It's tough to be an introvert in an extrovert world, especially in an extrovert's profession, like teaching. Through this blog, I'd like to share my own and others' reflections on being an introvert in the classroom. This isn't a place for misanthropes or grumps, though; I hope to thoughtfully discuss the challenges that introverts face in schools and celebrate the gifts that introverted teachers and students bring to the educational environment. If you can relate, please join me!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Don't hover on me."

This was a favorite phrase of my dad's. He would use it if we kids were reading over his shoulder or intruding in his personal space while he was building or fixing something. As I grew up, an introvert much like him, I realized that I, too, dislike it when people "hover" on me.

Perhaps this is why it is so uncomfortable for me, as a teacher, to "hover" on my students. When I first started teaching, I realized, to my chagrin, that many students are conditioned not to do their work unless you hover on them and that I would have to become a hover-er.

A recent example would be Essay Planning Day in my developmental English class. When I was a student, I would've hated and resented such a day. While I am thinking, especially to prepare a writing assignment, I like to be alone. I would not like a professor coming around and literally reading over my shoulder. I would not like to be interrupted with questions and/or suggestions. I would not like someone to conclude that because I didn't immediately write anything down that I was "off-task," a favorite educational phrase for not focusing on the matter at hand.

I instituted days like Essay Planning Day because I saw that they were necessary; my students were not necessarily going to prewrite on their own, and taking class time to do it did produce a better quality of writing. I wasn't shocked that the process was effective; I was, however, shocked that some people actually liked it--the hovering part, that is. I realized that, for some, hovering is simply concerned interest and helpful feedback. What an introvert views as interference, the extrovert may actually view as wanted attention, affirmation even.

Sigh. The culture shock continues!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bring in the noise.

For the most part, the recent NY Times piece, "I'm Thinking, Please Be Quiet" is great. Part of the great student to teacher transformation trauma was all the noise, the constant buzz of people, the interruptions. So, it's reassuring to know that even when you're not conscious of noise bothering you, even background noise, it is stressing you out and can help explain the introvert's exhaustion that results from being around people all day.

I also love when authors like this article's author and like Susan Cain go back and point out that back in ancient times traits that get people like me called uptight now evolved so we could totally kick ass in the wild. We're not uptight; we're just living in the wrong time! Susan Cain writes about an experiment done with fish: the more cautious fish didn't rush out to go chomp on something new that appeared in their environment (bait, of course), while the daring, outgoing, happy fish rushed right out and got themselves caught. When I get really mad at someone extroverted, I love to imagine them as a bug-eyed, fat-faced fish panicking on that hook. Ha! That's what you get!

But there are times when I need background noise and even the nudge of the stress it creates. My husband is always flummoxed when I lug a stack of essays to grade to Starbucks. He shuts the door of his home office even when I'm upstairs and no one else is around on the first floor. He's more extroverted than I am, so he points out that it's strange that I would voluntarily choose noise over quiet when I have work to do. I thought it was strange at the beginning, too. After all, when I was a student, I always wanted quiet while reading or studying. I never even listened to instrumental music or anything.

But grading papers is different. I cannot spend the time or concentration I would like, so I need the activity of a coffee shop to keep it moving. The people coming in and out, the songs changing, the drinks being called-- that all reminds me that time is passing and I've got to keep going. Besides, I need the reminder that life goes on and everything is fine, even if I'm in the midst of a stack that makes me feel like I must've failed in some horrible way for them to be writing like this. It helps to be in a public place because you can't yell out, "Why?" or "How can this be?" or "Are you KIDDING me?!?!" or "Who SAYS that?!?!" or, every teacher's standby, "But we went over this, like, a million times!" The coffee shop atmosphere, with its perky, green-aproned workers and its vaguely cliched pop-alternative soundtrack, keeps me from getting sucked into the vortex.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Let's buy potholders now.

After having read in "Why Teaching Is Harder Than It Looks" the words, "You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams," I thought, yikes. Yes, of course, I knew this, but seeing it written out in black and white was something else. Sometimes, just wrapping up a semester feels like it takes an eternity.

If you are like me, as soon as school ends, you feel compelled to seek out instant gratification by obtaining or reorganizing concrete objects. When you work with minds and live a life in the mind, there are usually no visible signs of progress. So, a few times a year, I just have to go nuts. When a simple, concrete, uncomplicated goal arises, I have to pursue it with a vengeance. Husband has burned off the corners of current potholders? OK. Must. Buy. New. Ones. Now. How late is Bed, Bath and Beyond open? The straightforward prospect of immediate, tangible success is irresistible.

One summer, I asked a colleague if she, too, felt oddly compelled to tackle home improvement projects as soon as school got out. "Oh, yes. I just re-did both my kids' rooms. I found a horse lamp on Amazon.com!"

I've read things to the effect that extroverts are more likely to seek out instant gratification because they have better dopamine receptors or something like that so the gratification they feel is actually better. Figures. Sigh. Despite this, I just wanted to point out that sometimes we introverts need our instant gratification, too.

So, go ahead. Indulge. Buy those potholders and horse lamps, introverts.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ophelia and the Extroverts

Within one week, I saw a production of Hamlet and read a recent Wall Street Journal article reluctantly telling introverts that one way to be happier may be to act like extroverts. Of course, I had to combine the two seemingly disparate experiences into a reflective blog post. Did you expect any less of me?

Sitting in the dark on a blanket in the grassy dirt of Kingsmen Park, it occurred to me that, as Queen Gertrude was telling Hamlet the story of Ophelia's drowning, there was no mention of anybody trying to help her (Ophelia). Gertrude seemed to luxuriate in telling how Ophelia's robes alternately buoyed her up before dragging her down, but she never says anything about calling for help. Did anyone think of going for a rope or a a tree branch or of throwing their own robes out Rapunzel-style? To my thinking, if there was enough time to watch Ophelia sing old songs and for her clothes to fully soak, perhaps there was some time for someone to have done something. And of course, there is the fact that we the audience don't even see the drowning itself; we are only told about it by the jabbering queen. Ophelia's death becomes less about Ophelia's suffering than about the drama queen's telling of it.

In an extrovert-dominant culture, extroverts are always trying to tell introverts' stories. Advice, however well-meant, that starts with "Act Like an Extrovert!" is not going to go over well with us. The article's author and interviewees speculate as to why acting like an extrovert may sometimes feel good to introverts. One possible explanation is that introverts worry that they'll be humiliated at, say, a party, and when they're not, they breathe a sigh of relief and have a good time. Maybe...

The real explanation, I think, why introverts may feel happy, exhilarated even, by acting like extroverts is because it is exciting to finally be listened to. Acting extroverted is often the only way we can get attention. So, it's not the extroverted behavior that makes us happy; rather, it's being listened to that makes us happy. We will endure the draining extrovert act demanded of us if it means we finally get to share what makes us passionate. (I think that's how so many bookworms like me ended up as teachers.)

Remember, introverts don't like isolation; they like quiet thinking time, but not all the time. (Remember my yoga post? There's such a thing as too much introspection, even for us.) The rest of the time we like to speak in deep and sustained conversations with one or two close friends at a time.

Ophelia's drowning is an extreme metaphor; we introverts are usually not suffering that much. But sometimes we do feel invisible because we're easy to ignore when we don't act like extroverts. So, if you see a nearby introvert fading away, throw them a line. But don't make the lifeline one which involves the introvert going out to parties or clubs with you. Instead, just sing some old songs with me as we float in the stream.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"I don't even want to open a freakin' book."

I remember a fellow grad student at CSUN, whose bluntness used to both intrigue and flummox me, giving me this line as a description of how she felt after a day of teaching. For introverts, it's simply exhausting. The definition of an introvert is someone who gets energy from inward thoughts, and when you have to be outwardly focused all day, this is draining. While extroverts get pumped up from being the center of attention, we introverts get tired, even though we care deeply about our students and like what we are doing.

But I think what my classmate was saying goes further than being too exhausted to read or write. I think it has to do with mentally switching gears. Admittedly, I have OCD, so switching gears is not my strong suit, but recently a person without OCD confirmed to me that we feel that if we immerse ourselves into the world of thought one evening, we find it harder to "be fully present" with our students the next day. We're preoccupied with that world in our minds that we opened up and delved into, and our thoughts keep wandering back to that other place.

Beyond being "somewhere else" psychologically, I also felt vulnerable. If I looked deeply into my own or someone else's thoughts by writing or reading, and then the next morning had to face the feisty fifteen-year-olds, I felt oddly exposed, like I was wearing all my emotions on my sleeve.

I bet most of us English teachers have had a colleague say to us, "I don't know how some English teachers don't read books during the school year!" and we nod and pretend we don't know either, when, in fact, we know very well. While it's fairly easy for me to switch gears now and I regularly devour books during the school year (I even started this blog in a November, one of the busiest months of the school year), it was a long way to get that point. It took about ten years.

When I first started teaching, I needed to stay ready for the next day of cultivating an extroverted version of myself. So when I got home, I tried to do things that would keep me relaxed and laughing. I didn't have cable then, so I had only a few channels, and one of them played lots of reruns of That '70s Show. To this day, Fez and the Foreman family are some of my favorite people.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't apologize, Sheridan Blau!

Sigh. I love it when dynamic speakers talk to us for awhile and then apologize for "lecturing." Sheridan Blau did just this a couple of weeks ago when he spoke to my "fellows" and I at the UCLA Writing Project.

I know why he did it (the apologizing). "Lecture" is a naughty word in school of ed culture. Should you even bring up the term, you must do so with a disclaimer. Lecture is so taboo now, that it's almost got the aura of "religion and politics," which my parents used to tell me not to discuss outside the family.

It feels like in  America now if you do anything for a sustained period of time (read, write, EVEN TALK), you are a weirdo. And should you try to push any of this weirdness on others, like your poor students, this is nothing short of cruel. Before you can say the L-word, you must be sure you're among "the family."

[Anecdote: As a high school teacher, I had called in sick at the last minute and my instructions to the substitute were only, "Have them read from their novels" for the 52-minute period. Upon my return, the students told me that the sub had said it was unreasonable of me to have asked them to read for that long. My response at the time was simply, "Who wants to go to college?" Most of my Simi Valley 10th-graders' hands shot up. "Then you're going to have to learn to read for a lot longer than that."]

Well, let me say this: "Lecture" is like any other medium. In itself, it isn't bad. Sure, there are bad books, bad poems, bad TV shows, and bad songs. But there are also good books, good poems, good TV shows, and good songs. When kids tell us they don't like books, what do we say? We tell them that, as one of my fellow fellows put it, they just haven't found the right book yet. Just because you hear a bad song on the radio doesn't mean that you give up music.

There are good lecturers and bad. Sheridan Blau's 20-minute talk, if it could even be considered a "lecture" considering that in the past lectures used to last for hours, was certainly nothing to apologize for. When he spoke to us, uninterrupted and funny, that was my favorite part of the day. What other way would he have conveyed his experience and his humor? We couldn't have worked in groups and "actively discovered" his personality. It's common sense; you pick the best medium for your message. People shouldn't give bad, boring lectures or lecture when there's a better way for the audience to learn the material. But people don't need to stop lecturing altogether.

Some say lecturing isn't active learning. During Sheridan Blau's talk, I was smiling. Sometimes that's active enough.

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Medicated Morning

I know introverts and highly sensitive people who do not need medication. Elaine Aaron has a great chapter in The Highly Sensitive Person about the idea that we don't want to medicate away these personality traits; to do so would be a form of discrimination. It reminds me of the analogous worry that too many young boys are being medicated just for being boys and not wanting to sit still from 9-3 (see the Atlantic's recent article on this here).

But, as I have alluded to before on this blog, I also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. And for that, I have found, over the course of many years, that I need medication. 

Today, I thought of all the things I did this morning that I can easily and pleasurably do now that I have been back on medication for 18 months (for the sake of a hypothetical baby that I never got pregnant with because I felt so dreadfully bad, I had taken an 18-month hiatus after 10 years on medication):

1. I got up leisurely, feeling a bit tired, but not like the whole day would suck. 
2. I did not have to immediately rush to the bathroom to have nervous diarrhea first thing in the morning. Rise and shine!
3. I ate breakfast without feeling nauseous. I enjoyed my Shredded Frosted Mini-Wheats. 
4. I drove to the local shopping center without checking my rear and side mirrors every minute for stray pedestrians who might throw themselves at my car. 
5. I was not bothered by shadows or bright morning sunlight that make certain areas of the road less visible than others, and from which bicyclists and pedestrians might emerge unexpectedly...and throw themselves at my car. 
6. I made a purchase at CVS without checking to see if the checker's hands had cuts or using my anti-bacterial soap immediately after the transaction. 
7. I attended a pilates class on gym equipment used by other people. I did not immediately change or wash my clothes upon my return home. I'm typing this very blog in my workout clothes!
8. If the need had arisen, I would've used a public bathroom without hesitation and without re-envisioning, for the next hour or so, the whole trip to said bathroom and everything I might have touched. 
9. I stopped at PetCo without thinking of fleas. 
10. I'm excited for my hair appointment later. Now, I can go to salons, where other people have had their hair washed, too. Hell, I could even get a manicure if I felt like it! 

I know, you're thinking, Wow, way to live life on the edge, Diane. But what I love about being on medication is that now I do things that other people can do without a second thought but which used to be a major project and stress for me. And it was frustrating because I wanted to do those things but felt like I couldn't. 

One of the common misconceptions about medication is that it will change your personality and make you someone you're not. I wish I could tell everyone who, despite their intense suffering, staunchly refuses medication, that medication allows you to actually be more yourself. When I went on medication the first time, I found that I could study more and read more and write more because I wasn't constantly distracted by irrational and unwelcome thoughts that, for example, I would catch AIDS and die. My fear that medication would make me a less focused scholar turned out to be completely unfounded; instead, I could actually focus on the things that interested me instead of on the obsessions and compulsions. 

Creative people often think they'll be turned into zombies by medication. While this deadening of the senses is a risk with some medications for more serious disorders, medications now are a lot better than they used to be for those disorders, and the goal of the mental health profession nowadays is not to just sedate you into compliance. I have found that, with a selective serotonin reputake inhibitor (SSRI), I'm able to read and write more and be more fully present in my teaching and connect with my students now that my mind is not constantly distracted and exhausted by worry. I still have the same morals and values that I had before medication. Medication hasn't changed my personality; rather it has allowed my real personality to come through. 

You know how you're cranky and antisocial and exhausted when you have a cold? Even though it's "natural" to catch a cold every now and then, you want to have as few as possible. Your having-a-cold self is not your "real" self. You are no less of a good or strong person if you take a Day-Quil to stop your nose from running while you make dinner. When I had untreated, undiagnosed OCD, I felt like I always had a cold. I felt a fog in my brain that made me withdrawn and disconnected from others. 

I was born with a lack of serotonin and some other chemicals that keep my thoughts flowing. If I were born with a body that didn't produce insulin or some other chemical, no one would suggest that I "tough it out" without medication. Or suggest that it was my fault that I was not controlling the disease "naturally." Maybe it makes some people feel like they're in control when they refuse to medicate mental illnesses; but for me, it just made me feel like a failure. I wanted to do things I saw other people doing and which I thought I should be able to do, but I couldn't. Also, I knew I wasn't effectively hiding my disorder, despite my efforts to do so. I always knew I was different, and I knew other people knew it too. 

There are different degrees of severity in mental illness. While some people may be able to keep it under control by taking supplements, drinking herbal teas, giving up meat/dairy/wheat/etc., or doing therapy alone, not everyone can. To use the diabetes analogy, some people control it with diet and exercise, some take pills, but some others have to inject insulin. 

Please don't tell me to run farther and stop having chocolate so I can "get off my medication." It just makes me feel like I didn't try everything, do everything, make every effort to fix the problem "on my own" without "relying" on medication.

Don't get me wrong; the medication doesn't get rid of all my symptoms, but it does make them manageable. Also, I could certainly do without medication's side effects, like weight gain, dry mouth, and fatigue. But I'll take all of these any day over that feeling of not wanting to leave my house. 

I take medication. I'm me. And I love pilates, poetry, and professor-ing!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"She's not talking directly TO YOU"

My mom had to explain this to me when I encountered my first bad teacher. This was in the fifth-grade. The woman was disappointed and angry all the time. She would get so upset by a not particularly rambunctious fifth-grade class that she would scold us from the front of the room, turning red and shaking. Her favorite adjective to describe how she felt about our assignments, math quizzes, behavior--just about anything--was "appalling." "I am appalled," she would say. She had a habit of berating the whole class at once, and I took it very personally. I think I missed the part of childhood where you learn to tune out rambling or irrational adults, and, being sensitive, I felt very bad when she would say these things.

My mom explained that often there are a few kids in the class who behave badly or don't do their work or don't follow instructions, but that the teacher gives admonishments to the whole group. That's just how school is. Presumably, and unspoken, of course, was the idea that teachers did this to save time or to warn others not to commit the same errors.

While I'm certainly guilty of doing this myself--although I try not to be insulting and I'm sure I've never used the word "appalling"--, it has led me to wonder, over the years, if this is really the only way.

I had a similar reaction in a department meeting recently. This particular colleague is known to go on long tirades, and the modus operandi for the rest of us has just been to ignore it and let it pass. But I had had enough one day. I argued back. Later, my colleagues were surprised that I cared so deeply about the issue and wouldn't just nod and let him go on. After all, I was supposed to assume that he was just venting; when he made broad generalizations about all the bad things instructors are doing, it was assumed that he meant "present company excepted" and why did I feel hurt? He's not talking directly to you. Well, if what he said didn't apply to the present company, why did I have to sit there and listen to it? As in the fifth grade, I wondered why I was listening to this hostility when it supposedly had nothing to do with me?

I'm sure students wonder the same things. When students switch from home schooling to mass schooling, they often marvel at the waste of time listening to things that do not apply to them. And why should they have to listen to these things? Our society, for convenience and cheapness, of course, makes it impossible for teachers to differentiate instruction and individualize things to meet students' needs the way we ought to, the way they, those students, deserve. We can't fix that, of course, so all we can do as teachers is try to remember that there are lots of different kinds of kids in the audience and try to tone down the frustration and, dare I say, anger, that we express when we exhort them all. It justifiably upsets the sensitive kids, and sometimes the kids who need it most are accustomed to tuning you out anyway.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"When nothing is certain, everything is possible" --Margaret Drabble

Like most meant-to-be inspirational quotes, this one, which graces the spine of last month's Real Simple magazine, makes me want to gesture with my index finger toward my throat and make barfing noises.

Though I am a creative person, an English major, I need some structure. Engineer's daughter, after all. How much structure do you need for creativity? I think there is a common misconception among humanities folk  that structure somehow kills creativity or somehow replaces it because you supposedly can't do both. I think of the tenure committee scheduling meetings where I brought three clipboards, one with each syllabus for each of my three preps so I would know exactly what topic or activity was planned on each day so that I could tell the evaluators if that was a good day to come and everyone would chuckle--sometimes even my department chair, as she would pull out her own meticulously pencil-marked calendar.

As a teacher of a lot of developmental English, I help my students learn to organize their notebooks and their assignments which clears the way for thinking. You can't analyze the quote when you can't find it and re-read it first and refresh your memory. Organization is not supposed to replace the thinking, as a colleague seemed to think in an informal meeting when he said in regard for such activities, "Aren't we just teaching them how to be good little citizens?" as if you couldn't possibly teach both procedural and mechanical skills along with thinking. In fact, for me, structure enables me to think. I think people who just don't do well with a lot of structure, like my colleague, like to think of philosophically grounded reasons not to take roll and do other mechanical things in the classroom.

For me, when nothing is certain, nothing is possible.

If I don't have at least a topic and specific readings assigned for every day of the semester, I feel lost. I get overwhelmed. There are too many possibilities, and I end up dreading class or just trying to stretch things and make it through. When I have some structure, I can be more creative precisely because I don't have limitless possibilities. OK, I know we're reading these particular pages, so I can be creative for this content and don't have to pull out or mentally sort through all at once all the cool things we could do with this book. To specify page numbers and essay due dates on your syllabus may seem pretty basic, but I know people, both effective and not-so effective teachers, who don't decide that ahead of time.

The stress of endless possibilities also makes me think of the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon. The Asperger's-diagnosed teen who narrates it describes why lying is difficult for him. The book is in my office so I'll paraphrase. The narrator says something like, "When I try to think of one thing that didn't happen, I start thinking of all the other things that didn't happen and there are so many that it makes me feel nervous and scared."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cell phones at dinner

I'm updating my English 1C course because every four years, the publishers revise my favorite essay anthology and throw a wrench into my painstakingly revised syllabus and assignment sequence that I've finally gotten just right.

One interesting essay in the new edition is called "Keep Your Thumbs Still When I'm Talking to You," by David Carr. It's pretty much the usual cliche about how people checking their cell phones at dinner at a restaurant is so rude and that cell phones and internet in general are making us inept at face-to-face communication. Even though I am a pretty traditional person, I disagree with this curmudgeonly critic.

I think that people's urge to check cell phones in social situations is less about rudeness or addiction to technology and more about Americans' discomfort with silence.

In a social situation in an extroverted society, you can't just sit there doing nothing and saying nothing. If you're quiet, you can at least be checking your cell phone.

How many times have you heard the word "pause" or "silence" preceded by the adjective "awkward"? I've heard it a lot. It's as if in conversation, silence can be of only the "awkward" kind. The extroverted ideal of constant talking doesn't work for everyone, and some people just can't always be thinking of something clever or witty to say. So we check our cell phones.

Maybe introverts should hail the cell phone revolution; finally, there has arrived a socially acceptable way among people of a certain age group, to have a moment where you don't have to talk.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

People en Español

I live in Southern California. My husband is a native Spanish-speaker. I could call up my in-laws and speak Spanish any time, but no: to practice my Spanish, I subscribed to People en Español.

Poor Ramon was actually offended when I announced my forthcoming subscription. But it's not a lack of faith in his ability to help me; it's my introversion.

Everything that most people hate about learning language in school--reading with a dictionary at the ready;  the absence of (and stress related to) real-life consequences--I love. I like to sit alone--with no one waiting for an answer or, worse, talking more to try and draw out what I'm trying to say--and be able to look something up if need be.

Some people say that they couldn't learn from a book, but if you dropped them in a foreign country left to their own devices, presto! In two weeks they'd be fluent.

To me, this sounds more like a nightmare. Give me my magazine. I'm super-excited when I can fully comprehend Cristina's advice column. And I'm learning all sorts of nifty cosmetic-related words from the ads. Did you know that mascara clumps are grumos? Muy bien, muy bien.

I have worried through whole sessions of yoga.

Another thing you're supposed to like if you're trying to pass yourself off as a reasonably contemplative person is yoga. I've done lots of yoga, and liked it too, mainly at the end of a long and tiring day when I need to relax. But I know some people who get up and do, like, two hours of yoga first thing in the morning. That would be disastrous for me. Even in mid-day, I cannot do yoga. Yoga will feel soothing if I'm already tired, but it will not relax me when I'm full of energy because my mind will just go and go and go the whole time.

I suppose the yoga craze could be explained by our fast-paced, extroverted society, for whom thinking quietly is a novelty worthy of paying monthly fees for after you purchase a colorful mat and those flattering black pants. But, as an introvert, I feel like I am always in my head, and sometimes, I've just got to get out. I'm reminded of the end-of-episode revelation Seinfeld had when Janeane Garofalo played the girlfriend who was just like him: "I can't date me; I hate myself!"

Those of us prone to self-examination are also often prone to self-criticism and worry. So, a quiet hour with no distractions is sometimes not a good thing. We mostly talk about distraction as a bad thing, but quite often I need to distract myself to prevent over-thinking things that need no further rumination. In the age of attention deficit disorder, some of us introverts have the opposite: it could perhaps be described as attention surplus disorder.

My cookie-cutter house

I love the suburbs. Yeah, I said it.

This is another thing I'm supposed to not like, as an academic, especially as an English professor. I'm supposed to say I want a charming old rambling farmhouse with character or some such crap.

But that only works if you have lots of spare cash for fixing things up, and, besides, I can't deny that I'm an engineer's daughter. When my dad looked down the street of a well planned subdivision and said in a pleased way, without any irony whatsoever, "You see, everything is so symmetrical," I totally knew what he meant.

I don't want an old house with character....because it's someone else's character. I like to think of my little detached condominium as my own beige and white blank slate. I decorate it how I want. I don't need to plan around, say, someone else's nineties-tastic green tile fireplace. Also, a hypersensitive person with OCD getting a new construction house is like a sticky toddler getting candy. I will go to town on that! It's so clean. I don't have to go around wondering, what exactly is that greasy stain on the wall? Why is there so much dirt crusted into the kitchen light switch plate? Did someone go play in the mud at night and then say, hey, I need to go grab my juicer? Exactly how much of the previous owner's dry toe skin has been shed into this carpet?

And when did cookie cutters get a pejorative connotation? Aren't they part of happy Christmas cookie-decorating memories? I'm missing the crafty gene, so there's no way I'm getting a Santa Clause face shape on my own. Besides, even if I get a bunch of identically shaped cookies, I can vary the icing and sprinkles and stuff.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Introvert moviegoer moment

Yesterday, I went to see the new Great Gatsby film with fellow introvert, Tom McCambridge. After the film, it was clear that I would not have to make the normally socially customary after-movie proposition that we get dinner or coffee and chat. As an introvert conditioned to live in an extrovert world, I almost asked out of habit, but then I realized, with relief, that I wouldn't have to, that Tom wanted to go home, too.

We walked to our cars, sharing a few observations but with the understanding that we'd process more before wanting to really discuss this movie. I've seen even my extroverted students have a bit of after-movie coma, and I think everyone takes awhile to shift back into the world of quick reaction after a period of intense focus.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Newly available talk by Susan Cain available on YouTube!

This talk is Susan Cain at the 2013 Random House First-Year Experience Luncheon (publishers are now eagerly courting the many campuses that have any type of common reading program). She's directly addressing her work's relevance to school/college life. This makes this talk particularly pertinent to us here at IntrovertEd. I loved it!

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Let's Lecture": An Introverted Student's Perspective

With my student's permission, I share her thought-provoking essay. The prompt was basically to describe what teaching and learning styles work best for her.

Mackii Toma
English M01A
Professor Scrofano
8 April 2013
Let’s Lecture
Prompt E
            It is a rare occasion when I voluntarily speak in class, so I am excited to write about something that I rarely talk about. I have all the makings to be a “Chatty Cathy”, but I much prefer writing to speaking. So I suppose this is like a long-awaited journal entry for every teacher that has ever wished me to say something in class. And when I do say something, they often wish for me to repeat myself just a little louder. I have taken a multitude of different classes and have secretly clashed with teachers and their methods for many years. My experiences have been untraditional, but after much contemplation I have realized that my favorite kind of conversation in the classroom is actually quite traditional. All I need is a pencil, paper, and the makings of a simple lecture.
             Yes, my ideal classroom environment involves slim to no talking from students and a prepared lecture from the teacher. I would hope that the teacher is open to taking questions and comments from the class, but doesn’t require a class discussion. These questions would be self-voluntary and answered in a nice length that doesn’t spur into some kind of tangent. Nothing is worse than a classroom that can’t be controlled from a tangent topic that is totally unrelated to the subject at hand. I say “self-voluntary questions and comments” because I have been singled out my fair share of times. There’s the elementary cup of sticks with student’s names on them that leave you forever afraid of being picked on. And there’s the teacher who likes to single out the quiet kids, which just turns into an awkward mess for the whole room. Either situation is uncomfortable for me and I think that can be an easy fix. For I would truly be at ease in knowing that my class would involve a teacher doing the same lecture song and dance on their part and some standard note taking on mine.
            I don’t like to engage in banter in my personal life, so I can’t say that I’m a fan of debate-oriented classroom conversation. I was looking forward to a Media & Society Journalism class I enrolled in last semester. I was not prepared for the full on debate group discussions that would take place each week. I was not aware that it would involve such little writing and I had a hard time feeling anything but regret out of signing up for that class. Being forced to listen to opinions on topics such as politics is rough. The whole class really has to be committed to this kind of environment to really learn from one another and it can be especially difficult when a teacher keeps the debate to a one-sided argument. Other people’s opinions rarely sway my own so when I do talk, I don’t care enough to change someone else’s mind either. I’m writing mostly on experience here, but I’m also writing from the point of view of an artist and dancer. As a person who expresses myself in a visual way, it’s no wonder why I cringe upon entering a debate filled environment. Actually, if I could dance my way through school I would.
On a side note, I was thankful to know a friend in that Journalism class, which drastically changes the way I converse in a classroom setting. This brings me to the topic of group work. I would like to think that I’m fairly comfortable in my opinions, but I feel that they are often too personal to share. That is why I find it much easier for me to collaborate on a project when I am paired with a friend who knows my background. But if my best friend isn’t in my class, please let me work alone. Having to split the work and hope that person does his or her part or just getting to know someone before moving onto the work itself is a serious struggle. And if a class calls for group discussions, I definitely prefer a larger setting. While it is unlikely that I’ll give any input to a large discussion, I’ll at least have the pleasure of potential learning from listening to people talk. As for small groups, I may get put with a group of people that’s even quieter than myself and that leads to a still conversation of silence that acts like a big waste of time. Strangely enough, I actually don’t have an issue speaking in such group situations. The problem is that I have a hard time enjoying myself while working in a group setting.
            Clearly, I tend to work better as an independent, but I did miss face-to-face classes after doing two years of online home schooling during high school. I’m often too nervous to ask questions in class, so I liked having an email relationship with my teachers online. Equally important was foregoing group work, going at my own pace, and wearing my pajamas to class every day. Yet even with everything I’ve said, nothing beats face-to-face interaction if you really want to experience education in the flesh. Since online class discussions weren’t mandatory, I usually opted out of them. This allowed me to gain a lot of personal study skills and self-motivation by teaching myself a lot. But consequently, this defeats the purpose of school to me. I actually made myself go back to school senior year for the interaction I was missing out on. Even if I don’t speak in class, there’s still a lot you can get out of just showing up and listening (regardless of the type of conversational styles in the classroom).
            As I mentioned before, I like lectures. In fact, I have come to realize that the classes that I have done the best in throughout college have been straight lectures. I have found these classes to reflect some of my favorite teachers as well. Even though the conversation in these classes can become boring, it’s a repetitive standard that I find comfort in. If I miss the class, I know that I’ll be able to look over someone else’s notes. If I’m in the class, I know that if I simply pay attention, I will be taken care of in return. However, I really do prefer the teacher have some kind of power point going on because I’m currently trying to keep up with a lecture class that involves plain talking from the teacher and no visual elements. Here, I must specify that I certainly need a visual presentation to go along with the lecture. Whether it is bullet points or pictures, I will no doubt sleep with my eyes open without something that visually matches what my teacher is saying.
            As a result, the teaching style of lectures leads right into the study skills that best meet the needs of my ideal learning style. I had a teacher in high school that lectured and then told the class everything that would be on the test. He would even give us the exact essay he wanted, which could be written in the same way on the test. This helped me immensely, because it’s incredibly trying to figure out what a teacher wants when they make you fight for what you’re supposed to learn. I just wish that all teachers could tell me exactly what they want me to get out of the class so that I can do just that. It’s a win-win situation for both parties in my opinion. Looking back, I’m starting to think that this preference developed from my dance background. I’m so used to memorizing dances step by step and from there I can execute my performance to my best ability. I only ask that I get the same out of my college education so I can perform as my best self.
            In summary, my style is simple and I don’t need the extra talking or the group work to keep me entertained in the classroom. I’ve learned from writing this what kind of student I am and it’s an interesting realization to say the least. The conversation I seek in a class actually asks for very little conversing at all. This is something I seldom experience so I think I’m going to have to learn how to take a liking to speaking up in class. But the comfort I find in staying quiet is a style I have developed over a long period of time, so I predict myself being mum for a bit longer till I can break my habit of silence.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lean in or lie down?

Okay, I've got to weigh in on the debate opened up by Real Simple (one of my favorite magazines!) editor Kristin Van Ogtrop's response to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In the recent Huffington Post article, Van Ogtrop, author of Just Let Me Lie Down, argues that women ought to "stand up straight" rather than "lean in," which she understands to mean always being more and more ambitious at work, regardless of the impact on your family life. I was really disappointed in the Van Ogtrop's Huffington Post article. I wonder if Van Ogtrop even read Lean In; Sandberg takes pains to talk about how much she's home for dinner. (Also, although I haven't read Van Ogtrop's book, I'm suspicious of a hugely successful magazine editor telling a regular person like me to relax and not be so ambitious.) I thought Lean In had the same good message that Anne Marie Slaughter made in her June 2012 Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All": everyone, not just women, benefits when jobs allow people to be flexible with their time so as not to ruin their family life. Slaughter points out how modern technology that allows people to work remotely makes this day and age an ideal time for this shift to happen.

I think the benefits of workplace flexibility would also be ideal for introverts and other sensitive people in general, whether or not they be mothers or fathers concerned about the state of their family life. For instance, I don't have any kids yet, but I know I've been much, much happier with a professor's schedule than a high school teacher's. Typically, I'm in front of a class 2-4 hours a day, not 5, and the rest of the time is for quiet preparation, studying, and grading. I do not conduct class at all on Fridays; I can have the whole day to grade and prepare for the next week. If I need to run errands after my in-class time is over, I can; I just know that I'll be finishing my work later in the evening or on the weekends. Sometimes that's better; after a very full day of teaching, I don't have the brainpower to grade papers, so I do what would traditionally be Saturday errands on, say, a Thursday afternoon, and I'll save that grading for Saturday morning, when I'm fresh again. The flexibility allows me to use my time more efficiently and lets me decide when my brain is fried and I should just wash the dishes and when my brain is ready to do thinking work. I don't have to force myself to slog through papers when I'll only get a few done and waste time in a tired stupor while the laundry piles up.

These articles and my reaction about mixing up my down time and my work time get me thinking of the cliched phrase, the "work-life balance." Sandberg and Van Ogtrop discuss this at length, and I also just read in this month's O Magazine that Martha Beck would scold me for having my book bag in close proximity to the TV set where I relax. So, let me say that I think the separation between work and life is a false dichotomy, and that's why flexible schedules and partially online work schedules are good for everyone, not just people with kids.

Historically, there was no separation between work and life. You and your whole family worked together on the farm, say. My women's history professor in college explained that women were actually more equal to men in the Colonial Era of America than in 19th-century America. Even if Colonial women's work was different than a man's (he does the heavy plowing while she cooks the food and sews the clothes), both genders' jobs were critical for the family's survival. Children helped, too. The "angel in the house" who stays home while the man goes away from the family property to make a living and children are seen as living in their own special bubble did not happen until the 1800s. So, that's fairly recent in the course of human history. This "Honey, I'm home" type of world is new and has lots of problems; it should in no way be considered the ideal situation or some sort of default. When my husband watches Mad Men, I can see why all those guys cheat; they spend most of their time living in a completely separate world than their wives and children are living in. Work and family life need to be more integrated, or work becomes life and you grow apart from your family.

Plus, all of us sensitive people know that creativity doesn't always come between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If I'm not feeling it on a Tuesday afternoon, I'll take care of some chores or do an extended workout and then maybe that frees up my mind to have a brainstorm as I'm watching Chelsea Lately at 11 p.m. In fact, any creative person will tell you that you often need long periods of doing what seems like nothing before you come up with anything good. Jonah Lehrer has a great discussion of this phenomenon in Imagine. Although sections of Imagine have been discredited due to the fact that Lehrer admitted to making up some of his Bob Dylan quotes, I think what he said about the creative process rings true. We introverts and we creative types need periods of quiet, alone-time, doing-nothing-ish time to get the brainstorm later. We don't want to be surrounded in an office with people all day long, and we don't want our society to measure productivity or career commitment by how long we can stay at the office and be interacting with others. For us, that can be very unproductive.

I'm eternally grateful that I've found community college life to give me just the right balance of structure and flexibility, and I wish that for everyone. I wish the professor's schedule was seen as the norm, not the aberration. In a post-industrial, information economy, why do we keep pushing the nine-to-five factory model of work scheduling as the be-all and end-all? Any teacher who has gotten the "Must be nice to get off at 3:00" comment can surely see why I ask.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Poor Ryan Seacrest

So, in this week's celeb news, we find out that Julianne Hough broke up with Ryan Seacrest after "losing" a large amount of jewelry that he gave her. And then he had to get up on stage and host American Idol.

I know, I know, as Ray Romano once said, "Go cry in a bag of money," but still, I feel sorry for the guy.

I started teaching in my twenties, a decade notorious for messy and humiliating break-ups for most people. To be dealing with a huge personal crisis and then having to get up in front of people and put on a show is pretty awful.

Especially if you're an introvert. One year, my coverage of Arthurian legends was reduced to a lot of silent reading time and end-of-chapter questions. But showing Monty Python at the end of the week made up for it, I hope. We all felt better after seeing that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Disney: An Introvert's Nightmare?

I know that as an academic, I am supposed to, as one stuffy ex-boyfriend of mine once put it, "hate all things Disney": the voracious capitalism, the aggressive marketing-to-children, and all of it hidden behind the smiling faces of fluffy stuffed animals.

But I don't. When my husband suggested taking a detour to Orlando while we were visiting my Cuban-American Miami in-laws, I jumped at the chance.

I'm not sure why. Just last summer, I spent three days in an air-conditioned hotel shaking hands with authors and scoring free books from the American Library Association Conference in Anaheim while my husband and his mother went to Disneyland.

Worse, I have so many memories of the sweaty heat and the standing in line for hours and hours during family trips to Disneyland as a kid. Unlike some of my very sweet students (at least one or two per year) who are absolute Disney fanatics (and I mean getting secret info. on unauthorized social networking sites fanatics), I dreaded things like a trip to Disneyland or, even worse, a family vacation.

My poor parents. They did everything so diligently. My dad dutifully drove us on the week-long summer vacation every year, which my stay-at-home mom carefully planned. And I hated every trip. Not because I was a bratty teenager (when you're a straight-A student who doesn't go out much, you can't be too bratty), but because I was an introvert and an OCD sufferer. At the time of course, none of us had heard of OCD, so, of course, I didn't know why I would spend the whole car ride worrying if I had left the curling iron on. I just knew bad feelings crept in whenever I would be plucked out of my regular routine, isolated with my ever-present worries, and prevented from doing anything typical of my everyday life.

For most people, ditching their everyday life is precisely the point of a vacation. But it is precisely what made vacations very stressful for me. Some of my reading on autism, though I thank God almost daily that I do not suffer as extensively as they do from disruption of routine and sensory overstimulation, has helped me understand why this might be.

So I should have expected that the crowds and the bright sunlight and the standing in line with nothing to do but feel anxious would catapult me right back to childhood OCD-on-vacation mode and make my morning less than enjoyable.

But as the day went on, I discovered that there are a lot of things about Disney parks that are quite amenable to the introvert. There are lots of shows, movies, and rides which transport you into an imaginative world and allow you to focus on that world. While this is happening, you can be with others, but you don't have to make small-talk with them.

I'll even risk ostracism from the cynic's club and the highly sensitive person's club to say that I even enjoyed the fireworks at Disney World's Magic Kingdom tonight. Yes, they were loud, but we watched them in an area where we weren't too crowded together, and, I don't know if this was intentional, or just because we were watching from a less popular location behind the castle, but the fireworks were not just in front of us or above us. It seemed that they were being launched from all directions: in front of us, behind us, and even, later, on the sides. As they made their sparkling, colorful trajectory around us, I thought, this is what it must be like to live inside a just-shaken snow globe. In short, it was awesome, and I proudly share with you readers the introverted, simile-inspiring moment that I managed to have in a very extroverted place.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Introvert Excuse

This posting is inspired partially by a recent episode of TLC's What Not to Wear. Normally, I feel for the guests. I feel bedraggled; they feel bedraggled, but then they cry with relief when they finally look pretty. There is hope for us all. It reminds me to curl my hair every morning. But every once in awhile, they make over someone who does not want to be made over and makes the whole show about how contrary they can be. They talk back to Stacy and Clinton and reject every suggestion.

The recent episode in question featured actress Shannon Elizabeth. I can only hope she was acting on this show. I hope she's not that bitchy in real life. Maybe they told her to be difficult for ratings; after all, the recruiting of B-list celebrities seems to have been a last-ditch effort to save the show which, it has now been announced, is in its last season. 

The whole time, Shannon scorned suggestions and claimed that she needed to dress in understated ripped jeans and cotton hoodies because she was shy and didn't want a lot of attention. She used introversion as an excuse. An excuse for bad behavior. 

She petulantly told hairstylist Ted that she couldn't wear the new hairstyle because she "couldn't see." Tuck it behind your ear, or use the miraculous invention of the bobby pin. Mostly, don't be so ungrateful. All of us at home on our couches watching this show would love to have a makeover. 

Now, I may be conflating introversion and humility, but it has been my experience that most introverts, because they are reflective and thoughtful, are usually quite considerate of others. People like Shannon's-persona-on-this-show are just throwing out shyness as an excuse. After all, these days, we are conditioned to pity anyone who can throw out the idea that they are "different" from something someway. 

So a person who doesn't understand what it is to truly be shy claims shyness as their particular difference, with the presumption that this difference entitles them to disregard basic civility and kindness. 

I've had students pull this trick. Just this December, a student angrily e-mailed me. His grade was on the A/B border, and I had chosen the B. One reason I gave him as to why I went with a B was that he didn't participate in class. He retorted in a generally arrogant e-mail that I was penalizing him for being shy. A truly shy person wouldn't have had the audacity to send a professor a rude e-mail, but because he's not really shy at all, he couldn't see that. 

And then there was the fifteen-year-old girl back in the high school teaching days. Her mom called me to tell me that she suffered from anxiety, so she could not be expected to do the oral presentation. I wondered where her anxiety was when she made inappropriate jokes about my dating life. 

Some students, of course, have legitimate anxiety, depression, and shyness that interfere with their abilities to perform. To these students, I say, "Join the club," and not sarcastically either. I've been a longtime sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I know it's hard. Most professors probably can sympathize with these students; after all, someone who spends as much time researching obscure topics as we do probably has some quirks, if not outright mental illnesses. But your own suffering is not an excuse to disrespect others. 

Introversion is not egoism. Sure, we focus on our own thoughts, but often, those thoughts are about others, about issues, about the world at large. We focus on our thoughts, but we should not be self-obsessed. People who don't see this distinction are the ones who use introversion as an excuse. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Don't smile until Christmas."

That's something older teachers love to tell younger teachers. I appreciated any advice on getting taken seriously when I started out teaching, as it's hard for seventeen-year-olds to view you as a real authority figure when you're twenty-two. Early on, one colleague even told me I needed to be "more of a bitch."

However, those comments were actually the exception rather than the rule. More often, new teachers are encouraged to fear that one wrong move of theirs will destroy a student's self-esteem for life. My master teacher (by the way, I hear they call them "cooperating teachers" now; ha, ha, if by "cooperating" you mean planning lessons with me ONE time and then getting paid to take notes on all my flaws while I teach your class for the next six weeks, then, yes, I had a cooperating teacher) told me up front: better to grade a student too high than too low. But maybe that was more a fear of parent complaints than of crushing children's hearts (if by children's hearts you mean seventeen-year-olds' hearts).

Then there was the time that I had the students doing some ridiculous, contrived game that I had come up with because talking about literature wasn't active enough learning, and they knew it was stupid and weren't participating. So, up there I stood, waiting. Finally, one boy felt sorry for me, and volunteered an answer. We moved on, but after class the master teacher berated me for not giving him more positive feedback; after all, he had saved my ass. First, student teaching is so humiliating that you get inured to that feeling pretty early on, and I think I would have lived had he not jumped in and given an answer out of pity. Second, when a bunch of students don't give answers, how did it become the teacher whose ass needs to be saved? Third, I didn't say anything negative; I probably just said 'ok,' because his answer was right. Just because I didn't lavish praise upon this kid, I was now a meanie.

So now, just being straightforward or neutral is mean. If you're not overly encouraging, or if you are quiet or subtle, you must be angry or derisive. Wesley Yang in "Paper Tigers" wrote about a similar phenomenon in a different context. He interviewed a young, Asian man who said that his friends asked him, "Dude, are you mad?" in clubs or other social situations. He felt he was merely being neutral, but because he wasn't acting like an over-the-top, smiley big-talker, he must be angry. That's how I think a lot of new teachers are made to feel. We know that we could be humiliated at any moment (anyone else been told to "suck and swallow" by a fifteen-year-old?), but if we're not as nurturing as kindergarten teachers on the first day of school, we're self-esteem crushers.

This pressure came up recently in a conversation with a colleague of mine. He said that he finds himself being excessively positive as a way to compensate for his introversion. Bottom line: If you're reserved, you'll be perceived as mean, so you have to act extra nice!

Ed school scared me so much that I once asked a counselor for his home phone number in case I read anything questionable while grading after hours because I was so paranoid about my status as a mandatory reporter. Our professors regaled us with stories of things we could do that could get us sued. At an orientation for one of my jobs in a coveted suburban district they told us that should any of us get ourselves dismissed, it might end up in the suburban newspaper. Gasp! Scandal!

In this type of social climate, could you blame twenty-two-year-old me for being worried when my master teacher wanted to show Dead Poets' Society? What if it sent out a bad message? What if it upset someone? Oh, silly me; I didn't realize that movies don't crush souls--only teachers do. So, after I voiced my concerns to her privately, she went on to say, after the movie finished, to the whole class, "So, you guys know that just because there's a suicide in this movie it doesn't mean we want you to go kill yourselves, right?" I can still hear the sarcasm dripping (the cliche works, so I'm leaving it in) in her voice.

You know, if a movie won't make someone commit suicide, I doubt that a D will either.

Herein is the paradox of being a young teacher: people view you in two extreme ways. You're treated as if you have the power to destroy lives or as if you're a nobody. Both feel pretty bad. Maybe that's the reason new teachers don't smile until Christmas.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mindy Kaling's book

Recently finished Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, and got a lot of laughs. I particularly loved the section heading entitled, "I Forget Nothing: A Sensitive Child Looks Back." She describes keeping a list of her favorite foods with her at all times in case someone should ask. I love a defense against awkward small talk. And oh, how many of us shy types have mentally bullet-pointed an awkward conversation, or worse, not mentally but literally written out a list of things to say?

A lot of people think Facebook is a shallow soul-killer, but I love what it's done for small talk, which introverts tend to dread. I can get the information of small talk but without the face-to-face awkwardness and immediate need to respond. I can peek into others' lives without having to keep a conversation going. Like.

Good point by good friend A.J.

"I know you know this, but not all extroverts are 'content-free,' as you put it. We can be thoughtful and sincere and sensitive..."