When did you discover you were an introvert?
Maybe you haven’t, yet.
Maybe you are reading this because you suspect that you might be.
For me, the realisation that I am an introvert has been quietly unfurling for a number of years. And it started when my daughter told me about a book she was reading…Quiet by Susan Cain.
I highly recommend that you read it too.
Since that day I have been learning as much as I can about this aspect of my personality but today, Thursday 30th June 2016, marks a sea-change in my response to it.
Thirty-seven years ago, on Monday 25th June 1979, I started my first job. I was 15 years 10 months and 20 days old…a baby in the grand scheme of things.
I shouldn’t have been starting my working life that day. I should have been in school and looking forward to beginning my A Levels. My O Level results that year were all C grades and not a true representation of my abilities, more a reflection of how I felt inside. One result, however, showed more promise.
In June 1978 at the age of 14 years and 10 months old I took my O level in English Language. This was a whole year earlier than was officially expected of me and as an August baby I was almost a year younger than several of my classmates taking the exam with me.
It turned out that my efforts that day were worthy of a B grade.
I should have been encouraged to take the exam again the following year to see if I could improve on that grade but instead it was deemed a good enough result.
Fair enough, I was attending a comprehensive school and it was still the 1970s.
There was some half-hearted attempt to persuade me to stay on after my official O level year but I knew I had to make my escape. If you want to know why read my blog post ‘Not Feeling Good Enough and the Common Personality Trait that Causes It’.
The young girl in that blog post was me and despite my daily anxiety about not being good enough at school I somehow managed to show true promise in this one subject.
Since my school days I have continued to show promise in every exam and assessment I have taken, culminating for me, in gaining a First Class Honours degree in Learning, Technology and Research in June 2006…twenty-seven years after leaving school.
Great!…you might say…you got there eventually!
But this was not the end of the story. In fact, as Churchill famously said, it wasn’t the end, it wasn’t even the beginning of the end but it was, perhaps, the end of the beginning. I had finally achieved in my early forties what I should have achieved in my early twenties…evidence of a good education.
I gained my degree whilst bringing up my family and working in a school as a teaching assistant. In many ways it is ironic that despite my need to get away from the school environment all those years before that I chose a school as my place of work. Maybe I felt I had something to prove.
And I did prove something…it just wasn’t what I expected.
I proved that despite all my hard work to demonstrate that I had the intellect to be good enough, that result did not make me FEEL good enough. It was self-belief that I needed and that had been systematically taken away from me between the ages of 3 and a half and 15 years, 10 months and 20 days.
I wish I could say that this rarely happened to children these days, but I can’t and I have plenty of evidence of this over the 17 years I worked in schools.
I am not blaming teachers because on the whole they do their best in the most difficult of circumstances. But, here in England, our education system is continuing to make a fundamental mistake…children who are born as introverts are being educated as extroverts and this must change. And this blog post from Susan Cain’s website demonstrates that the situation in American schools is equally concerning.
No child should be constantly pushed to perform in ways that make them uncomfortable in the name of preparing them for the ‘real world’. Allowing them to explore ways to communicate and learn would be far more beneficial and much less damaging.
Whole class participation, group work, working in pairs and working individually are all part of the school day and children should be encouraged to find out which way of learning and participating they prefer. But having found that preferred way they should be encouraged to pursue it in order to achieve at the optimum level for them.
Opportunity should, of course, be given to further explore methods of learning and communicating that do not come naturally to children. These opportunities should be obvious in their intention and not secreted throughout curriculum learning time.
My vision of this would be a regular time set aside for children with introvert tendencies to learn in an extrovert environment and for children with extrovert tendencies to learn in an introvert environment. This would surely be a better way to prepare our youngsters for the ‘real world’ as it would create flexibility regardless of their characteristics but they would fully understand WHY they found some of it difficult.
They would accept and understand why some ways of working feel uncomfortable rather than beating themselves up over their perceived failings. In addition it would give them the opportunity to explore introversion and extroversion and find more ways to work and communicate that suit them.
In the long-term this understanding in schools would produce much healthier and happier workplaces. There would be an acceptance of comfortable communication and working practices for all rather than comfort only for some.
To achieve this, teachers should have full knowledge of the introvert and extrovert tendencies of the children they are working with in order to avoid the silent disintegration of self-confidence and self-belief in up to half of the children they teach. All that would be necessary is for children to be observed, their tendencies towards introversion or extroversion noted and for these observations to continue throughout their schooling.
These observations would give teachers the information they need to understand which children would respond well to which approach, introvert-centric or extrovert-centric. Experiences like making all children read out loud in class, for example, could then be avoided. Because, as those of us who have experienced it know, reading out loud does not guarantee the creation of confident speakers; on the contrary, it often creates a lasting horror of speaking up because we are anchored to the humiliation we felt in the classroom.
The promotion of negative feelings should not be seen as an acceptable model of a learning experience in school. These feelings cut deep into the young psyche and remain embedded for years to come. They can change the course of a human life from one of possibility and autonomy to one that only offers routine and following instruction.
Something must be done to create a change of course for children in schools across the country and preserve their sense of possibility and autonomy. This is where my sea-change begins because I know that I am GOOD ENOUGH and so are countless others. But I and countless others have found this out a little late.
So I shall endeavour to repeat this message until change is created. We just happened to be born as introverts and educated as extroverts and that as an educational model should cease. Sadly it is not yet at an end, it is not even at the beginning of its end but perhaps it has just reached the end of its beginning.
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