We Need To Give Introverted Students A Break

by Meredith Ethington

At the beginning of the year, my daughter’s fifth-grade teacher sat down with us in a parent-teacher meeting and told us that she wanted to really understand and get to know each of her students. She wanted to see them thrive, and she always tried her best to figure out what makes them who they are, so she can relate to them.

She turned to me and said, “But I’ve had a hard time figuring out your daughter. She’s just so quiet, and I’m not sure how to reach her.” I teared up immediately. I was touched by this sincere teacher’s desire to really know her students, but I was also simultaneously a little unsure of what to say.

After all, I’ve had some of those same feelings trying to relate to my daughter myself.

She’s an introvert. I wouldn’t call her shy, because when she is in her comfort zone, she’s anything but. With her close friends she’s fun and silly, and at home, she’s not quiet at all. But she internalizes and keeps her feelings and thoughts locked up tight. And when she’s in a large group situation, she kind of gets lost.

She’s managed to be successful in school despite her quiet nature, but I know things like trying out for the school play and giving a presentation in front of the class are hard for her. She wants to participate, but she’s more reserved.

My son is quiet too. His teacher says that he is always obeying the rules, and not speaking up much. It broke my heart when she said she doesn’t see him smile much. That’s probably because lunch is his favorite part of the school day. A strict classroom environment is hard for him.

I worry that my quiet kids are forgotten about at school or that they just aren’t being seen. They obey the rules, they get work done on time, and they don’t feel the need to be the center of attention. That’s why I was so touched when my daughter’s teacher was making the effort to get to know my girl despite her quiet nature.

Teachers have an incredibly difficult challenge to teach kids of all backgrounds, abilities, and personalities. I definitely don’t fool myself into thinking that one-on-one attention to every kid, in every class, every day is a possibility in public schools today.

But I want my introverted kids to have their talents shine through too. I want them to be noticed, and valued. I want them to not be forced to do things that come naturally to other kids. Maybe their superpower in school is a written report instead of an oral one.

My kids struggle with asking clarifying questions in class. They come home regularly unsure how to finish an assignment. I will always say, “Well, did you raise your hand and ask since you didn’t understand?” The answer is almost always “no,” which is then followed by a pep talk to ask their teacher the next day and get some clarifying information.

My kids need to learn how to do this, so I push them a little to problem-solve on their own, but I often wonder what other gifts and talents the teacher might be overlooking because my introverted kids keep everything bundled up inside.

So I’d like to make a plea on behalf of the quiet ones in school — plea to the teachers and coaches in their lives to try hard to get to know the quiet ones, the reserved ones. The introverts of this world have a lot to offer, and they are worth getting to know. It just takes a little more time and effort to break through their protective shell.

I’d also like to beg those same teachers and coaches to understand how, sometimes, giving an oral presentation, or even speaking up to ask a clarifying question, is a great act of courage for introverted kids. Praise them for it. Encourage it. But don’t demand that they participate in the same way other kids do. It’s damaging to them and can cause them to withdraw further.

They are participating in their own way. Maybe they are the best listeners. Maybe they are the ones who pay attention to every detail. They participate by showing up every day and having fabulous attendance. And they participate by being some of the most reliable kids that always turn their work in on time.

Let’s stop expecting all of them to learn and perform the same way.

I’d like to beg that these introverted kids are seen for who they really are — intellectual, fascinating, creative, empathetic, introspective, brave.

Those are all powerful things to be. Their quiet nature isn’t a weakness. It’s a strength they’ve been given that is often overlooked. So don’t overlook it. Embrace it and find ways to help those introverted kids shine.

Get to know them. I promise, they feel and think deeply and have lots of opinions. Dig deep. Try to find out what it is they think and feel. I promise, it’s worth it.

And this mom, with the introverted kids, will love you (and appreciate you) for trying.