For some of us, the possibility of being asked to present a project or suddenly forced to answer a question is a source of intense worry or stress. Sophomore Harper King is one introverted student who has experience with this: “I do have some teachers that call on quiet and introverted students more than the ones that actually want to answer the questions,” she says. “I don't like it because it makes me feel uncomfortable, especially when I don't know the answer to the question. Some teachers have even given me bad participation grades because I don't raise my hand in class, and I guess they think that means I'm not paying attention or that I don't care.” For others, teachers and students alike, the thought that some individuals may be nervous to share is difficult to understand. We all have had at least one teacher – but likely several – who are so adamant in their belief that all students must speak out in class that they will call on anyone at any time, perhaps not realizing that the threat of being in the spotlight is incredibly distracting for some people.
How many times have you been assigned a class presentation worth a test grade or more? As a junior, I’ve seen this over and over again in my academic classes. If you’ve attended Athens Academy for a while, chances are that you have been giving these formal class presentations for a very long time: one junior reports giving her first presentation as early as second grade. Of course, we all know that Athens Academy is a college prep school, helping us to prepare for the mysterious and challenging world of college classes. For some students, this practice of regularly engaging in public speaking aligns perfectly with the careers they hope to pursue. However, for others, these are terrifying, extreme versions of something we struggle with daily when we are called to speak out in class.
The frequency of group work indicates how often educators conform to the idea that all students learn better when working and studying with others. Many individuals prefer to work alone, and actually learn more efficiently when thinking independently. Some students can even be hindered when forced to work in a group setting due to the added stress and pressure that may ensue. This divide between those who thrive in a collaborative environment and those who are better suited for independent study highlights the main difference between extroverts and introverts. There are many other factors distinguishing introverts from extroverts, apart from learning styles. You may be an introvert if you prefer a small circle of close friends rather than a wide group of acquaintances, if you are uncomfortable being the center of attention, if you dislike small talk, or if you find yourself “too intense.” This last attribute pertains to the tendency of introverts to feel emotions more deeply than others. Often, perhaps due in part to the depth of emotions and smaller number of close friendships, introversion is stigmatized as a “condition” plaguing “loners.” Even as recently as 2010, “introverted personality” was listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the first and most reliable comprehensive list of mental illnesses utilized in the field of psychiatry. Introversion, however, is not a handicap. It is a temperament, applying to all aspects of life rather than purely social ones. It relates to how one thinks as well as to the way one acts. Contrary to popular misconceptions, introverts actually tend to socialize easily. They also tend to be intellectual, intuitive, and empathetic, but prolonged social contact can leave them feeling drained. Dr. Maura Mandyck, former instructional librarian at Athens Academy and current instructional librarian at Spring Hill College, is an expert on introverts as well as education. She says, “Introverted students might be fully engaged and learning but just less inclined to enter the conversational fray. And the school day itself -- large assemblies, group activities, and oh wow, the lunchroom... There is almost none of the down time that is so necessary for introverts, so that even an ordinary day can be draining and exhausting.” Being forced to be outspoken can even inhibit some introverts’ ability to learn, because many identify as visual and independent learners.