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, September 15, 2015

When the content is hard...

...introverts might need to lecture it first.

It strikes me that when I'm teaching something new or a piece of literature that's complex or very in-depth, I feel like I need to lecture about it (or do a teacher-led whole-class discussion) a few times before I'm comfortable with group work. I learn best in a focused manner, and a focused way of teaching helps me master the material. As they say, you don't really learn something until you have to teach it to someone else. Once I'm comfortable that I won't forget my main points or get confused, I'm more comfortable opening things up to group work in which things happen more helter-skelter and out of order and during which time I can't be with everyone at once. Now, this probably wouldn't be a problem for an extrovert teacher who learns by interacting with others. It may help him/her master new material by diving at it from different angles, moving from group to group. So, an extrovert teacher might be able to start with group work right out of the gate. But an introvert may take awhile to work into a more student-centered style of teaching.

Teacher-centered is almost always presented as bad. I would ask that those who evaluate beginning teachers to consider whether or not those teachers are introverts and rather than label a new teacher who lectures as a bad teacher, help support them in the transition. Teaching is notorious for expecting new teachers to have the same load and the same expertise as older teachers. Let's modify our expectations.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

That line from Gatsby

At one of Gatsby's parties, Jordan explains to Nick, "I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy" (54).

Of course, I've found a convoluted way to relate this quotation to teaching. A few days ago, some friends and colleagues and I had a brief exchange on Facebook in which it came up that enjoying speaking to large groups doesn't necessarily mean that a person is extroverted. I find that, as an introvert, talking to large groups often means you're lecturing or leading a class discussion, both of which allow you to follow a topic in depth and in an organized manner, which introverts love. So, to throw a little S.A.T.-quality allusion at you, are large classes to the introvert teacher what large parties are to The Great Gatsby's Jordan Baker? I, however, when I lecture or lead class discussion, am not looking so much for privacy as focus.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Finally, some recognition!

I'm happy to have a positive post, as I feel that lately I've spent a lot of time on here fending off attacks on things that introverts like.

I've now been to a professional development session in which introversion was mentioned as a valid learning style ("style" is the wrong word, probably, but I hope you get what I mean) that teachers should address. So, just as we should appeal to the traditional learning styles of auditory, visual, kinesthetic, we should consider introversion. It was an On Course workshop given at my college by their representative Elaine Zamora, who is also a community college teacher.

I think the only other time I've heard about introverts in a professional development setting was in a temperament exercise in the school of education when I got my teaching credential about 15 years ago. Often, if we hear about introverts in educational situations at all, we're glossed over--oh, those people know how to do stuff on their own so let's ignore them; or, oh, those are the readers who always do well in school anyway, so they don't need any attention; or, worse yet, those kids need to get with it and learn how to be more extroverted to succeed in our society.

To have my temperament validated in the same way that we try to validate other kinds of diversity--cultural, gender, religious--was a breath of fresh air!

The introvert-friendly activity we did at the workshop was simple, but had a big payoff. On Course calls it the "Silent Socratic Dialogue," which means that a student and partner each write on a prompt. Then, they exchange notebooks, read their partner's writing, write a question, exchange books again, answer the question, exchange books, read answer and write another question, etc. While we only took about five minutes each go-around to write our questions or answers, you could easily do this for longer. Even if you only did the five minutes, however, it's a lot more time than the introvert typically gets in an oral conversation where the rapid-fire back-and-forth takes seconds.

It was great to see that collaborative work need not be noisy and rushed.

And, as Elaine mentioned, sometimes in conversation we're so worried about coming up with a clever response that we don't really listen (this is an especially big problem for introverts, I think, and probably part of why they dread small talk). This silent dialoguing allowed us introverts to focus on our partner's words and take our time to reflect on our responses.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

What "counts"?

Sometimes, the difficult thing about teaching is that the bureaucratic climate turns us instructors into the "point grubber" students that we dislike dealing with.

Lately, in distance education (online classes), the conversation has been about what constitutes "regular and effective" contact with students. So, the point grubber's question becomes, of course, what do I do in my online course that "counts" as "regular and effective contact" as far as colleagues, administrators, accreditors are concerned? From that sprang a discussion on our campus as to the time an instructor logs into his/her class should be equivalent to the amount of time that would normally be spent in class in a face-to-face course of the same number of units.

Okay, that sounds logical. But consider this: when I'm in a face-to-face class, sometimes I'm talking to the whole class at once, sometimes to small groups, sometimes to individuals. Online, the equivalent of talking to everyone at once would be posting lecture, news items, or discussion postings, and everyone can see those materials, even if not at the same time. So, for the purposes of hours in class, those activities would "count." But what about small-group or individual consultations? What would be the online equivalents of those?

For writing teachers, it's easy. I can do videoconferencing with screen sharing and talk individually with students about their papers. I can hold small-group discussions or demonstrations (MLA review, for example) with this same videoconferencing and screen sharing tool.

But the situation came up where a colleague held lots of group study sessions by videoconferencing and she called them "office hours," because they were optional and, I suspect, also because traditionally, in a face-to-face class of 27 (or in her case, 57), you don't meet with individuals or small groups for an hour at a time while everyone else just sits there waiting. If people want that kind of one-on-one attention, they have to go to office hours.

So, here's the problem: "office hours" don't "count" as the hours you'd spend in "lecture" in a face-to-face class with your students. So, all this extra work my colleague is doing holding videoconference study sessions doesn't "count." If these study groups don't "count," will she have to forgo them to do other activities that do "count"? Will the activities that "count" tend to be large-group activities? What worries me about using the face-to-face class lecture hour analogy in an online class is that it could bias people against the sort of individual and small-group activities that introverts thrive on and which we finally have time to do in an online class because the lecture is typed up. The time I would normally spend delivering it can be redirected toward working with students on their writing.

So, how would we online instructors have to set it up so that individual activities like writing conferences would "count"? Perhaps if they were required for every student, they would "count," but would that be a feasible time commitment, even with the time that's freed up by not having to deliver lectures anymore?

Overall, my hope is that, as we define the expectations for this nascent online learning environment, we don't limit the possibilities based upon the old lecture-hour model just because it's all we know or, worse, because we have to keep teachers under surveillance to make sure that they're not trying to get away with doing less work. I hope the discussion of what constitutes "regular and effective contact" focuses on what's best for students, not what "counts" for teachers.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear Administrator, Don't Flip Your Meeting...At Least Not All the Time

As I sit here and write this less than two hours away from the deadline I gave myself (and which I, in a fit of foolishness, told my students so that there'd be living humans to hold me to it), it strikes me that in some ways I'm a lot like them. (I procrastinate when I'm afraid or insecure. I have things I worry that I'm not good enough at.)

But in other ways, I'm not like them. And that is why I don't want administrators to "flip" their meetings. See Dear Administrator, Flip Your Meeting?, by David Perry.

Let me back up. First, I'd like to say that I think English classes are the original "flipped" classes: you do the reading (the intake of ideas) at home, and the active discussion (output, exchange of ideas) happens in class.

But I feel like when educators say "flipped," they mean that class should consist of fast-moving, small-group work, as if that's the only kind of learning that is "active." The author of "Dear Admin" equates lecturing with "relying too much on students to function as passive receptacles for information." And, of course, he cites, as evidence, Studies.

Ah, yes, the almighty Studies. OK. Let me back up again. I believe the Studies. I facilitate collaborative learning in my classes. I have seen it work with my students. But the I suspect that the Studies are done on students.

I am not a student. I am a professor. Yes, I know, we're life-long learners, everyone is a student of life, yadda, yadda. But you know what I mean. I'm a professor. I'm someone who chose to spend long hours alone reading, studying, and writing. Many of my students would not choose a life like this. It is not in their disposition.

However, I think many professors are like me. The conditions of study and work that our career paths require demands a disposition opposite that of many of our students. I think this hits us community college professors especially hard. We have the focus, the single-mindedness, often the introversion that is necessary to be subject matter experts, but some of our students come to community college precisely because they do not have a single-minded focus or the inclination to be reflective and contemplative.

This doesn't mean I don't love them. It doesn't mean I don't appreciate them. It's just that I am different. And I don't think that I learn the same way as they do. I don't think the results of Studies on them will always apply to me, or even to some of them, especially as people like Susan Cain now estimate that introverts may make up up to half the population, as opposed to the one quarter that was previously believed. One of the reasons I hated small group work as a student resulted from the educators having been told that we students were all the same and would learn better from our peers than from the teacher. Well, I felt different than most of my peers, and I didn't trust them. I didn't want to be vulnerable (and that is what one becomes when learning) in a group of people who didn't "get" me or who, in the past, had outright ridiculed me. Small groups are supposed to let the shy ones speak up, but this logic works best if you assume that the teacher is the intimidator. What if the peers are the intimidators?

Let me back up again, lest I sound too much like the small-group hater and the lecture-lover. I should say that meetings in my department, the English Department, are rarely lectures. We discuss everything. Some might say too much, winking-smiley-face.

But I know and trust these colleagues. I have been with them many years. I am, or try to be, well-informed about what we discuss. (I'd like to point out that the kind of environment that we have in my department doesn't just happen by putting strangers into groups; I fear a lot of active learning research focuses on the how-to's of grouping but ignores the very real parts that authentic interpersonal communication and the interplay of the teacher's and students' personalities play in learning.)

But sometimes I'm in a meeting of the broader campus community. I don't know these people as well. The subject matter is unfamiliar. I would like a captivating person to explain it to me, to help me understand, and then I would like to reflect on it quietly and at length before commenting upon it. In this case, for an administrator to, as Perry suggests, send me inscrutable data in an e-mail for me to tackle alone for the sake of "flipping" the meeting and not lecturing at me would, I believe, result in just the type of "information-dump" that David Perry wishes to avoid.

Sometimes, after a day of "facilitating," a day of orchestrating other people's learning experiences, I want someone to cater to my learning style. On the other hand, perhaps you could say that sometimes I just get tired--that after a day of creative choices, of discussing complex social issues, of always wondering what is the right decision--from which direction to lean in assigning a grade to what I should say to that girl who came to class today with a black eye--, sometimes I want somebody to just tell me what to do, how to understand a given piece of information.

Maybe I made my point best when I said recently to my wonderful dean, who has always respected me even though we have very different temperaments, that, just as traditional lecture excluded many students in the old days, so too can group work in our own times. We introvert educators (both those teachers who are introverts themselves as well as those teachers who educate introverts) should be vigilant that that doesn't happen.

That would be a kind of "flipping" that no one should want to see.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lecture or Conversation?

On Friday, at my college, I attended a wonderful Flex (professional development) activity, by Dr. Jaiya John, poet and foster youth advocate. His "talk," if such an inspired performative expression of ideas can be called "a talk," got me thinking about my introvert's crusade to combat the almost universal maligning of "lecture" that pervades pedagogical circles.

Just as I struggle to call Dr. John's "talk" a "talk," I certainly wouldn't call it a "lecture," at the risk of making it misunderstood. Any educator who hears "lecture" nowadays hears its negative connotation as well.

In a nutshell, Dr. John talked to us (the audience of about 40 people) for an hour and a half.

Yes, that's right. We listened quietly to another person's voice for 90 minutes.

And it was AWESOME.

Dr. John didn't do a bad lecture. He didn't drone on in a monotone or make it hard for us to see the topic's relevance to our lives and our society. He did a good lecture. He combined poetry, storytelling, explanation, gesture, eye contact, vocal variation, humor, and so much more to make us think about how to draw upon our own human vulnerability as we nurture people who have been through traumas that are hard to imagine.

And he did it for 90 minutes.

The subject was a complex one, and the talk wove personal experience, professional experience, a lifetime (so far) of reading, and more. It needed 90 minutes. At least.

But just because it was one man talking to a quiet audience for 90 minutes doesn't mean it excluded our participation. In addition to all the thinking I did while listening as well as the eye contact and nodding and other subtle audience participation, there would be a workshop to follow when we could talk to Professor John. He let us know that we could contact him anytime, and I plan to write him an e-mail soon with some of my responses.

When Professor John began his talk, he described instances when his students played the saxophone or sang for his social psychology class. My first reaction was, "Here we go again. Here's another person who's going to tell me to let the students lead the class."

But then he himself talked to us for 90 minutes.

And I realized that a class is a type of conversation. It's not always teacher-led, but it's not always student-led, either. Students shared their talents and stories, but Dr. John shared his as well. A classroom is a place to exchange ideas, not a place where students or where professors, whose voices provide a valuable perspective the perspective of how our discipline illuminates the world, are silenced. A classroom values everyone's voice. When I lecture or give direct instruction, or when I ask my students to read ("lecture" is reading, or the gathering--as indicated by the fascinating etymology of the word-- and dissemination of ideas, which can be done aloud or in print), I am asking them to spend a lot of quiet time taking in someone else's ideas. But what makes this okay is that I want to read my students' long and thoughtful responses when they write their essays, when they give their presentations. I would never malign Dr. John as a "sage on the stage." He brings sagacity to the classroom and should share it; so do and so should our students.

Long and thoughtful presentation of ideas, written or spoken, plus long and thoughtful response: this is scholarly conversation. And it takes time. Sometimes 90 minutes or much, much more for just one person's part of the dialogue! Scholarly conversation takes time. So much of the active and cooperative learning educational methods touted today are based on a different type of conversation: casual conversation. The 10-minute small-group discussion in which there's a rapid-fire exchange of ideas is a type of conversation, but not the only type. In fact, in my classroom, I sometimes want to get away from the paradigm of casual conversation. In our world of random and rapid sensory assault from all sides, it is especially important to introduce students to that other type of conversation, the scholarly conversation, the one that requires time and concentration, the one that they don't see happening everywhere (or perhaps anywhere) else.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Babies: The Antidote for the Introvert's Dread of Small-Talk

I recently read the posting "Moms are People, Too," by Stephanie Giese, on one of my favorite blogs, Binkies and Briefcases. It's about how, when you become a mother, strangers approach your toddler/young child and talk to him/her ("Oh, you're so cute! You love your blankie, don't you?") while ignoring the mother. The post was about how to get people to stop doing that.

In principle, I totally agree. (I have even seen my own mom blow right past me and grab my daughter without so much as a "Hi, Diane"--not that I blame her; Baby V. is a lot more snuggly than I am.)

But, then, I realized that part of me--the introverted part--doesn't want people to stop doing that!

However, as Susan Cain and many others have noted, small-talk is very awkward for introverts. We don't like casually bouncing from topic to topic, thinking of entertaining witticisms on the fly. We like to reflect and have more intimate one-on-one conversations about topics that we feel passionate about.

So, you can imagine how happy I was to realize that, after I had my baby, I'd never have to struggle to make small talk again! Oh, okay, maybe not "never," but I at least have a few years of rapid-fire baby/toddler milestones to regularly report to others before she becomes another run-of-the-mill kid who can do critical things unassisted, like go to the bathroom and eat food with a fork.

Here are some great examples of the sort of small talk I can now make now that I have a baby.

To the neighbor: "She is trying really hard to crawl, but she can't just yet!"

To Grandma: "She tried bananas this week!"

To colleagues: "I've had to run out and buy twelve-month pajamas already!"

To strange lady in grocery (or any) store: "She's eight months old and is getting her top two front teeth!"

To everyone: "I'm so tired!"

For the first time in my life, I know just what to say and how to say it in a quick and casual conversation.

So, Friends and Strangers who talk to Baby V. and not me, I say to you, I am not offended! I don't want you to stop! Talk to my baby and I will happily answer you with what I think she would say. I'll use the adult-pretending-to-be-a-baby voice and everything!

Is it sad that I'd rather invent hypothetical baby's-point-of-view small talk than make my own?

I suppose you could be cynical and say I'm using my child to avoid an activity I dislike. But I say it's just an unexpected perk after things like, you know, labor and sleepless nights and all that stuff, that my bundle of joy is also the ultimate conversation piece--er, person. ;)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My College's New President: Out as an Introvert!

Recently, we received an e-mail of introduction from the newly hired college president. He described his family, his hobbies, his career, and his goals for the college, as one might expect. After he mentioned that upon his arrival he would meet with employees, students, and community partners, he added, "All of these social commitments tax my introverted personality, but I believe they are necessary to doing my job well." My first reaction was, "Woohoo! Go, introverts!" After all, it's reassuring to have someone with your personality type in a position of influence, in a someone's-looking-out-for-us kind of way. And I like to feel that I can in some way relate to an important new stranger I'll be meeting soon. 

Then, I worried. Hm, now do we have to mention introversion in a sort of disclaimer? Like, "Hey, I might not be as charismatic as you might expect, but I'll get the job done!" Must we introverts forever be assuring people that we'll be OK in spite of our personalities, rather than because of them?

But then I looked at the positive. He mentioned introversion! In a memo that was sent to every employee at the college. Which means he wasn't afraid that he'd be looked down upon after coming "out" as an "in-." Maybe the fact that the new college president felt free to mention his introversion is a sign that our society is moving toward more acceptance of introverts. The fact that the new president admitted to being an introvert shows that he doesn't feel pressure to hide his true self and pretend to be an extrovert, which is what lots of introverts habitually do to survive, especially in people-person fields like education. I know I do!

So, overall, I think the declaration of introversion in my new president's e-mail was an indication that things are moving in the right direction for introverts. Even though people need a warning that we're coming, at least we won't have to hide once we get there!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Introvert's Response to the 30 Million-Word Word Gap

So, everyone is reading about it. The articles are all over the likes of Atlantic Monthly and NPR. Another study has found that children of low socioeconomic status hear 30 million fewer words than children of higher socioeconomic status. Of course, the point of publicizing this information is to encourage parents who might not otherwise do so to talk to their babies and toddlers. Most of these parents would have a very different educational background than yours truly, a college English professor. But, if you're a guilt-ridden neurotic like I am, your response to all the word gap articles that came out this week was to say to yourself, "Holy crap, I've got to talk to my child more!"

Basically, I'm hoping that this buzz about the word gap doesn't turn into middle-class people pressuring themselves (or their fellow parents) EVEN MORE into embracing the notion that children need to be stimulated every minute or they will be losing out on something. Or that a parent's (or, by extension, teacher's) job to respond to a child's every sentiment or satisfy his or her every curiosity.

On yesterday's walk, I was tormented. Would my introversion disadvantage my child? Were the days of quietly snuggling my infant gone? Must I change to become a proper vocabulary-building, choice-offering mother? Was I asking the baby enough questions? Furthering the conversation enough with my 6 month-old in her carriage? I exhausted myself with "What do you see? Is that a tree? What color is the tree. The tree is green! What else is green?" Gah. If walks were always going to be like this, I didn't want to go on any more of them.

Today, we walked quietly. What introvert wouldn't want to teach her child the pleasure of a quiet walk? I observed that my daughter looked all around and that, since I already talk a lot to her, it's ok for her to just look around sometimes. If I don't distract her, she has to think about what she sees. As she gets older, I will teach her that being quiet doesn't mean you're doing nothing. I hope other parents and educators realize that quiet does not always signal a lack of something. There are positive ways of being quiet. Being quiet can mean taking time to be observant and reflective. This doesn't mean to ignore your kids and hope they become contemplative little Buddhas. It means to teach them the good ways of being quiet. We can instill habits of self-reflection. Some inner-city schools have even had great success with teaching kids to meditate.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I hope these 30 million-word word gap findings are not interpreted in such a way that contributes to the current atmosphere in education and parenting that learning can't happen without talking, without noise. Believe me, as a community college English teacher, I want kids to come to school with great verbal skills so, parents, talk away. But as our babies grow up, let's not forget to show them that words can also have rich lives in our heads and on the page.