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!

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.