Why School Should be Kinder to Introverts

Being an introvert surrounded by extroverts is tough. It often leads to a lot of awkward questions followed by confused looks and people not even trying to understand. I’ve found the place where introversion is the least understood is the education system. Every teacher I’ve ever had always says the same things to my parents at parents evening: ‘Ashleigh is a joy to teach, always listens and does her best. However, it would be nice if she could contribute in lessons’. With 30 kids in the class, you’d think that my teachers would welcome a silent student, but no.

If I didn’t voluntarily answer a question, they’d choose me at random. And then I’d get upset and they’d get annoyed and I’d go home in tears. On top of being introverted, I was an incredibly anxious child. I hated talking out loud, even just to answer the register.

When my mother questioned why they insisted on asking me questions when it reduced me to tears, she got the answer, ‘Ashleigh is a very intelligent girl and we know she knows the answer, it would be good for her to share’. Clearly from the tears I was producing every time a teacher called on me, sharing wasn’t good for me. In fact, it was the exact opposite – it made me withdraw even further. In Primary school, this was a massive problem for me. I was so incredibly nervous from the minute I stepped in the building to the minute I left. As a result, I couldn’t feel calm or relaxed.

As always, things get worse before they get better and I had an incident that I’ll never forget with a teacher who misunderstood my introversion completely. I was 10 at the time and it was a maths lesson. We had a supply teacher who I had never liked throughout all my time at the school. She asked me a question, and I didn’t know the answer and just froze. I remember telling myself in my head that I should tell her I don’t know the answer but no words would come out. I didn’t want to meet her eyes out of fear so I just stared at my book, and then started crying – quite loudly.

The teacher was getting increasingly angry and I didn’t know what to do. I later found out she thought I was being insolent and ‘thought it was funny’ to ignore her, which seemed like a poor excuse to make a 10 year old fall to pieces in a maths lesson. I don’t know whether she didn’t know that children could be shy and introverted or just didn’t care, but the way she handled my crying was ridiculous. I was told the usual, ‘pull yourself together’, ‘I only asked a question’, ‘why can’t you answer, cat got your tongue?’. None of which was helpful. Not all teachers are the same. I’ve had teachers that didn’t put pressure on me to participate and were okay with me being quiet in group tasks. But the majority either didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand.  

That experience then became ingrained in my brain. Embarrassed, upset and ashamed, I had withdrawn into myself. I was also angry at the teacher. I didn’t understand why it was so awful that I just didn’t like to talk in class. And it’s not just class participation that introverts struggle with. The very nature of school is to be social, and socialising all day can be extremely tiring for us. Halfway through a lesson, you can’t just say to the teacher, ‘I’ve had my daily quota of socialising time, I’d like to be alone with my thoughts now please’.

But why is school built this way? Why does it favour the extroverted people? Surely, the very nature of school is to accommodate all types of people, yet it doesn’t do that. If you want quiet time in school, you have to seek it yourself by spending time in the library or just plain isolating yourself. It gets easier in secondary school and in sixth form, where you have access to quiet study rooms, and have free periods to go home and relax. But for younger students, it’s near impossible to recharge during the school day.

What I did to stay happy and energised during school was to use lunchtime as my quiet time. I would sit with my friends, but not really contribute to the conversation. I needed time to just gather my thoughts and have some time in my own head before I could interact with people. Introverts shouldn’t have to use the biggest break in the school day to recharge themselves. Something has to be done to change this crippling status quo within the educational system.

Psych2go would love to hear your feedback! How did you cope at school as an introvert? Do you feel the school system needs changing? Leave a comment below!

Featured image by Eli DeFaria on Unsplash

Second image by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Last image by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash


Edited by Viveca Shearin

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  1. As a school principal and introvert, I make sure that we cater for the needs of our introverts, girls, boys, left handed, right handed, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, cultural backgrounds, physical challenges, age, intellect, spirituality, sexual identity.
    Does it sound like a lot?
    Not really.
    We are just people working with people, relationships are all we have.
    We just look for the good in people and go on from there.

  2. I didn’t realize until my 20s when I reflected back that introversion was even a thing and that I wasn’t just weird. Most times lunch was my recharge time too. The bus as well, I remember the kids around me always being really loud and I couldn’t partake without getting a headache so I’d just isolate myself near the window and look out until it was time to start-up the day or get home. I suppose a change could help, but identifying your personality type would be difficult as I don’t really know it’s understood during the school years and many extroverts would use it as an excuse and ruin it for those of us who truly need it.

    1. If I’m honest I didn’t know introversion was a thing until I went to therapy, I just thought I was quiet. I think letting kids know that it’s okay to be different and not want to socialise all the time will benefit and I do agree extroverts could take advantage, but it will need to be policed correctly by teachers.

  3. teacher must learn child psychology to understand children attitude furthermore cause when i was a child i experienced almost the same way, i’m an introvert and most of the time i only want to go home and stay at my room alone

  4. I always found the lunch time weird, because we didn’t really had that in middle school. It was classes, from 8 am-13/14 pm, sometimes 15, but that was rare. We had some extra time around lunch time, yeah, but not a place where we can sit and eat. It’s surreal. I hated school btw, for the same reasons. I was quiet and the teachers liked it, until I was asked. Well, even then I was still quiet and that was the problem. Most of my teachers got used to it, but still critisiezed me non the less. My class was always SO lound and everyone talking, always. It was horrible, sometimes (usually) I took my headphones with me for the 5-10 mins breaks so I don’t have to listen to them. I used up like..3 or 5 headphones in 2-3 years. I used it a lot. That was the only getaway for me. It was really tiring to be there and just listen and socialize, so I separated myself.. Not the healthiest, but what could I do about that? It was better that way, I had more energy and more willpower to go. Less “I’m gonna puke” in the morning.

    1. That is kinda weird, my schools always has lunch time. In primary school it was an hour and in senior school it was 45mins. But our days were 9am until 3pm. I hated a large amount of my school time as well, it really didn’t feel like the ‘best days of my life’. My school had a strict no headphones rule, it was awful. In the end I just learnt to turn off from everyone around me to get a bit of peace and quiet. Yeah, tbh every morning was a ‘I’m gonna puke’ moment for me! Spent my whole school life just trying to keep calm.

  5. I guess that was why most of us ended up reading a lot. By the end of High School I had learned to just put up my hand to answer if I knew the answer, or if it wasn’t too horrible a question; I learned that if you choose to answer teachers wouldn’t call on you when no one answered.

    1. That’s me all over, always had my head stuck in a book. I found people left me alone when I was reading as well so a win win really. And that’s what I did, I made sure to answer a question really early on then I could relax for the rest of the lesson.

  6. i was actually been bullying on school and when i get home i try to make it look like it was just a normal day, just to avoid an awkward talk with my mom. i literally live in a world of extroverts (and i’m not jokeing)

    1. That’s really tough, bullying is the worst and its dreadful that kids/teenagers are so horrible, especially when school on its own is already pretty tough.

  7. Went through the same at university and there is this teacher who threatened to lpwer my tests marks if i didnt contribute in class. I scored the highest mark in a test he said i had copied during the test.

    I agree that the system is set againts us introverts

  8. That’s why I always end up crying after school because I feel so left out even though I enjoyed silence so much but they all find me weird. And now I stopped school last semester & my parents force me to go back to school this June & Im so scared. I have a lot of doubts in myself.

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