From Kwai Chang to Susan Cain - my quest to find the essence of the 'introvert'

11th May 2012 at 01:00
It may be the quiet ones you have to watch in a culture that favours outgoing types

There's no place for a boring introvert in teaching." This advice was passed on to the physics Class of `82 at Moray House by our tutor. It had originated from his friend who was a heidie. At the time, as I was wont to do when anyone gave out advice, I probably visualised the tutor as Master Po, with all the students as assorted Grasshoppers (Oh, look it up if you're too young to remember.) What I didn't do was think that it applied to me in any way whatsoever.

Conscious by that stage in my life that there were times that many of my friends would have wished I had what we now call a "content filter", or even an onoff switch, I would not have labelled myself as an introvert. Yes, you'd always find me in the kitchen at parties, but at least I went to parties, often following a day in the Pentlands with a packet of digestives and a tube of squirty cheese for company.

Jump to the present. I have become aware of a lady called Susan Cain, who writes and talks about the power of introverts. She has written a book which I have yet to read, though I watched her TED talk on YouTube.

Before doing so, I was pretty smug. Forgetting the kitchen party animal of 1982, I went back to my primary school days where, certainly at first, I was overwhelmed. So many people and they all seemed to know the rules of engagement. There were no quiet places to hide and play with Lego.

As it turned out, Susan Cain's talk did not, as it could not in 20 minutes, explain everything. Rather than sit back in my chair at the end, thinking "if only my primary school had been more geared up to introverts", I still couldn't work out if I was or had been one. Perhaps I was just awkward, or shy, which isn't the same.

In truth, even had there been such an epiphany, it would have been blown away by guilt. For the past decade or so, I've been on the group-work bandwagon. I can even quote Vygotsky and sound like I know what I'm on about. No real problem with that, except that, according to Susan Cain, if you're doing group work, you need to give your quiet, reflective pupils a bit of time to think things through, then make their case. Often highly creative, their ideas can be lost in a culture that favours the extrovert. I can't claim that I really took this into account.

I wonder, as well, if too many people link "boring" and "introvert"? Who wants a boring extrovert as a teacher?

Gregor Steele will return to this theme, whether you like it or not

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre.

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