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!

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.