In my attempt to remain a lifelong learner, I have become a student again this year. Being a student in a traditional classroom setting has brought back all kinds of feelings I haven't felt since college (which wasn't actually all that long ago - 4.5 years - but hang with me people). Along with the overall excitement to be learning something new, the nerves and anxieties of trying to apply the new learning, and the thrill of meeting people with similar interests, comes the inner battle I fight between my introverted self and class expectations.
I am perfectly okay with the fact that I'm an introvert. Sure my intense fear of small talk of any kind makes things difficult from time to time, but in general, I'm happy with who I am. I love that I'm happiest when I'm tucked under a cozy blanket in my house enjoying a good book. I love to have conversations about life and issues with people who know and appreciate me. It doesn't bother me at all that I'm not outgoing and adventurous.
The hardest part about being an introvert,though, is that I'm not always understood by the people around me. This plays a role in nearly every aspect of my life. Here's an example. On Saturday, my husband and I attended our first class on the road to becoming foster parents. I didn't know any of the people in the room, and I had no idea what to expect from the day. We arrived a little before class started and were asked to make a couple of name tags. I was patiently waiting for my husband to finish up with the marker when the lady across the table said, "I don't know what's wrong Jess, but it'll be okay." I wasn't smiling and talking with the people around me, so this woman assumed I was upset about something. She didn't understand that I was simply adjusting to a new situation. It'll probably take me a few weeks before I'm comfortable enough to happily converse with the people around me. That's just who I am.
School, in general, does not have the tendency to be friendly to introverts. Think about all the times we ask our students to get in front of the group and answer questions or share thoughts. Think about the emphasis we put on participation, which is often only measured by how often a student talks. In our class on Saturday, we were told we are expected to participate throughout the ten weeks of class. We will be role-playing, reading aloud, and discussing ideas. At the mention of role-playing, I nearly got up and walked out. Luckily, the instructor saved me from having to throw foster care away by saying we're allowed to pass. I'll read and I'll discuss, but I probably will not role play. We also receive stickers to put on our name tents every time we volunteer to read or participate. There's nothing like a public log of how many times I have not participated to make myself feel good (end sarcasm). Needless to say, I left class on Saturday with more negative feelings than positive feelings and I certainly did not feel valued and respected. (I'm not giving up, of course. I'm a forgiving person. I'll give my instructors the benefit of the doubt and the chance to get to know me.)
All of this got me thinking about those introverts who hide themselves in midst of the craziness in my classroom. I know I have more than a couple. Do I treat them with respect and understanding? Do I give them enough opportunities to express themselves in a comfortable way? Do I ask them to do things too far from their comfort zone? Do I handle sensitive subjects in a way that doesn't embarrass them?
It's something to think about this week when I welcome my 19 lovelies back to my room.