The picture above is me on my very first day of school. For most of my years in school, I was known as the quiet kid and experienced many challenges because of this label. My experiences lead me to start a non-profit organization(Softest Voices) bringing awareness to the challenges quiet students face at school. From speaking at schools across the country to creating online campaigns my aim is to make the softest voices heard.
Over the past few weeks, there's been a surplus of media all in preparation for students going back-to-school. From parenting blogs about learning to let go to the little boy who cried on his first day of school, there's just about something for everyone when it comes to depicting the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling associated with going back-to-school. However, for the thousands of students like myself who identify ourselves as the quiet students of the class, there's a scarce amount of resources that truly describe the reality many of us face at school.
In order to make up for the lack of media attention on how going back to school is like for an introverted student, below is a list of some common challenges introverts of all ages can relate to.
Making friends: Whether you're entering a new school or not, making and keeping friends can be a challenge. What if your friends are not in the same class as you? How are you suppose to make new friends at a new school? How do you find people to work with for a group project? Will you be that one person in P.E. that doesn't get chosen by a team? The list of possible fearful situations can go on, but only if you let it. At some point you may need to take that extra step and step out of your comfort zone to make that new friend or friends. Take your time to develop friendships with those who accept you for you.
Lunchtime: Flashback to that movie scene where the kid grips onto their lunch tray as they timidly walk across the school cafeteria looking for a place to sit and someone to sit with. Many introverts would much prefer to sit alone but wonder if it's worth the outcome of having everyone stare at them for being the odd one out. Some of them would love to have some company but often lack the willingness and courage to start up a conversation.
Bullies: Being quiet and alone may make introverts an open target for bullying but it shouldn't justify them to be bullied. Many introverted students are left to battle their bullies alone, without any support. This shouldn't be the case and even if these introverted students don't directly ask for help, it is up to teachers, parents, and bystanders to step in and help out.
Parents & teachers: I put both parents and teachers into one category, because often times the opinion of one influences the opinion of the other. Last year I wrote a HuffPost blog titled, "7 Things a Quiet Student Wishes Their Teacher Understood". While there was some backlash about some of the experiences mentioned in that post, there were just as many people who related to the unfair treatment introverts receive from the school system.
At most of the school presentations I speak at, there is always at least one teacher that admits to not knowing how to handle quiet students. So, how can we help teachers to be more understanding to their quiet students? How can we change the unfair grading of participation and make classrooms more introvert friendly? How can we stop parents from pressurizing their introverted child to be more extroverted? We simply need to change our perception of seeing introverts as societies unsuccessful bunch, because the reality is that they usually end up as societies most successful bunch. If parents and teachers can learn to accept and capitalize on their introverted students' abilities, than the fear of negative opinions from parents and teachers can be one less challenge for the introverted student.
Being yourself: To the introverted student reading this,contrary to what some might say, you don't need to change who you are just to avoid all the situations above. You are your best advocate. So go ahead and be yourself, join school activities that you enjoy and let your strengths shine through. Lastly, to the worried parent reading this, don't listen to all the negativity that people may tell you about your quiet child. Stand up for your quiet child, don't change them, accept them. Pay attention to their strengths and work to promote them. Your child is much more than just a quiet kid.
How were your back-to-school experiences as an introverted kid or the parent of one? Send me your thoughts here.