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!

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. ;)