Going through old boxes of stuff at my parents’ house, I found this progress report from a religion class I attended in first grade, when I was about 6 years old. Classic!!!
Check it out–I’ve got perfect marks on everything, except a C in “oral participation.” In the comments, the teacher writes, “Kelly is a very quiet and enjoyable girl to have in class.” Yet, somehow the fact that I wasn’t a loudmouth got me one low mark.
Ha! I can’t help but laugh when I look at this. Little Kelly had no idea she was an introvert. All she knew is that the pressure to “participate” in class gave her anxiety. She just wanted to listen and observe and do her work quietly, and alone.
I wish I could go back in time and tell Little Kelly to not care one iota about class participation. I also wish I could tell every teacher about what it means to be an introvert.
Remember the teachers who were notorious for calling on random kids in the classroom to answer a question?? Those moments practically gave me anxiety attacks! The teacher would scan the room and I would do everything in my power to exude “don’t call on me” body language. Ooh, all these feelings are coming back to me now! Do you remember?
A few months ago, Susan Cain posted a quote about class participation from Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah. Here’s part of it:
[Class participation] merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words. It had to be that Americans were taught from elementary school, to always say something in class, no matter what. [The other students were] flush with knowledge, not of the subject of the classes, but of how to be in the classes…” source
The introvert bible Susan Cain’s Quiet goes into detail about how different cultures treat class participation differently. (Seriously–this book should be required reading for everyone.) As Americans, we tend to value outgoing talkers above quiet thinkers.
I was a good student, and I think I knew deep down that class participation was bullshit. Like the earlier quote said: “Flush with knowledge, not of the subject of the classes, but of how to be in the classes.” Class participation is just learning how to play the game. A quiet kid like me learned that she had to speak up once in a while because that was what I had to do to get a good grade. Maybe that was a beneficial lesson after all, because as an introvert and HSP, you do a lot of “playing the game” as an adult, too. You learn how to make small talk, even though you detest it. You learn that sometimes you have to attend parties. You force yourself to be more outgoing even when you don’t want to. Sometimes you just have to do these things to get by.
It was eye-opening to find these old report cards. I had never thought back to when I was very young and how my introversion and high sensitivity made itself evident. It’s an interesting exercise–think back to what kind of student you were as a young child. Do you remember teachers commenting that you were quiet, shy, and kept to yourself? What other memories do you have of being an introvert as a kid?
I used to wait for questions that you could answer with a word or two, because that was all I could manage in front of
class and this way I looked knowledgeable but didn’ t have to answer questions that required long explanations…
Teachers never seemed to notice. The Finnish culture has been known to value quiet people more than the talkative
ones, so there has probably been less pressure at school for me than for American kids. But this was 30 years ago
and nowadays you have to be an extrovert both at school and at work. So if I was at school today, I’d be screwed…
They would notice that I’m always sitting in the back of the classroom by either of the side walls because I can’t stand the idea of all those people behind my back… Staring… School was hell, but I’ve always liked learning. Although
I became ashamed of myself for being such a wuss. I’m glad that a lot of what I’ve thought of “my crazyness” is
genetic. Haven’t totally got my head around it yet, though!
I loved seeing this Kelly, I pretty much had the exact same report cards. A while back I was trying to determine if being introverted or “shy” (because i didn’t know about HSP’s yet) was something I developed or was born with. I asked my mom about what I was like as a kid, and she said she noticed my “shyness” when I brought home those hilarious report cards with bad class participation marks. Too funny, thanks for sharing : )
Oh, yes, I relate well to this! I always knew I was shy and timid, which were considered negatives. One thing I hated was being told in front of a group, “Kathy, you’re so quiet,” as if I or everyone else didn’t know that? I was never a very good conversationalist, especially after the initial getting to know someone with the usual queries. Frankly, I found, and still find, some small talk for the sake of talking plain boring. People are so uncomfortable with silence, so we must fill it in, and I’ve done the same thing instead of listening! At this late hour of my life I’m finally beginning to see my introverted HSP self as a “trait, not something to be fixed.” Getting on the road of self-acceptance and acceptance of other for who they are…..good!
Thanks for the lovely comment, Kathy!! 🙂
This is an incredible piece! I was one of those students. I still get anxious now in my mid thirties when out of nowhere someone asks me to say something in front of a group of people. If I have something to say I’ll say it, but don’t force me to speak for the heck of it. And yes, it makes sense that so many people will just talk and talk and say nothing of substance; they’ve been taught to do so since they were little. Something has to change. It just has to.
Oh my gosh. Spot on. I cringed when the teacher looked around the room to call on someone. I was told that I was a snob or “stuck up” in high school. And I hated school. It’s sad that our society only seems to want extroverts.
OMG…yes yes yes…especially in my college classes. I remember one in particular where class participation was a huge portion of the grade. I was afaid I would fail. I also have this thing about I either need to talk in the beginning or else if I finally get up my nerve to say something near the end, I am sure people are thinking “who are you and where did you come from?” It’s gotten easier as I have gotten older, but still at 62, I hate it when I’m in a group and we have to introduce ourselves. I’m great one on one but can’t stand to have a whole group of people looking at me.
I hated giving oral reports, etc. I did love to be called on if I raised my hand. Both required preparation, but I could be brief and much more specific when called on for raising my hand. It has taken me many years to be comfortable speaking in front of people and I am still uncomfortable doing so in many circumstances. I think the crowd you are speaking to makes a BIG difference.
My HSP son is very different in that he excels in oral communication and hates to write. His vocabulary has always been impressive, but if he is forced to write, you would never know he has a brilliant grip on language. He could narrate all day! He could TELL me a lovely story he wanted to turn in about how beautiful a day it was, all of the senses being spoken of, people and things described in detail, etc. and we would agree that it was fabulous and that’s what he should write. What got turned in looked more like “it was a great day and they all had fun”.
I, on the other hand, will often write out a conversation I want to have with someone and edit it before talking to them. Lol!