re given that time. If you let the extroverts always jump in ahead of us, we’re more likely to keep those ideas to ourselves. Which is a loss for everyone.
You can’t tell how much I am growing and changing and challenging myself just by what you see in class. I’m only in your classroom for a few hours a week. You don’t know what I’m doing the rest of the time, and you don’t know what I’m overcoming just to be on this campus in the first place.
I’m working hard to forge friendships. I’m spending big chunks of every day doing things in and with groups of people when one-on-one interaction is my default comfort setting. I’m trying to figure out how to stand out sometimes when what I really want to do is blend in. I’m working on who I want to become and what I need to do to make that happen. Someday, all this change and growth might show up and make itself known in your classroom. But first you’ll have to be patient with me and show me that you’re on my side.
To my daughter’s teachers from her mom: I want you to know that I’m truly thankful for you. I know you care about my student and want the best for her. I’m just asking you to be careful with her. And while you’re helping her see who she can become, please let her know you that you also value her for who she already is.
Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two teenage daughters who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.