behavior, introvert, language arts, middle school, motivation, teacher

A Letter to my Quiet Student

Dear Student,

I was like you once. Actually, if I were a student, I know I am still inclined to be like you. Learning and engaged, but will not raise my hand. Comfortable in my head and on paper, but not out loud. Social interactions with a person or small group I can handle; talking in front of the class, not so much.

When I first became a teacher, and later a mother, I had a tendency to ferret out the traits that I saw in myself as weakness and want to “fix” them, including quietness. But over time, I realized what I was doing — how it was counter-productive in the long run, and also how it didn’t acknowledge a fact of life — some of us are quiet, and that’s ok. In a world of chaos and loudness and hecticness, we can be the calming force in the room. Even if we don’t feel that way inside, that is usually when we are our best selves — using the quietness as a strength and the foundation of increased thoughtfulness, observation, and hard work. People who think before they talk and are deliberate about what they express are a valuable part of a classroom, or really any place. I want to make sure that you can fully grow in to this role, and not feel like it’s something you have to “overcome.”

A former classmate once told me that everyone thought I was very quiet but really, I was very loud in some ways. I’m sure he has no recollection of this statement, but it made an impact on me, and I want to pass it on to you. There are different ways to light up a room, and it doesn’t have to be through talk and vivacity. It can also be through your actions, through your written words, through just being your own good self.

As your teacher, there are several ways I want to support you:

1. I will honor your quietness. I will not assume that because you are not talking, you are not paying attention. You don’t have to volunteer if you don’t feel like it’s the right time to say something. There will be times that I will build into class which will just be you, reading or writing to yourself, or thinking on your own. I understand that you need this time to recharge and get through the day smoothly.

2. I will talk to you one on one. I will make sure to have conversations with you to see what you’re interested in, both in and out of class. Conferences are part of this, but so is just chatting at the beginning or end of class, or at the end of the day. I know that you’ll feel more comfortable with getting pushed out of your comfort zone if you know that you are understood and valued. You’ll be more likely to say something if you know that I’m going to listen.

3. I will push you out of your comfort zone. You have to leave your comfort zone at times if you are going to grow. So even though I will honor your quietness, I am also going to make sure you can operate in a world where you can’t always be quiet. This means I am going to notice you even if sometimes you just want to fade into the background. It means we will have small groups where you can grow in your communication skills, and I will expect you to contribute as much as anyone. You will have to occasionally read or present your work to the class, and you will live through your shaky hands and voice, and gain confidence that you can do it again, even better, next time. Others in class will get a chance to see that you can be very loud, even if you are quiet. I will expect you to advocate for yourself, and not always wait for me or someone else to notice you need something.

If I see a spark in you that needs to grow, I am going to work with you to make sure it can become a blazing fire. Sometimes that spark just needs a little air to get bigger and burn brightly. I’m going to try give you the space to do that this year.

I hope that you have a good year, and continue to grow into your best self. Thank you for being the calm in the classroom storm.