How recognizing the invaluable strengths of our quiet students helps them to achieve confidence and success
I will never forget what it felt like to be known as the “quiet kid.” When I was in junior high and high school that was a label that was placed upon me by many teachers, peers, and in some instances, my parents, so after years of being known by that label, I eventually just accepted it as who I was. Being the quiet kid meant I sometimes sat alone in the classroom (or didn’t interact with the people around me), I probably had a book with me if there was down time or was doodling in a notebook, I usually didn’t like answering questions in class (unless I raised my hand), class discussions were a stretch for me, and group work could at times make me uncomfortable and give me anxiety. It didn’t help that so many people around me had this mindset that “Everyone should be a people person!” The most common thing people (teachers and peers alike) said to me was, “why are you so quiet?” Hearing those words always confused me because it made me question who I was….their questions pointed out a difference in me and caused me to often think that something was wrong with the person I saw in the mirror.
When you are surrounded by people and teachers who think that every kid should be a “talkative” student or person, it can add a HEAVY burden to one’s life and especially the freedom you have to “be yourself” in your day to day life and in classes. I went through life with this expectation that I had to talk, or that if I didn’t talk and share my opinion, “something was wrong with me.”
Even though I am no longer that 14 year old girl, I still resonate with being the “quiet person.” It might not be a negative label anymore, but it is still who I am and through the years I have learned to embrace that as a specific part of my personality. What I didn’t know when I was 14 was that being the “quiet kid” didn’t mean there was anything wrong with me (like I so often thought), it just meant there was more going on in my head than there was going on in my real life conversations. As I got older, I started to learn that there were different personalities and eventually discovered that I’m not just an Introvert (which means that being around people for long amounts of time drains me, and I thrive spending time alone). I was also an INFJ (according to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator), which explained a LOT about my quietness when I started to do more research on that specific personality type….not to mention that it also only makes up 1% of the population.
Some people might not understand what it means to be an Introvert or an Extrovert, or even understand the vast array of personalities that we come into contact with on a daily basis (especially as teachers). Learning my personality helped me to realize that nothing was wrong with who I was, that it is perfectly okay to be quiet. Reflecting back on my experiences when I was a high school student, and now being a teacher to students at that same stage in life, makes me proud to embrace my unique personality and daily strive to see the uniqueness of every student in my classes, especially the quiet ones. I always find myself smiling when I see a student pull out a book after they have finished their work or sit by themselves working independently rather than in a group because I see myself in those students, and I know the challenges they face, triumphs they accomplish, and power the possess!
The quiet ones are often the students who are overlooked because they don’t always participate, they aren’t always up to work with groups, they might not talk in class, you might not get the chance to know them well, they might not always smile, and sometimes you never really know if they are engaged in class. However, being a “quiet one” myself, I know how their brains work, and I know they have so much to offer not only the world, but each and every classroom they enter.
The quiet ones are often deep thinkers. Ask them to create or write about something and their thoughts and projects will be elaborate and revealing, but ask them to tell you about the same thing, and they will probably retreat into themselves and find it hard to put their thoughts to words on the spot (at least at first). When the quiet ones do speak, however, it is something worth listening to. The quiet ones are often our thinkers, are logisticians, our philosophers, our artists, our musicians, and our writers……and I think we can all agree that without the “quiet ones,” life wouldn’t have as much meaning.
So why am I really sharing all of this? Because in being a teacher, I know full well there are many students in my classroom who are quiet, and I know that is the case for many teachers in my position. However, sharing what I am about the “quiet ones” isn’t to say that we should leave them be and let them be quiet by themselves, or even the flip side, to force them outside of their comfort zone and make them talk because it is what society and our culture expects. Rather, I am suggesting that we, as teachers, find a middle ground, a place where our quiet students have the freedom to be themselves and work at the pace of their own thoughts and processes, while also taking time to know them for who they are behind the quiet exterior. When we know our quiet students, we build trust and relationships with them, which not only help them to slowly open up, but allows us to encourage them to try something new and challenge their comfort zones rather than force decisions on them like we so often do (which only makes them feel like something is wrong with who they are).
As a “quiet one” myself, I often find that I watch students extra carefully to gauge their specific personality in being an Introvert or an Extrovert. Knowing just a little bit about their personality helps me to understand why they do certain things and behave in certain ways in my classroom. However, it’s not just enough for me to know their personality, students have to know who they are in order to understand the workings of their own mind, emotions, and behaviors. I often find that my students who lack confidence lack it because they don’t recognize their uniqueness (especially when they are the “quiet ones”). That is one of the main reasons I heavily focus on students learning about their personalities in my PHS and Interpersonal Studies classes. I truly believe that if students can understand who they are, they will feel empowered to embrace their uniqueness as the “quiet ones” who possess great power that is just waiting to be recognized and discovered by us, their TEACHERS!!!
In closing, I encourage you to take a moment today and look around your classroom, see the students who are quiet, don’t underestimate their silence, look beyond their quiet exterior to the REAL student….the student whose mind has a million tabs open, who creates projects that belong in museums, who barely speaks in class but writes detailed papers, who doesn’t talk with the people around him but still feels comfortable in who he is, who you might forget is in your class but who always shows up. It is the quiet ones who can teach us so much about doing great things! It is the quiet ones who will go on to tackle life’s biggest issues and topics, solve the world’s problems, write the next best seller, start a successful company, craft or compose a great song, make an important scientific discovery, or go on to teach the quiet ones themselves even though it means talking to people every day:)
There is power in silence…..more than we know sometimes!