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!
Edited by Viveca Shearin