What Do Teachers Really Think of Quiet Students?


intelligent child What Do Teachers Really Think of Quiet Students?Did you catch the recent news story about Natalie Munro, the high school English teacher from Pennsylvania who blogged her true feelings about her students? Apparently failing to comprehend the public nature of the Internet, she mused about the nasty things she wished she could write on her students’ report cards.

It was an abuse of trust,  and a dunderheaded use of the blogging medium. But that’s not what I want to focus on;  others have already covered that very effectively.

I want to talk about Munro’s view of quiet and shy students. Here, according to her blog entry of January 21, 2010 (since removed) is what she wished she could put on their report cards:

“A kid that has no personality.”

“She just sits there emotionless for an entire 90 minutes, staring into the abyss, never volunteering to speak or do anything.”

“Shy isn’t cute in 11th grade; it’s annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it.”

Munro seemed to have no understanding of how poor a fit the typical American high school can be for introverts — like an all-day cocktail party without any alcohol. She believed that these kids should suck it up and act like everyone else. And she was right, to a certain extent; we all need to fake it a little, extroverts too. I’ve met many introverted kids who are thriving and happy, and most of them have learned how to adopt an extroverted persona when need be.

But consider this question: Why do so many high-functioning people look back at high school as the worst time of their lives — and why do we accept this as normal?

As adults, we (hopefully) get to choose the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit us. Bill Gates and Bill Clinton thrive in very different work environments. But for schoolchildren, it’s one size fits all — and the size on offer is usually extra-extroverted.

One saving grace are the teachers who understand this, the teachers who connect with the kid in the back row thinking amazing thoughts that he’s uncomfortable sharing aloud with  25 classmates. I’ve spent a lot of time touring schools and observing classrooms, and I’ve met some great and sensitive teachers along the way. If you read through Munro’s blog, she’s clearly a Piece of Work — not representative of your typical teacher.

I also know how hard it is for teachers when students are reluctant to participate in class. Once I taught two back-to-back negotiation seminars — a Wednesday night class and a Thursday night class. The Wednesday night class discussions were always lively and animated. But in the Thursday night class, the participants stared at me as if I had two heads, and wanted me to do all the talking. This made my job so much harder and — on a day-to-day basis -  less fulfilling. Some of those students wrote me letters when the class was all done, expressing how deeply they’d enjoyed it. I was surprised each and every time; I’d assumed they hadn’t liked the class at all. So I have tremendous respect for teachers who work gracefully with their “Thursday night” students.

But I’m afraid that they are the exceptions; research suggests that the majority of our teachers believe that the “ideal student” is an extrovert. Which is extraordinary, when you consider how many of our greatest thinkers were introverts. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, George Orwell, Steven Spielberg, Larry Page, J.K. Rowling: none of them would have made “ideal students.”

If I had one wish, it would be to reverse the stigma against introversion for children, so that the next generation won’t grow up with the secret self-loathing that plagues so many introverted grown-ups today.

I’ll be posting a lot about introverted kids, helping parents and teachers to cultivate their tremendous potential.

In the meantime: What do you think? What experiences did you or your kids have at school?

*Big thanks to my good friend, Jeff Kaplan, for alerting me to the Natalie Munro brouhaha!


share this What Do Teachers Really Think of Quiet Students?

Related posts:

  1. What Do Teachers Really Think Of Quiet Kids?
  2. Students Speak Up In Class, Silently, Using the Tools of Social Media
  3. Watch this Teacher Engage Shy Students Via Twitter
  4. Question of the Week: Should Teachers Base Grades on Classroom Participation?

Related posts:

  1. What Do Teachers Really Think Of Quiet Kids?
  2. Students Speak Up In Class, Silently, Using the Tools of Social Media
  3. Watch this Teacher Engage Shy Students Via Twitter
  4. Question of the Week: Should Teachers Base Grades on Classroom Participation?


  1. Emmanuel on 25.06.2011 at 21:22 (Reply)

    If it wasn’t for specific teachers I had in high school, I am definitely sure I would not have graduated. I was a slacker, but I was smart and polite enough for these teachers to be generally accepted and/or given help by them. Their support helped me hold it together during those four years, which honestly was a time where I was overall a messed up person. Honestly, I’d have to say it was more of my family as a whole than my school I had trouble with.

  2. Laura on 26.06.2011 at 06:49 (Reply)

    I’m so glad I discovered your blog. I was miserable in high school: painfully shy and introverted. The few teachers who understood students like me, and helped us bear the days spent at school, were maybe introverts themselves. No longer shy, but still very introverted, I’m just beginning to accept that there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not anti-social and I’m not sick.

  3. Jay on 26.06.2011 at 08:20 (Reply)

    Good morning,

    I have been enjoying reading your blog this morning after “discovering” it via your article in the NY Times. So much of it and your blog posts rings true. You are right that society “needs both kinds” - introverts and extroverts to function. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that if one finds himself in a group of all one kind (e.g. I used to be active in chess tournaments and competition - a stereotypically introverted activity) that group seems to be forced into establishing its own pecking order with the least introverted assuming the role of extroverts. As a self-described “high-functioning nerd” I found myself often being forced to be a “leader” in those groups.

    I also love the Mark Vonnegut quotation from your earlier post. My city, Indianapolis, has recently opened a Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and as a result I’ve learned more about the author and his family. I have downloaded the Mark Vonnegut book but haven’t gotten to it yet. Maybe soon…

    I look forward to your book.


  4. Dork on 26.06.2011 at 17:02 (Reply)

    In elementary school, being nice and quiet and getting good grades were enough for teachers. But, junior high is when “participation grades” started and then were a requirement in just about every high school class. Ugh! It was very obvious that the teachers preferred the extroverted students, even if they weren’t the ones getting the best grades. I remember that I was really nervous giving a presentation freshmen year of high school and I know it showed. On the grading/comment sheet, my teacher told me it would be a good idea to “brush up on my social skills.” I even had teachers tease me because they knew I wouldn’t say anything and it would earn them points with the cool kids. I could go on…

    I hope more people-especially teachers and parents-realize that being an introvert is not a bad thing and something that should be nurtured.

    1. Susan Cain on 27.06.2011 at 22:00 (Reply)

      such an interesting observation about pecking orders re-establishing themselves in all-introvert milieus!

  5. Scott on 26.06.2011 at 19:32 (Reply)

    I suppose one explanation is that teachers are a self-sorted group of extroverts. If one’s career goals were to improve the lives of children and/or educate people, there are many other avenues one could choose if one were introverted: research, non-profit advocacy, social work, etc. But teachers choose the avenue that involves constant interaction and public speaking on a daily basis — something introverts would only do if it were the only way to achieve one’s specific goals.

    My mother is a teacher and an introvert, and from the stories she has told me, you would be surprised at the way many teachers form into cliques and discuss students and each other…

    1. Susan Cain on 27.06.2011 at 22:01 (Reply)

      that is a good insight about teachers tending to be extroverts, and i believe borne out by research.

      1. Kate on 27.07.2011 at 10:31 (Reply)

        Don’t rule out that some teachers play the part of an extrovert during the school day although they are natural introverts. I had to develop a professional personality in my first years of teaching in order to be successful, but most of my friends and family wouldn’t recognize me when I’m teaching!

  6. Bruce Holbert on 26.06.2011 at 23:23 (Reply)

    A former student of mine sent me the link to this post. It is vital stuff every kid and parent and teacher needs to know. Sometimes even the loudest kids are shy about academics; that’s why they’re so noisy on other fronts. Many are just quiet, however. They are observers and listeners; most teachers could stand to do more of both, and that’s coming from someone who has been on the job twenty five years. What I have discovered is that even the shyest kids you can find ways to, if your goal is not to change them, but connect with them. I had a student this year who never spoke to anyone, student or teacher, but I saw her drinking a Pepsi one day and I started bringing a a bottle to class for her a couple of times a week. I’d give it to her at the end of class when she wouldn’t be embarrassed and pretty soon she started eating lunch in my room and bringing her friends. It’s as simple as that. Observe and look for a chance to connect. Teacher is a verb, not a noun. Thank you for this and I look forward to your upcoming book.

  7. Nina on 27.06.2011 at 08:02 (Reply)

    Hi! I’m so glad I discovered your blog via the NY Times! I’m an introvert and an English teacher. As a teacher, I award “class participation” points for being attentive and showing up on time-not for participating in class discussion. I never uttered a word in any of my classes as a high school and college student. It wasn’t because I wasn’t listening or interested; I was just introverted, and found that, if I started talking, I would get almost disoriented and lose my train of thought. Better to just remain quiet.

    Also, as a teacher, if I want to have a class discussion (which is often), I’ll generally ask a “leading question” and have students free-write for 5 or 10 minutes prior to the discussion. That way, the introverts will have their “lines” in front of them when it comes time to discuss the topic. So often, the introverts are the deeper thinkers, and are better able to express themselves through writing. This exercise gives them a less-stressful way to contribute.

    BTW, I love your analogy of high school to a cocktail party with no alcohol. So true!

    1. Susan Cain on 27.06.2011 at 22:03 (Reply)

      Your free-writing idea is fantastic! Must pass this on to other teachers. Thank you!

  8. The Silent Type | Write-Brained on 27.06.2011 at 12:22

    [...] [...]

  9. Trish on 28.06.2011 at 20:38 (Reply)

    I also came here via the NYTimes piece.

    One of my children takes after me, which is to say: introverted and shy. Just from reading here for a few minutes I have already learned techniques that I can suggest to her teachers in the fall. After a year with a homeroom teacher who had no respect for her personality, and was completely shameless about it, my child really needs the next school year to make up for the psychological pain of this last one.

    Thank you.

  10. Kathi G on 30.06.2011 at 07:01 (Reply)

    I came here by way of the Psychology Today Facebook page. I have been reading your articles for a while, but this one really struck me.

    I agree with the person who said elementary school being nice and quiet and getting good grades was looked upon with favor. That was my experience as well. 1st through 5th grade - all my teachers liked me and I liked school. Then I hit middle school (6th grade) and boy did things change. Three of my teachers took an instant dislike to me, apparently because I wasn’t “cute” or “popular” or a joiner. I was completely and utterly miserable. Thanks to my parents, I made it through that year, and the rest of my school career managed to find enough teachers who appreciated my unique strengths enough to make school bearable. Still, if homeschooling had been an option back then, I would have bee first on the bandwagon.

    I also appreciate the teachers who’ve responded here who take the time to appreciate those of us who are introverted and who realize that we do have something to offer, if you just give us the time to do so.

  11. Melanie on 01.07.2011 at 10:36 (Reply)

    This was such a fascinating read! I also found my way here via your article in the NY times - because one of my favorite musicians, Paula Cole, posted a link on Facebook, of all places!

    I feel very blessed when I read some of the horror stories people have described about making it through school as an introvert. I grew up in a smaller town on the shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, and attended a parochial (Christian) school, both for grade school and high school (no middle school - grades K-8 in grade school). I definitely had teachers that were more understanding than others, but they were all caring & compassionate towards shy students. My classmates weren’t cruel either, for the vast majority of the time.

    In my entire educational experience, I’ve only had one instructor (a college professor), who awarded participation points based on verbal contributions to a class discussion - others have always awarded participation points based on your attentiveness & attendance (never a problem for me). I have always loved learning, and I think it showed - so I never had problems getting good grades. Throughout my school years, the only person who ever gave me grief over not being extroverted wasn’t a teacher or classmate, but my mother!

    I appreciate the teachers that I had growing up, and wish that everyone could be as lucky as I was!

  12. MJ on 01.07.2011 at 20:35 (Reply)

    What a great post! I am still laughing at the high school is “like an all-day cocktail party without any alcohol” line! It’s so true - a wonderfully insightful description.
    I read your NY Times article today and forwarded to some of my favorite people. Looking forward to your book!

  13. Brittany on 09.07.2011 at 22:57 (Reply)

    Wow, what a critical teacher! I wrote about class participation before in a post and got a pretty good response. I think it’s hard for more introverted or shy students to get a word in before more extroverted students do sometimes, which is part of the reason why they don’t participate as much. I think having people raise hands helps too, as it’s hard to compete with those who can instantly blurt out an answer.

  14. Anna on 03.08.2011 at 00:00 (Reply)

    I was a introverted student, no matter how hard I tried not to be, I was. I had very few teachers who would actually recognize and respect my unwillingness to participate, but I still took in every word. I would think to myself, “if I really listen and do good on my work, maybe she/he will realize I don’t actually have to participate in order to understand the material.” I had panic attacks and developed social anxiety because of some teachers making me participate. I think it’s great you want to change the stereo-type and I am more than willing to help you! I am now going to be a music teacher, and make it perfectly clear to everyone in my classroom that they are free to be whoever they are, I want them to be comfortable. Good read!

  15. Kathleen on 06.08.2011 at 02:02 (Reply)

    Having just stumbled upon your blog I was surprised! I am an introverted person, I like being alone reading and I do have good friends and a good relationship now but back in high school this wasn’t always the case. I had to go to summer school a lot, I couldn’t focus. Knowing that I had to be more extroverted I joined speech and debate just to improve my “public speaking’. Awful time.

    I agree with one above poster; ‘no one would recognize me today’ in class. I too am a teacher, of foreign language overseas. Unfortunately being introverted myself, doesn’t mean I know how to reach out to others in my class, many of my…no correction, ALL of my students are shy and quiet, in class anyway. We are required to grade upon participation so this means pulling teeth in class to get them to speak up!
    but this is good experience, and i’m learning just as much so its worth it.

    1. Bonnie on 06.08.2011 at 09:28 (Reply)

      The world would be a better place with more teachers like you in it.

  16. ELB on 10.08.2011 at 09:04 (Reply)

    What the? Are you seriously implying that the “quite student” is the one singled out? Parents and teachers alike scream at kids from kindergarten to sit quiet and listen. I’ve been scolding parents for years for yelling at their children to “shut up and be quiet” instead of praising them for what they are accomplishing.
    I would never think poorly of a quiet student or push them out of their comfort zone, but I do detest you acting as if they are the ones being bullied in the system, they are the ones the system was made for.

    1. Susan Cain on 10.08.2011 at 09:37 (Reply)

      Hi Elise — You’re right that the “shut up and be quiet” phenomenon is also an oppressive thing for naturally ebullient kids, and nothing I’m saying takes away from that problem. But the two problems exist side by side, I believe. School by its nature is difficult for quiet kids, because it asks them to spend a large proportion of their waking hours in a group setting, often learning their lessons in groups rather than individually, and all of this runs counter to their nature of preferring to interact in quiet, one-on-one or very small group settings. Then add to that the pressure they often feel, whether implicitly or explicitly, to speak up, join in, and so on, and it starts to add up to some of these kids feeling like there’s something wrong with them for their inability to act more like an extrovert…Might be interesting to poke around on this site for any articles having to do with kids, etc., to read some of the comments and hear about people’s experiences.

  17. Natalia on 10.08.2011 at 21:01 (Reply)

    I’m from a Latin American country so I don’t know how much of my perspective is helpful to you, but I’ll share anyway. I finished high-school only a year before and was, I guess, a curious kind of student. I was, and am not, the most extroverted person, at least not meeting someone for the very first time, but never really had a problem in communicating my point of view, specially to adults. My classmates, however, where mostly different.
    I found that they either didn’t care or didn’t have the courage to speak freely and truly to adults, they seemed to respond based on what they thought the “grown-up” wanted to hear from them. Hence, the interaction between both was shallow and based on a lie.
    We did have teachers that expressed their interest in every one of us, that constantly reminded us that our voice and thoughts were important, however ‘small’ we considered them. It was this kind of teacher that slowly and gently made even the shyest of my classmates to speak up and turned the class into a truly learning enviroment.

  18. Dev on 20.09.2011 at 01:41 (Reply)

    Hi, this is Dev, from India. Most of my time, I have been an introvert. Teachers in school need to understand that introverted children are extra-sensitive and need love, care and special attention. When i was a child, I was always told: You are an introvert… You should never be happy with the way you are. Rather you should be unhappy, and always try to change yourself and be vocal…’ That’s the reason i suffered from a sense of guilt and lapsed into a state of depression in childhood. If only i was told ‘ Be happy with the way you are’, then i would have been a different child then - introvert, but happy.

    My country is famous for two historical personalities — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (better known as just Gandhi in the west), and Lord Buddha (yes, contrary to popular belief, Lord Buddha was neither Chinese nor Japanese; he was an Indian), and BOTH THESE PEOPLE WERE INTROVERTS.

    I am a Hindu and so I don’t know much about Christianity. But i sincerely believe that Jesus Christ himself was an introvert.

    Introverts are peace-loving and are more in touch with the feminine side of their nature. Talking of the feminine, there is a girl (my ex-colleague) who one day told me that she has a big crush on me. I like her very much, because I find that she is so much like me. She too is an introvert, and i find that whenvever i chat with her online, i am able to express my feelings spontaneously and without any fear, as if i am chatting with myself. She is my best friend, and i can tell her my secrets that i can’t tell even to my parents. I like her the way she is. To me, she is the most beautiful person in the world.

    1. Brittany on 21.09.2011 at 00:15 (Reply)

      Wow, I can’t believe you were directly told that you should never be happy with the way you are as an introvert when you were growing up! What an awful thing to be told! This is exactly why topics like introversion, quietness, and even shyness (very different from introversion, I know) are so important to discuss now and bring some light to. This was a really great response to Susan’s post and it reminded me why I want to spread awareness on a similar topic, so I felt I should reply. (And your closing about the girl who you think is the most beautiful in the world was really sweet too, that’s awesome!)

      1. Dev on 21.09.2011 at 00:42 (Reply)

        Thanks a lot for the reply Brittany. Actually I was not directly told that I should be unhappy, but the way they said it to me (my parents and relatives), it seemed clear that they were not comfortable with my being happy and contented with the way I was (and still am), i.e., calm, silent, and observant rather than garrulous and talkative. The problem is that my family is LITTERED with pushy extroverts. I am sorry to use the term, but I used it because my family has disturbed me a lot during my childhood. Now since we have the internet and wonderful online articles and posts like these, we can understand / realize that we are perfectly normal, even if the society tries to make us think otherwise. And now I have a great friend - this girl (my ex-colleague) - with whom I can share all my private feelings and emotions, and that’s like a breath of fresh air for me. She was the first to teach me to be happy with the way I am. She herself was happy in childhood because her parents were caring and supportive, and considered her introversion to be natural (unfortunately, may parents and family members were the exact opposite!)…

        1. Brittany on 21.09.2011 at 01:12 (Reply)

          Yeah I know what you mean, I think most of the messages I’ve gotten growing up have been indirect too, but I know they’ve been there. The internet and blogging are great resources for finding other people who can relate to our experiences and I think reading about other people’s experiences sheds more light on my own and validates them. Even just sharing my own experiences on my blog has helped me learn a lot about myself and about the messages that are sent out in society about quietness.

          That’s really cool about your friend, I’m glad you guys crossed paths and can be there for each other like that! She sounds like a very valuable friend. :)

  19. elle on 07.11.2011 at 18:04 (Reply)

    “…research suggests that the majority of our teachers believe that the “ideal student” is an extrovert.

    The ideal American is an extrovert, in actuality. Therein lies the problem. There is no appreciation for those of us who require a slower, quieter pace. I was one of the children such a teacher might have complained about. I was introverted as well as very shy, and in the case of a shy child – they don’t know how to speak up or “advocate” for themselves. They may have terrible, overwhelming anxiety during class. I can recall the butterflies swimming in my stomach making me nauseated if I was ever called on. Most of the time I was ignored and shunned because of my quiet nature. What was worse, is that no one tried to help me. Not the school, not my family. At the time, late 70s to mid eighties when I was an adolescent, there was little understanding about introversion or shyness. I went through most of my life feeling utterly defective and alone.

  20. Eating as a Path to Yoga on 19.11.2011 at 12:00 (Reply)

    Being an introvert and being socially anxious are two very different things.

    1. elle on 20.11.2011 at 17:20 (Reply)

      Yes, I know they are different. I happen to be both introverted and bashful, unfortunately. My shyness has lessened over the years to where I can hold conversations, network, etc., but I still need solitary time to recharge and don’t tolerate crowds and loudness. It’s funny, but I used to think it was all shyness why I wasn’t as talkative and didn’t enjoy partying 24/7. When my social skills improved and I felt less anxious I was confused because I didn’t morph into a social butterfly. Then I found out about introversion, and my life was transformed.

    2. elb on 21.11.2011 at 11:50 (Reply)

      Yes Yoga I thought that too. Everything that is described above is for a social anxiety. My grandpa is an introvert, one of those people who, when he talks, it’s in your best interest to listen. He’s spent his whole life thinking and watching so when he does share those gems it is worth the wait. What he didn’t do is spend is whole life scared of crowds and worrying what other people think. He is a genius in his own mind and finds his observations more interesting than the small talk going on around him. I have another friend like that my age, I love when we talk and it’s always deeper than I could get out of someone as outgoing as myself. But I’ve also known many “shy” people who call themselves introverted as a protective mechanism. They are the most annoying, those with social anxiety. You spend all that time getting to know someone, getting into their trust to find that there is no special mind behind the mystery. Shallow as anyone else and usually over critical of others when they themselves are flawed and missing out on life. There is a HUGE difference between social anxiety and introversion.

  21. elle on 21.11.2011 at 14:16 (Reply)

    There absolutely is a huge difference between the two. Unfortunately they are lumped together because all the extroverts know is that you’re the quiet type. I am no longer socially anxious, but I am shy and I think there is a difference between the two of those. I don’t think there is anything the matter with being a shy person. I’m modest and sensitive, private, and not interested in being the center of attention and slow to warm up to others. Frankly I’m disturbed when introverted people berate shy people.

    When I was socially anxious I was afraid to speak up even if I needed to, and completely lacking in social skills. I had to teach myself through self-help books how to start conversations and keep them going. I think the root of this anxiousness was lack of skill, shame, and cruel treatment I received from others for being the “quiet girl.” I was bullied endlessly in grade school.

    I now realize that extroverts seek approval from the outside and the way they build their self-esteem is through social validation. Quiet people do not validate them the way outgoing, talkative types do. Quiet people make outgoing people feel bad.

    It sounds as though you doubt a person could be both introverted and shy. Obviously I disagree as I am assuredly both. Introverts gain energy from solitude and I definitely do. I’m not one who can work all day and then go to a noisy bar afterwards. In fact, I have no interest whatsoever in noisy bars, cocktail parties and huge crowds, etc. these things do not amp me up at all. Before I knew about introversion I was thinking that I needed to be interested in things like these to be “normal.” I now know that I am normal.

    Unless many extroverted people I am not interested in talking for talking’s sake. I for instance prefer to listen a lot and if I have nothing to interject I won’t. Many extroverts I’ve noticed will interject into a discussion simply to get their voices out even if they have nothing meaningful to add. For example one person may repeat what another person said during a conversation.

    I was in a relationship with an extrovert who believed that one is wasting his or her life unless one is socializing every minute. I find that attitude odd. I love books, film, sketching, writing being on the internet. My ex who claimed to be a big movie fan, would talk to me while I’m trying to watch a movie, he would berate me for quiet time on the computer playing a game, even though I would pay attention to what he said if he was talking or watching a game. It’s as if a world didn’t exist unless he was literally in socializing mode. That’s where the real action was for him. Everything else was a time waster until the “party” began.

    Perhaps some shy people are using introversion as a shield – can’t imagine why? I can’t imagine a shy extrovert trying to “hide” behind introversion. They want to be in with the right folks. I don’t care. I never did. I hated being socially anxious not because of the perceived social benefits I might get for being popular or hanging with whomever in high school. I knew I was an intelligent person and I thought an intelligent person should be able to ask for what she needed or hold a conversation if she wanted without feeling like a bumbling idiot. I felt genuinely ashamed of myself because the stupid. shallow kids (imho) had mastery over something I did not.

    1. elb on 21.11.2011 at 16:31 (Reply)

      Not talking for talking sake - the irony is too much. You’re as long as the article is. I am not doubting a person can be both, I am saying that introversion and shyness are two different things as previously said.

      Introversion/extroversion are psychological mindsets - one is not greater than the other, they are simply ways a person works with their surroundings. Shyness and Social anxiety are psychological disorders. They are completely separate.

      My introverted grandfather and good friend are very quiet, but I have seen them both speak eloquently and with confidence in front of crowds. In retrospect, when I was in high school I was shy and scared to be myself and didn’t like a lot of people. Amongst my friends I was as chatty and funny as anyone. THAT is a social disorder, NOT introversion.

      You clearly are not introverted or you wouldn’t feel the need to “express” yourself that much when you could have said what you said in much fewer words. You are an extrovert with a social disorder.

  22. elle on 21.11.2011 at 17:27 (Reply)

    I’m an introvert. Is that concise enough for you?

  23. Susan Cain on 23.11.2011 at 13:16 (Reply)

    Elle and ELB,

    I just saw this discussion and thought I might weigh in with a couple of things. (1) Shyness is absolutely not a social disorder and no psychologist thinks it is. It does cause discomfort and many people understandably wish to be rid of it, but it’s not a pathology; in fact according to the latest statistics more than 50% of Americans consider themselves shy. What is a pathology is “social anxiety disorder,” suffered by a much smaller portion of the population, around 6% — this is when the shyness is so severe that the person can’t go for a job interview, use a bathroom in public, that sort of thing. (2) People who were born with the sensitive temperaments that often — though not always — lead to shyness and/or introversion often have many other benefits documented in the research literature, including increased empathy, conscientiousness, and a deep processing of information and social interactions. This doesn’t make them either “better” or “worse” than others. It’s just a different set of potential pros and cons none of which really mean anything except as applied in each individual’s life. (3) Here is a post I once did on the difference between shyness and introversion. Might be helpful:

    Hope this is useful…

  24. Apple on 28.11.2011 at 07:28 (Reply)

    Great article! I am a very introverted person (or so I think… I don’t talk much unless it’s in front of people I REALLY know or (sometimes) don’t know at all, and then I blather on…), one of those who adores classes with little busy work and mostly discussion, even though I don’t usually take part in the discussions. However, I never have to study for discussion classes, and I usually end up loving those teachers the most.

    I have one current teacher who drives me insane because he takes ‘participation grades’ at least once a week. He honestly says “If you don’t talk, you get a zero.” And I HATE that. He’s a decent teacher, and I have opinions and thoughts, but I just.. can’t voice them in front of an entire class, and I don’t think I should get in trouble for that.

    All of my school years, I’ve been called quiet, but sweet. But since getting into my later years of high school, the teachers just look at me oddly. I suppose they may think I don’t listen to something, but I do and teachers who just don’t seem to care get on my last nerve!

    Er, anyways. Good article, and I really hate how extroverted teachers/school forces you to be. I was home schooled until 7th grade, and on the first day of school, I wanted to go back to home school. I still do, but I’m almost finished now and it’d be stupid. I have a job, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to do things and speak up there than it is at school. I can’t wait to graduate and never have to look back!

  25. Maria on 25.01.2012 at 01:16 (Reply)

    Looking back at my school years leads to nothing but regret and anger.
    Regret that I couldn’t be “normal” and was the painfully shy girl who wanted to disappear, and anger because of the abuse or neglect from my teachers.
    I didn’t really have very many kids bully me, they were all too busy in their own dramatic world to notice anyone else around them, but teachers would often mistake my shyness for a mental disorder and that I was less intelligent than the other talkative students.
    One time when I was standing in front of the class to do a project, I completely froze up and it seemed like my throat closed.
    After minutes of awkward silence and all eyes on me, my teacher literally yelled at me for not giving my presentation and threatened to fail me.
    The yelling and abuse went back to kindergarten where my teacher made fun of and picked on my five year old self to the point of tears, which she then ignored.
    On top of it my parents did nothing. They knew how I suffered and was belittled by teachers and they kept to themselves about it.
    Never tried talking to me when I was in a bad mood or help me resolve the issue.
    Never demanded to speak to the teacher and ask why they were so cruel to me.
    I felt lost and completely alone in my silence while taking the abuse.
    I already made a promise to myself that if my kids grow up to be like me, I will defend them 100% and not leave them to be eaten by wolves.
    Teachers have no right to dislike or belittle any student.
    They are the ones with the mental issues, not the kids.

  26. elle on 25.01.2012 at 13:31 (Reply)

    Your story makes me cry. I share your anger about how shy children are often treated cruelly. Imagine, a child who is hurting no one being hated and picked on especially by an adult who should know better is heartbreaking and in your case, child abuse.

    I’m particularly disturbed that your parents did nothing, absolutely nothing. That is the worse of all. I’m so sorry you had this experience. No child should ever go through that ever.

    Any teacher that would abuse that trust should be fired. Period and never allowed around children ever.

  27. Brittany on 25.01.2012 at 16:17 (Reply)

    Hey Maria, I noticed your post too and I’m so very sorry of how your teachers treated you in school. I had a teacher that wasn’t very understanding about my shyness/quietness too. I don’t have the fondest memories of elementary school and parts of middle school either. Thank you for sharing, your post was very touching to me and I had to let you know that.

  28. HB on 06.02.2012 at 01:24 (Reply)

    At a “progressive” private school that highly values creativity, individuality, and original thought, my daughter’s grades are lowered 1/2 grade due to class participation. The school doesn’t understand the difference between class participation and class etiquette. The administration informs the student body that a good % of their grades derive from class participation. This message motivates the loud students to become more vocal at directing their voice to the teacher, not the class. This has made it very difficult for my daughter to speak up.

    Class discussions have become a battle for the “voice grade”.

    I just don’t understand how an intelligent group of teachers and administrators don’t understand that negative reinforcement will never create positive change. They just don’t get it that quiet people will not change. Punishing them for their innate disposition is destructive, it only lowers the quiet persons confidence and self image. It also doesn’t create any goodwill towards the school.

    I can only hope the senior administrators read your book, I gave them one last week. Any suggestions? Thank you, HB

  29. B. Spencer on 15.03.2012 at 20:35 (Reply)

    I was a quiet student,and students/teachers did make fun of me. However, when I had something to say, when my button had been punched one time too many, I spoke and people listened. I had the same problem at the college level and on the workforce! I was a bit quiet by mouth, but my facial expressions spoke much! It seemed that my eyes spoke loudly!
    As a teacher, I made it a point to gently encourage quiet ones to speak.
    Parents and supervisors felt that I had an “attitude” simply because I had a strong, quiet presence which made me sound like a know-it-all when I spoke. I know that students who appear to be quiet are forces to be reckoned with!
    I am now retired, and I still have problems with my “quietness!”

  30. Comenius on 15.03.2012 at 20:52 (Reply)

    High school wasn’t too bad for me at all because I was in Band, and Band kids tend to be pretty tight. College, on the other hand, was torture. There’s nothing like college to make an introvert feel like he’s some weird freak of nature. I was miserable all four years, and to be perfectly honest I don’t know how I managed to survive without dropping out….or worse. They say that college is supposed to be the best years of your life. For me, it was *by far* the worst four years of my entire life.

  31. sonata on 16.03.2012 at 03:24 (Reply)

    It is so painful to contemplate the number of times my child’s teachers criticized her for not asking for help, not speaking up more in class, not initiating social interactions — and this was all before the third grade.

    She was completely capable of putting complex thoughts and feelings into words; they considered her a gifted writer (she was). But because she didn’t share everything out loud, because she had extraordinary self possession and because she just wasn’t cut from the cloth they expected, she was a mystery to them. Some teachers were interested in her; how can a child this bright and articulate be so self contained? Other teachers experienced her qualities as hostile; she’s withholding!

    For my part, as her introverted mother, it was a series of agonies as I observed her take in their opinions and negative judgments. She had no need to be how they wanted her to be, but recognized that she was at a real disadvantage for her inborn way of going in a world where this isn’t accepted or admired. At least she was understood at home, and spent many hours just restoring herself in her room or in my quiet company.

    Throughout her education, I used to say that I hated school even more than when I was in school. I went to schools (as did she) that touted themselves as interested in individuality, as cultivating a mosaic. It was cruel to realize that some of the mosaic tiles were valued less than others.

  32. sonata on 16.03.2012 at 03:29 (Reply)

    Addendum: one of the worst aspects of school is that if a child isn’t rewarding for the teacher, the child will have a problem. I used to coach my daughter about paying attention, and looking like one is paying attention. She paid attention just fine, but if she didn’t make eye contact, or behave in a way that told the teacher she was interested, it didn’t matter. I hated having to tell her this, because I wanted the world to be a nicer place, but I considered it a survival skill she needed to have.

  33. J on 16.03.2012 at 07:32 (Reply)

    I’m sorry to say this, but I once had a teacher who was just like Natalie Munro, and it affects me negatively to this day. Her actions towards me I have never shook but I wish that I could. I’ve always been introverted and painfully shy, I think a large part was due to having ADD. I’m now 45 and don’t see myself changing, although I wish I could. Society is way too judgmental of introverts, and teachers like Natalie Munro and my former teacher just shouldn’t be teaching…..period!

  34. Michelle on 16.03.2012 at 07:48 (Reply)

    When I was in school as a child, I had a speech impediment ( severe stuttering ). So I was extrenely shy . At home, I still had the stuttering , but just a bit more comfortable around relatives ( even though sometimes , some would make fun of my speech ), also. I remember even though my parents went up to the school to explain to the prinipal, I was still required to give verbal responses. Each time sent my body into complete panic mode. I’d actually get so sick, I’d have to go to the nurse’s office and be sent home, still sick (stomach cramps, hot and cold sweats.). In college I did fair better. While in college, I took ” Hearing and speech classes ” for therapy. I still stutter a bit, but it’s controlled. I was humilated and redicude throuhout my young childhood and youth., by family , teachers, and so-called friends. I’m not as shy, or as quite anymore; however someone should speak to the teachers about compassion. I always did extra-extra credit work, to make up for my speech problems back then, it was grouling, and sad time for me.

  35. Renee B on 16.03.2012 at 08:14 (Reply)

    My daughter is an extrovert and the teachers either love her or hate her. There are many times she will be shut down by the teacher. She complimented a teachers outfit one day and the teacher (substitute) told her to shut her mouth. When Molly tried to say she was only giving a compliment, the teacher told her to leave the room. Molly wasn’t being disrespectful, only outgoing. She spent the 1.5 hour period sitting on a cold floor in the hallway, and she has arthritis. The next day, all of the students told the main teacher how unfair Molly had been treated. There are MANY teachers who do not like an extroverted child. They prefer the quiet types so they can simply run their class and not be “bothered”.

  36. Joyce on 16.03.2012 at 08:49 (Reply)

    I teach high school social studies to struggling learners. Most extroversion I see is not content related but is just intended to get laughs and attention. I cannot imagine announcing 5% of the grade is for oral participation. However, students have different learning styles and I do give credit to students who make thoughtful observations to the class yet falter at written test questions.

    As a teacher, it is so much easier to be extroverted with students than with adults. For one thing, you can hardly redirect the mindless babble of adults. Some people talk so much, but have so little to say.

  37. cayers on 16.03.2012 at 10:01 (Reply)

    I was particularly struck by your question about why we take it as normal that high school is the worst time of our lives. It’s almost like a hazing ritual in American society - we all know the high school system is miserable and oppressive, but at the same time we don’t do anything about it and, in some ways, glorify it. Maybe it’s time to rethink the whole system, period.

  38. Nancy on 16.03.2012 at 10:44 (Reply)

    Anyone who has studied anything about human nature learns very quickly there are four distinct personality types and within those personality types there is both introverted and extroverted. Clear fact of life.

    Society today has ostracized the introvert and turned it into something bad which I think is very sick. Most of the great minds of the world have been the quiet, introspective introverts. Why so many “shallow” know-nothing extrovert “cheerleaders” want to turn that into something bad, I haven’t a clue. They are succeeding however, with the current state of education in America.

    I was painfully shy in high school and found no support in the system but was able to “rise above” the nonsense and go on and do something productive and rewarding with my life.

    Today, I see the same thing going on in the business world. The so-called “leaders” are the extroverts and this hasn’t necessarily been a good thing for America or its corporations. In fact, some of the best performing companies were founded by the likes of Bill Gates, a deep thinking introvert.

  39. Suzanne Ryan on 16.03.2012 at 11:00 (Reply)

    As a former classroom teacher with thirty years of experience working with young children, I found that children forced to enter school before their fifth birthday were often not developmentally ready and most often the introverts referred to by their parents as shy.They didn’t feel comfortable taking a risk in front of their peers.

    If given enough TIME they usually outgrew this stigma. Children in NYS who enter school at the age of four are at a great disadvantage when compared to their peers who may have turned five ten months earlier. We actually provided an extra year program at our school for the younger children and by the end of the second year many of the “shy” traits were replaced by the confidence that comes with success. Intelligence is rarely a factor. These younger children are intelligent and aware enough to realize they feel inadequate but not old enough or wise enough to realize why. It is up to the adults to protect them and provide them with the right environment where they can thrive.I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers: The Story of Success.”

    I am one of those children who went all the way through school and into college “too young”. I hated high school because everyone seemed ready for things before me. I was seventeen during my entire freshman year in college.

    For those of you who are teachers, conduct a survey in your classrooms and graph student birthdays to see if there is any correlation between birth date and class participation. And if you are a parent, consider giving your child more TIME before expecting them to enter the pressures of school.They will surprise you and themselves.

  40. James Brantley on 16.03.2012 at 11:14 (Reply)

    I am a high school teacher who sees students of every description. When I notice that one of my students is unusually quiet and withdrawn, I make an effort to talk to them. I ask them how they are doing, and if there is anything they need. I ask them if they are having any problems in school, and if they enjoy school. I try to do for them what my teachers failed to do for me, a very quiet and shy teenager. I was mostly ignored by my teachers. Although I now enjoy a good life with a good career and wonderful family, I wonder how my high school days might have been different if I had a teacher who tried to reach out to me.

  41. Ward Kendall on 16.03.2012 at 11:16 (Reply)

    J.K. Rowling is a “great thinker”?

    Rich, successful, entertaining…but certainly not a “great thinker”.

  42. Pat Koby on 16.03.2012 at 17:38 (Reply)

    Finally a post that speaks of ADD. I have been reading these comments and I recognize myself in the descriptions of the introverted school children. After all these years (I am 60 yrs old now) that in addition to not being able to perform academically in the same ways the other children did, I may have been mistaken for being shy! If I appeared shy, it was only because I was scared to death to answer a question for fear of the ridicule of a wrong or “different” answer. I sat through every day of school terrified that the teacher would call on me. …and that would only be because he/she needed to give me an obligatory chance. My parents agreed with my 6th grade teacher that I should repeat the grade because I was just not applying myself. There was no recognition of ADD then, but the costs of teachers bullying right along with the other kids was mighty high. I have nightmares still about the star charts that showed just how stupid I was. I hated school. I still hate taking classes, and the anger that wells up inside me when I hear or see a young person being bullied and teased is indescribable. Teachers, if you can’t care for each of your students for who they are, and not what you think they should be, please consider getting some counsel about this. You have enormous power. Use it to influence and build up students.

  43. Ce LA on 17.03.2012 at 01:59 (Reply)

    good article…I’ve always been an introverted and I consider myself a deep thinker - always thinking about every vintage point on any issue - but I’ve learned to understand as well that my voice matters and if I don’t speak up I won’t be heard.

    It has hurt me a bit socially and professionaly because I wont just say anything right off the bat to answer a question to a topic I have not put a lot of thought in but I have earned a lot of respect because I don’t bs when I am not joking - although I must disclose that I am not a comedian and that’s one reason why I’ve not left my day job.

    I think in my own personal experience, shyness is rooted out of fear of reprisal or unacceptance for speaking one’s personal thoughts and not going with the flow. But its linked to introversion, because we like to think a bit more about our thoughts on any matter before we give any answer. Shyness does not equal introversion…

  44. Amber on 17.03.2012 at 02:05 (Reply)

    I am an extremely introverted person (still in high school) who at times was so quiet that several teachers had accidentally marked me as absent just because they didn’t notice me in the class at all.
    High school (as far as I can tell) is always rough on introverted people and if it wasn’t for my best friends and several amazing teachers, I probably wouldn’t be here to post this. I think one of the only other things that has saved me is my artwork and poetry, through which I can forget about all my problems if only for a small moment.
    As far as the class participation grades goes, I have failed one class and barely passed two others due to teachers believing that you must participate in class discussions to learn something.

  45. Kathryn on 17.03.2012 at 04:04 (Reply)

    I am still surprised how little we accept or at least tolerate each other’s uniqueness.

    On another note, Ward you don’t think a creative story writer is not a great thinker?

  46. A. R. on 17.03.2012 at 04:42 (Reply)

    I was an introvert,especially in high school. Yes I had teachers who misunderstood my “quietness”. They didn’t know that I was thinking about the stress we were facing at home. The mentally ill mother who could not support us financially. The angry father who abandoned us and showed more concern for his own brothers and sister than our trivial needs for a peaceful,loving home with encouraging parents. Thinking mostly about how to pay the bills with our meager paychecks working 2 jobs in highschool to put a roof over the heads of my sisters and mother. Just trying so hard to forget my burdens and focus my attention on what was being taught was difficult enough. Unable to relate to the high functioning peers around me was also difficult. I was quiet but put all my effort in obtaining the highest grades I could because that was all the control I had in my life! My “Speech” and “Physics” classes were the most difficult since the expectations were much higher. The other children in class came mostly from middle to high income homes with great support from their parents, were articulate and extroverts and openly verbalized their disdain of my poorly performed “speeches”. My only support was approval from my teachers. This is why I was quiet to avoid negative attention. I am now a nurse with a successful career,proud of the fact that I did not deviate from my goals but quietly reached it,still climbing to reach higher goals (quietly)!

  47. Kimberly Bachmann on 17.03.2012 at 04:45 (Reply)

    I am a teacher and I believe the problem is that as a “system” we decide what kind of child will be successful and with what skills. Common standards and lots of testing drives out individuality. Even teacher evaluations require us to “engage” (usually interpreted as make all students speak out in class.) I think we need to support individual students and their individual talents. In my opinion, my job is to help children be the best versions of themselves. Students do need to learn to step out of their boxes a bit (extroverts should know how to sit back and listen when needed and introverts should know how to speak up when needed) but I think students should be able to express their knowledge in ways that are comfortable for them. There are some horrible teachers out there because teachers come from the public at large and there are some horrible people out there. However, I think you will find that most good teachers appreciate the differences in our students and wish that our system would do that as well.

  48. that student on 17.03.2012 at 06:34 (Reply)

    Hello About the shy students I was one. I was one of those who literally had to study, Got out of school and as soon as I got home hit the books till bed time. I studied so hard just to keep my grades up and Felt Misserable when I would Fail a test which was often. My school never offered me a study haul till my 11th grade, Where my study haul teacher helped me. She was very kind and helpful. My report card was always between C’s and F’s, But with her help my 11th grade year was one of my best where I had A’s and B’s. After 11th grade I sure though my senior year I challenged myself so did everybody else that I would be number 1 student when I graduated with this teachers help. I dont know what happned but she was no longer teaching my senior year No clue if she was fired or what but my grades were like they always were. I was so nervious and afraid I wasn’t going to graduate with my class. So afraid when it came to my last test which was Biology and we all know how that was back then. I barely made the grade by 2 points of failing my senior year. I was literally in tears my last day because I finally made it. Yea I wish schools would really look into helping students like me, This was 11 years ago. I have 2 younger friends who couldn’t make the grade and basically quit school. I just wish everybody had a teacher that would help. I know of one teacher. She was an algebra teacher who hated sports beliving sports should not be a part of school. She was go over todays lesson on the board and before we were confident we knew how to do it, SHe would give a 5 question quizz on that. I failed so did everybody else. Then the lucky students who were into sports -me. If their grade went below some average they couldn’t play. So thats why she did those 5 question quizzes. Yea its not a teacher problem in schools. Its literally Everybodys problems we need to remind ouselves just who we are and what actions needs to be taken place. I had no friends in school. I couldn’t go out and enjoy myself. My average day to talk with friends was my lunch. The rest was kept in books. If you see somebody strugling at least lend them a hand trust me It would make their day so much better.

  49. Daniel on 17.03.2012 at 07:02 (Reply)

    I am a “Chameleon” and adapt to the situation. I believe that my tendancy is to be an introvert but to be successful in the business world often requires extroversion. In one job that lasted 18 years I was thought of as the wise old sage that didn’t speak up often, but when I did something profound tended to come out. When told this I realized that what was happening was that 9 out of 10 times the comments being made by others were usually of a common sense nature, and I had thought of them too, but my introversion slowed my response time. I usually ended up listening to comments that were in line with what I was thinking. Only when others hadn’t thought of the same thing as I, did I end up having my voice heard. It’s funny how introversion can mimic brilliance.

  50. paul on 17.03.2012 at 07:21 (Reply)

    A lot of the mind set for me dealt with the lack of real concern one way or the other from my parents who seemed to be too involved with their lives as far as whether I was on honor roll or failing,. didn’t seem to matter…hnmmm? but then again I am looking from a perpspective of a child…..

  51. rs1201 on 17.03.2012 at 07:31 (Reply)

    I was an introvert up until I was into my 20s. I was painfully shy and sometimes would never say a word all day while in class or outside of class. I just observed and thought…and thought about everything and anything around me. Both teachers and kids liked me and were very protective of me and that sort of reinforced the idea that it was totally OK to be the way I was. I was just a quiet, very pretty young girl always impeccably dressed and groomed. My demeanor and quiet manner did not stop me from excelling in school. I was placed in the second half of the 9th grade at 11.5 and proceeded to graduate from high school 3 months short of my 15th birthday.I entered college and found that I excelled in math and chemistry…both sciences that required a lot of alone time with the books and suited my personality very well. I graduated and went on to a doctoral program in biochemistry. I completed all the coursework and was just starting my research when I met someone, got married and had my first child.I was awarded a masters degree for all the work that I had done and my advisor extracted a promise from me that I would return to get my PhD. I never did. I concentrated on raising my two sons who are now extremely accomplished in their own fields…one a prominent attorney and the other one an MD/PhD surgeon. I joined the work force when an ophthalmologist I was seeing for an eye problem asked me what I did with my time. My answer “nothing…I’m raising my two sons” infuriated him. He literally ordered me to either go back to school and get my PhD or get a job in academia or in the pharmaceutical industry.I did both. I worked in the research division of an Ivy league medical school for over a decade and was the first person without a PhD to be appointed to the faculty of the biochemistry dept of that school. I was recruited by the R&D division of a pharmaceutical company and after 20 years at that company…I’m now getting ready to retire. So, that little girl who never opened her mouth and stayed in the background at all times…accomplished much more than most of the other kids who were the preferred “extroverts”.

  52. Donna on 17.03.2012 at 07:53 (Reply)

    An earlier post suggested that teachers are self-selected extroverts. Perhaps for younger years-I cannot say. But College and University professors are largely introverts who preferred researching in their subjects in an advanced way, and for most of us, I dare say we had to learn to be extroverts to survive speaking to hundreds of people at once every semester. Students panic over public speaking and presentations; they have no idea that sometimes their professors do the same thing. Depending on my mood, this can strike on any day as I walk to the classroom. But I love my subject, and I shake it off and “perform”-I become an actor on a stage, and I am lively and excited. My students wrongly think that I am an extrovert and that it is easy for me, that it comes naturally.
    Thus, I think a lot of this conversation is asking and thinking about the wrong issues. Who we are and what we prefer are different from what life and work require of us at times, and we need the skills to be and do many diverse things, even if these are not preferences.
    We need each other, yes. But in a learning setting, we need the extroverts to develop the ability to be silent and listen, and we need the introverts to speak up and prove they have something going on inside their heads. I sometimes have students who do not differ much from the chair they are sitting in: introverted engagement and extroverted disengagement look pretty much the same from the front of the room. The worst kind of education happens when the teacher just pours out a lecture to the silent, passive, bored-looking student. I challenge students to speak up because I know they need this skill in life. At whatever their job-even to get a job-they will need to make eye contact and speak their opinions out loud in front of others. College is a good safe place to practice this skill. And it is important for them to distinguish themselves as thinkers and readers, as achievers in some way. I learned this lesson in high school when I asked for a recommendation for a scholarship. My teacher didn’t remember me because I had sat in class, mutely getting a good grade. He looked in his record book and found me, but he had nothing to say about me. I was an invisible A. I learned that lesson and began working on myself….even if I approached the teacher after class and made a comment or asked my question quietly after class, it was a start. My job now requires me to meet strangers and glad hand and network and recruit. I would rather do anything else, but I am good at it. Conquering fears and meeting challenges outside the cliched ‘comfort zone’ is one of the best ways to build confidence…at ANY age. The extrovert and the introvert just have different fears and different starting points. Both need to acquire social graces and skills-and some of these skills are self-control and self-determination. Just because we are born with a tendency or inhibition, does not mean we are frozen for life.

  53. Steve on 17.03.2012 at 08:12 (Reply)

    My wife and I are like that. Extroverts by day, (exhausted) introverts by night. People are surprised when they see my real life away from the college classroom. I tell them that I only play an extrovert on TV.

    I also think that teachers tend to subonsciously praise and reward students that are like them. While that works for those studying hard, we have to be careful not to penalize students who are different - for just being different.

  54. D.G. on 17.03.2012 at 08:13 (Reply)

    Sadly, most (not all) teachers are classic underachievers. From kindergarten through graduate school I was fortunate to learn from some truly great teachers, but their number is few and can be counted on one hand. The great ones taught me to think, and were not so concerned about either my personality or my willingness to parrott back whatever they happened to say on any given day. When I disagreed with them, they challenged my thinking, forcing me to defend my ideas. These few even allowed their own thinking to be challenged and changed by their students. Munro is unfortnately more typical, likely the product of one of our schools of education that focus on everything but true education.

  55. Good Blog Post Example | Lewis University's Art of Blogging on 17.03.2012 at 08:52

    [...] is an interesting blog post called “What Do Teachers Really Think of Quiet Students?” by Susan [...]

  56. Fox on 17.03.2012 at 08:58 (Reply)

    I’m glad to read that you have such a good handle on this situation. When I was in HS, introverted kids were treated like inferiors. The attitude of most,(though not all) of the teachers was that if you wern’t outgoing, aggressive and athletic, there was something defective about you, and you were treated as such. I was one of those, and I hated HS. To this day, I hate athletics. I was forced to play in “games” I couldn’t excell at, then belittled when I didn’t. At 65 years old, I’ve never been to a class reunion, and never will go to one. It’s a chapter of my life I’d just as soon forget, though I never will.

  57. Mala Sangre on 17.03.2012 at 09:04 (Reply)

    sure they want the kid to be extroverted until Jr. points out a mistake or tells them they aren’t there to be talked down too etc,

  58. N. Barnes on 17.03.2012 at 09:08 (Reply)

    How does the saying go? If you want people to think your intelligent its better to keep your mouth shut than to open it and remove all doubt. One of my daughter’s teacher downgraded her because she didn’t participate in class. I asked her my daughter about this and she said “Mom all the questions that needed to be asked had already been asked, there was nothing left to discuss.” Picking on an introverted child illustrates the state of our education system. Perhaps if they discussed something intelligent then the intelligent would have something to discuss.

  59. Dan Trout on 17.03.2012 at 09:16 (Reply)

    The truth is, it’s the teachers job to help these students. I was an introvert most of high school, but I had great teachers who cared about me and help me get past my fears and hangups. Now I am doing the same thing, helping my students see that high school can be very rewarding and a very important time of their lives. Getting them to participate and seeing them mature into adults is what teaching is all about. This teacher needs to find a new job, because she doesn’t have what it takes!

    1. sonata on 26.03.2012 at 01:52 (Reply)

      By “help these students,” it is implied that there is something wrong that needs repair. Not so. It was my observation that my daughter could have helped those teachers if they had been interested. She was often criticized for her quietness — “withdrawn!” She suffered disapproval for her need for silence and solitude — “doesn’t interact with the others!” And on and on. She didn’t need help, she needed to be herself. She has good friends, she was diligent about her work, she played hard at recess. It wasn’t a problem at home. Like me, she will have to find work that suits her. So does everyone.

  60. Natalia on 17.03.2012 at 09:39 (Reply)

    I remember in High School, which was a little more than 2 years now that I have Graduated. Speech class was a requirement and I waited until the last moment as a senior to complete the credit. I did not mind the class at first, the teacher was amazing and kind. She did not focus on your nervousness or your lack of confidence while speaking in font of some of your unkind peers. She found out what we were interested in and what we would be willing to talk about while putting ourselves into the spotlight. I am an introvert, painfully shy during elementary school years and was made fun of for it. I learned to adapt in order to fit in to a loud socialization environment such as High School. Everyone from middle school on knew me as talkative and well extroverted. Anyways, I didn’t mind speech until my schedule was changed for no reason other than this amazing teacher’s classes were too full and they were downsizing. -+

    1. Natalia on 17.03.2012 at 11:55 (Reply)

      Posted the comment before I could get to the point, sorry everyone! Well to continue, the speech teacher I was switched to was originally the dance coach and gotten fired but was still allowed to teach other classes, doesn’t make sense but it was allowed. She was vain, ignorant and she knew what embarrassed her students and made sure that everyone else knew too. Like I said I was an introvert, I was also slightly heavy(150lbs) but I loved the way I looked and didn’t care. My new speech teacher knew this. So whenever we had to read a paper aloud standing in font of our peers she would intentional mention my weight, just before I started my speech. “Hmm, those pants are not as tight as they were last week, have you lost weight?” is just one of many comments that have affected me. Thus hurting my feelings and causing my introversion to show. I would immediately start stuttering, look at the ground because I was so upset, every time I read anything aloud I would be embarrassed by someone you are supposed to trust. I know she he did not do this to teach us or as a lesson because she singled certain people out. I was not a prep or into cheer leading, dance or sports and those were the people that did not even have to finish assignments let alone be harassed.

  61. Musica53 on 17.03.2012 at 12:18 (Reply)

    Hello. I am mostly an introvert by nature in my private life. However as a teacher of 36 years, I have learned to be an extrovert. I chose to teach a subject that has been my lifelong passion… (Perhaps that passion for an “expressive” subject, drew me in and keeps me going each day when I meet with my students?)
    In my experience, with class sizes steadily growing, combined with the fact that I only see each class once a week, the challenge becomes, “sorting out,” WHY a particular student “appears” non-engaged. Is it attention deficit? Family problems? Peer problems? Introversion? (I teach in a very large “urban” school system.) How many introverts am I not engaging, who, like me, feel a deep connection to an expressive art? My fear is that I am missing my quieter kids, and that they will slip through the cracks, un-noticed…

  62. Jay Martin on 17.03.2012 at 13:08 (Reply)

    I believe that no child should enter school in any form, whether kindergarten or whatever, until the age of six. Until that age, they should have NO STRUCTURE, and be allowed to play. This will develop them better than anything. It will lead to more creative children. It is okay, however, to read with and to children from the age of two and up. Go over those ‘highlights’ type learning books/magazines with the child. They are learning constantly even at the age of two. They absorb information at an incredible pace during those early years. But structure is not needed until the age of six and above. Structure too early will rob them of and suppress their creativity.
    Also make sure they are taught Truth. Don’t waste time teaching them myths or legends.

    1. sonata on 26.03.2012 at 01:54 (Reply)

      Read to them only after the age of two? While I agree with some of what you say, it is surely over rigid and isn’t really about how teachers feel about introverts.

  63. Daphne on 17.03.2012 at 14:02 (Reply)

    I can definitely relate to this article. I was very, very quiet and shy as a kid. Even thought I did well in school, I didn’t like going at all. I hated it when the teacher would tell the class to pick a partner or form groups. I was rarely picked and it hurt. I can remember a health ed teacher who did tons of group projects and I hated it because I didn’t have any friends in the class. She would tell me to be more social. She wrote on my report card that I needed to work on my social skills. Because I wasn’t very good at small talk many people just assumed a lot of things about me that weren’t true. I can remember several tines where I was asked, “Why are you so quiet?” It was said in a tone that implied that being quiet was a disorder.

    Ironically, thanks to a brother and parents that love to debate, I never had much trouble speaking up in class discussion but I struggled socially. I felt very out of place most of the times. I felt like that teachers loved me because I was quiet and obedient and for little or no other reason. I have noticed that many teacher love the quiet kids because they are quiet, obedient and don’t cause trouble. The sad part to me is that so many of these kids are not nurtured intellectually. They just pass through because the teacher assumes they are fine because they are quiet and well behaved. Then, those quiet kids are told to be “more outgoing.” It is so maddening and ironic. Then on the other end, many teachers play favorites with the extroverts for different reasons. I feel like I fell through the system in many ways.

  64. Bruce Holbert on 17.03.2012 at 14:48 (Reply)

    I am a teacher and writer and introvert. I have followed this site for quite a long time and sympathize with those people who have suffered in classrooms because their introverted nature didn’t match a teacher’s style or the educational systems general values (which are misguided in many regards), but I have to say that too many of the recent posts have been out and out attacks on teachers in general (teachers as underachievers, bullies, inept, uncaring, inattentive, etc…). I think Ms. Cain’s next book could easily be on the destruction of teacher’s self respect by constant attacks of this kind (they are everywhere. Teachers are truly treated as second class citizens by the media and the public, in general). It is no more unkind or inaccurate to typify teachers as losers than it is to do so to introverts, and those of you who are are engaged in the kind of non-productive hyperbole that maintains the status quo on all fronts. It moves us no more near a solution and instead just works to invalidate another group of people. It is time, as Lincoln said, to listen to the better angels of our nature.

    1. sonata on 26.03.2012 at 01:56 (Reply)

      I agree, and have veered into that same criticism in my posts here. I apologize. I can only explain that after so many years, the wounds are still sore. Thanks for posting.

  65. Joe Anstett on 17.03.2012 at 20:37 (Reply)

    I teach English as a second language in Peru. My job description, to convert Spanish-speaker introvert into English-speaking extroverts.

    1. Danielle on 23.03.2012 at 15:39 (Reply)

      You sure have your work cut out for you. Good luck with that.

  66. Cheez on 19.03.2012 at 18:59 (Reply)

    This article and some of its posts are funny. Most introverts are very self-aware, but it sometimes takes hearing examples from others to put their experiences into context. What strikes me is that I imagine extroverted children are easy for a teacher. Extroverts rarely internalize ideas, they often just hear, accept, and repeat. Introverts may understand the basics of an idea right away, but it takes longer to process it, apply it to their experiences and beliefs, compare, analyze, and then finally accept it and file it away. So the introverts are often the true thinkers, the ones that teachers should be trying to reach the most, but instead they cast them off as shy and uninterested, or worse, uninteresting.

    But the other part that’s funny to me are the posts where people say “I used to be an introvert…”. News flash - if you were ever an introvert, you are one right now, and you’re always going to be one. You don’t just change a personality temperament. Introversion and shyness aren’t the same, you can’t just “overcome” introversion. Introversion or extroversion a fundamental part of who you are. You can overcome some of the weaknesses common to introverted people, particularly shyness, but you can’t just decide to become an extrovert. Likewise, if you’re an extroverted person, you can’t just decide to be an introvert.

  67. CivilDiscourse on 23.03.2012 at 10:18 (Reply)

    I read this with interest as my daughter was a very bright, creative, kind, and introverted child, now off to college. At the first parent teacher conference of every year I would be told by nearly every teacher that she needed to participate more in class in order to be successful. I’d just smile. At the second parent teacher conference of the year they’d always be singing the praises of this same quiet child. One such teacher was particularly down on her quietness at the first conference of the year. At the second he was absolutely gushing about what a leader she is - albeit a quiet leader. He very seriously advised that she should write a book on how to succeed in high school (despite the fact that she was just as quiet as always) and that he’d love to write the foreward for her book. While the teachers were rather quick to judge her on her quietness, they would start to realize that she was quiet because she was very observant and thought everyone had something more interesting to say than she did. She absorbed information like a sponge because she was listening rather than talking. Yet, when everyone least expected it she would come out with something profound because she’d been mulling it, analyzing it, connecting the dots while others blathered. She’d write papers so thought provoking or eloquent that teachers were astounded that one so young could write so well. It was very common for them to ask if they could keep her papers because they were so amazed by them.
    An example of her quiet leadership: As one of her academic teams prepared for competition they were asked to present their work to the local media as a way to work the kinks out. Just as the judges would do later, the media was told to ask questions at the end. The extroverted kids were answering all the questions while my daughter let them take the lead. But then a particularly difficult question was asked and an uncomfortable silence filled the room as the kids struggled to come up with an answer. Then the “quiet leader” in the back of the group piped up with a wonderfully constructed and well thought out answer, saving the day. It drew loud applause and the presentation ended. The other kids immediately turned to my daughter and said simply, “Wow! Just WOW!” No one ever again doubted her importance on the team.
    The only “teacher” she had that completely failed to ever learn an appreciation for her introverted nature was a coach. He constantly railed at her for her silence, interpreting it as selfish, not being part of the team, etc. He never understood that she completely threw herself into the sport precisely because she wanted to contribute - and contribute she did - moving to varsity within a week of joining the team. She was always quietly encouraging her team mates, urging them on when they were exhausted, having quiet side conversations to calm their nerves, urging them into the limelight while she stepped back. She never believed in tooting her own horn so never defended herself when the coach railed at her for being so quiet. In his mind there was only one kind of team player and it was a loud and extroverted one. She eventually had to leave the team for her own well being despite being, by that time, the top athlete on the team. He doesn’t understand his failure as a coach to this day. But she’s moved on and continues to excel at college, quietness and all :)

    1. Danielle on 23.03.2012 at 15:31 (Reply)

      Coach’s loss. Too bad he hasn’t smartened up yet.

  68. dave on 24.03.2012 at 03:33 (Reply)

    It amazes me how people cling to terms like “high functioning” even when we’re not talking about autism. Way to let TV indoctrinate you to the new normal. Stop slapping these labels on everything and everyone and we’ll instantly have a better society.

  69. Luna on 24.03.2012 at 10:57 (Reply)

    I’m so happy to stumble upon your Ted Talk which lead me to here. I plan to purchase your book as soon as possible and I can’t wait to read it. I’ve struggled with various lables throughout the years, shy, not assertive enough, too sensitive, introvert, quiet… etc. etc. I am now 36 years old and you would have thought I would have grown out of this but I still struggle with finding my way in the work world. As you mentioned high school for me was pure torture and the worst years of my life. I was bullied and ended up in what was known as the geek crowd with other intelligent introverts. It however started with me as early as elementary school. I remember being taken out of class and sent to special sessions with the school counsellor because I was quiet. I remember at the time being surprised and having no idea that there was something wrong with me and wondering why I needed to see a counsellor. I remember him asking all these probing questions, i.e. was anything wrong at home etc. and thinking, no nothing’s wrong?? I really hope that with increasing awareness about the power of introverts through your book and other mediums that this stigma will decrease. I don’t want other children to grow up feeling completely alienated and like there is something wrong with them as I did. It’s tough growing up feeling like you are not accepted and you do not belong. It was only when I was in my mid-twenties that I started doing research to try to find out what was wrong with me that I realized, a large portion of the population is this way and I am not alone and furthermore there is nothing wrong with us. We may be quiet but we are often very dilligent and creative and have great ideas. I feel that introverts make great employees but are often seen as not being team players because they are overshadowed by the loud, more outgoing extroverts. I have had to learn how not to be nervous making presentations and attending networking events but I have a quiet voice and demeanour which means I’m often talked over, overlooked and overshadowed. I hope reading your book will help me find more ways that I can shine and thrive in a society that unfortunately does not value us.. yet. :) All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you! The world needs introverts like you to speak up and bring awarness to this important percentage of the population and that we have many gifts to share and as you say the world needs us now more than ever I think.

  70. Katie on 25.03.2012 at 20:45 (Reply)

    I agree with this. I don’t necessarily believe that they are singled out or hated, they just aren’t noticed. I was shy and introverted throughout school. Teachers didn’t notice me, didn’t praise me, and though I got As and Bs I never really succeeded. I think that this was because I have trouble explaining things to people which makes it hard to write good essays and do projects. Anyway, one time I was singled out, for a gifted and talented program. Technically, you were supposed to have several teacher recomendations, but I didn’t have any. The only reason I was in was because I scored the highest in the school on the cognative abilities test and on the MAP science and reading tests. I was miserable. The class focused on projects and papers, and if there were grades, I would have failed. The rest of the people in the class were all extremely popular and it became a haven for gossip. Plus, they were all good at communication, and expected me to be as well. When I failed to write a one-page paper in a night, or struggled with a project, they treated me like I was incapable and stupid. Eventually I just stopped going, and everyone assumed that I had dropped out or was kicked out or wasn’t smart enough to stay in. Sometimes I thought that I was stupid.

    In highschool, that changed. My teachers actually noticed me. My english teacher(of all the teachers to support me, English? what a wierd world) convinced me to sign up for advanced language arts in my sophmore year. She told me that though my essays weren’t great, my Ideas were. She also noted my reading level.

    I have a lot of teachers to thank, and a lot that, well, weren’t too great.
    This article was interesting

  71. Dev on 26.03.2012 at 03:38 (Reply)

    hi, this is Dev. I’ve always been an introvert in life. i have finally landed a full-time job as a content writer from home which perfectly suits my temperament. No office boss breathing down my neck, no back-biting of colleagues, etc. I just sit at home before my computer and meet my weekly deadlines in relaxation.

    1. mysocalledextrovertedlife on 26.03.2012 at 14:46 (Reply)

      Dev, I want to be you. I have a lot of stress in my life because I am in an extrovert world - even on a personal basis. I work in communications, an extrovert field, I have an extroverted husband will zillions of friends and who insists on doing something every weekend. I don’t have a group of friends so his friends are it, and I can’t stand most of them, btw. I love him, but I hate the pressure of having to do something every weekend which often turns out to be sitting around someone else’s home small talking with people I don’t particularly care about or sitting in a bar somewhere because he needs to talk to people. From my perspective I can sit around my own house read a book or watch movies, which I love. But to him, watching movies is something you do when its lousy out or there’s absolutely nothing else to do that’s social. So in short, if an introvert can fashion their life to suit their tendencies, both work wise and in the personal arena it is best. Ideally introverts should marry their own and mostly be friends with their own. They should also choose work that is more with things and ideas than people. I’m sure I would be better off.

      1. Dev on 26.03.2012 at 22:29 (Reply)

        it’s sad to know that most of the time you’re compelled to do something that doesn’t suit your temperament. you can do something about it. tell your husband to learn more about introverts from the internet. let him know the psychology of introverts so that he’ll understand you better and not force you to do something that goes against your nature. All the best!

  72. Dienekes on 26.03.2012 at 20:14 (Reply)

    As a card-carrying introvert from a very young age I always viewed school as a form of indentured servitude; early on I became suspicious that much of what my teachers told me (“You’re going to need to know this someday”; “algebra will teach you how to think”, and other noble lies) was just not so. It was also apparent that most teachers liked students that made them look good without really trying; and that extrovert types got most of the attention by sucking up most of the available oxygen. To a very great extent that pattern holds in our culture right up to old age. Just watch a table full of elderly blowhards at their morning coffee at Hardees for proof…

    Like Lucky Jack Aubrey, I was blessed by being prickly and hard to eradicate, and my introvert advantages have served me well. Much of “what everybody knows” turned out not to be exactly right and a lot of the roads others went down were dead ends in reality. I had some interesting conversations with my father and my son about the value of American educational methods in which we decided that the last 100 years of educational theory was pretty much baloney. It’s pretty much hostile to normal kids, verging on child abuse. My new grandson is probably going to be home schooled. He may or may not continue the family tradition of introversion, but in any case he’ll be treated as an individual and loved for himself.

    This team playing stuff is for the birds anyway.

  73. Daniel on 26.03.2012 at 21:34 (Reply)

    I saw that and thought the same thing, though the rest of the post and the comments (so far) have mitigated my over-analytical, negative, and generally snarky nature.

  74. Daniel on 26.03.2012 at 21:36 (Reply)

    Sorry, that was a reply to Ward Kendall on 16.03.2012 at 11:16 (Reply)

    J.K. Rowling is a “great thinker”?

    Rich, successful, entertaining…but certainly not a “great thinker”.

  75. Daniel on 26.03.2012 at 22:29 (Reply)

    I totally agree with this post. Whether introversion came as a result of genetics or environmental factors is ancillary to the fact that we have to deal with the fact that “living social” is something that us introverts must accept and try to work on. Even in my profession-research science-the most successful are the ones that are most adept at speaking up and selling themselves, even if they are not the most talented. Keep faith, these are skills that can be feigned if not learned.
    I used to dread giving presentations; way back in high school I remember having to do one for an English class and feeling like I bombed it. Luckily I had a teacher who was likely an introvert herself and was supportive. It was likely not as bad as I thought it was at the time. Now I can give a presentation in front of hundreds of scientists-including Nobel Laureates-and not get nervous.

    High-school wasn’t good or bad, but life can definitely get better afterwards.

  76. Kathleen on 27.03.2012 at 10:45 (Reply)

    When I was in elementary school I was deemed slow even though my reading scores said otherwise. My parents pointed this out and I was put in a more appropriate level class.

    But yes, from day one and even after, it was held against me for being contemplative and thinking through my answers before vocalizing them. Then later in middle school, I had a teacher say accuse me of daydreaming and not paying attention.

    ‘Am I homeschooling my kids?(Do you even have to ask?) :-)

  77. Bernadette on 27.03.2012 at 19:18 (Reply)

    I was extremely shy and introverted at school. What made it worse was that halfway through primary school my family emigrated from South Africa to The Netherlands so I was uprooted and chucked into a foreign environment which made me feel even more strange than I previously had. Primary school was worse than high school though.

    What really got me through this difficult period was my fathers unconditional support. My mother was the one running around and organising/forcing play dates. My father was the one reassuring me that it was completely normal to be introverted and that it ran in the family. He really made me understand that the last thing a person should want is to be sucked up into the main stream of society (not that I’m some drugged up rebellious hippy now, I just keep my head down, don’t atrract any attention to myself and waddle off home where I really do enjoy myself).

    This guidance from my father made me more willing to stand up my principles in a social setting and to hate doing things ‘just because they are fashionable’. I’m still extremely introverted but thanks to my fathers support of my natural character that same quality has become a tool to make me stronger when dealing with social situations.

    Maybe schools should try this approach as well.

  78. Jen on 28.03.2012 at 09:19 (Reply)

    When I was young I was terribly shy in school and in general. When I was 16 I started work as a cashier at a local store which brought out a more talkative side of me. Being shy is crippling at times because extroverts try to force you to convert to there world. They may even think something is wrong with you if you don’t.

    I think a shy person needs to feel comfortable and ready to be more outgoing when the time is right for them at there own pace. I am 35 today and I consider myself both an extrovert and an introvert it depends on the day.

Leave a comment

Quiet: The Book

- Wall Street Journal

News Flash!
Quiet is now an
Barnes & Noble
and Indie Next
Best Books of the
Month pick!
Join Our Book Club

Sign up today and stay up-to-date with reading selections chosen specifically for our readers.
Sign-Up Here!


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

Read More

Join the Quiet Revolution
Susan on Twitter
  • @bjvittitoe No but I must do this soon! Will post it on my website once it exists: Thank you for asking.
  • @az2theoc Thank you Becky!
  • RT @OCDS_Sy: @susancain Thanks Susan for your insights and efforts with Quiet. I look forward to reading it as soon as I download to my ...
Susan on Facebook