An Introvert’s Guide to the School System’s Unfortunate Neglect

In·​tro·​vert (n.): quiet, reserved, and thoughtful individuals. They don’t seek out special attention or social engagements, as these events can leave them feeling exhausted and drained. 

Keep in mind it wasn’t a choice. We were born this way.

Photo by Erika Taylor

 

Whenever a teacher announces to the class that they will be giving grades based on participation, my brain glitches. As a student obsessed with their grades, this causes me great distress. There is a short circuit between my innate temperament and the grades that will affect my future. I chose and will continuously choose the latter.

I tend to avoid calling out the answers to the teacher’s questions, instead of celebrating in my head when I get it right. I ace every test and never turn in late work. Yet, when I asked a teacher why I wasn’t even an option for an Underclassman Award I was given a simple answer: “You didn’t participate enough.” My heart was shattered. All the hard work and late nights perfecting my grades went down the drain because I didn’t speak up in class.

Another instance is in AICE Global perspectives, the only AICE class required to get the scholarship and it involves plenty of public speaking. An added lose-lose situation in a place that makes me prioritize a scholarship that will help me pay for my future career over my mental wellbeing

This happens to introverted students across the world. Forced to succumb to changes in how they feel, ignoring their instincts to fit the criteria or suffer the consequences. We are being punished for being our unfiltered, ordinary selves. We live in a loud world. An extroverted world where the talkative kids get the classroom laughing and the quiet kid is reprimanded for wanting to sit in the back. The last thing we want is to become the center of attention, but we are still called out in front of the class for always staying quiet, for spacing out, for working alone. Introverts are already more susceptible to depression, social anxiety, and self-criticism than extroverts and ambiverts. We do not want nor do we need more added to our toppling plate. 

The constant urging of change causes us to critique ourselves. We believe something must be wrong with us, after all the majority of high school students are extroverts. We are the outliers. This criticism attributes to feelings of guilt, worthlessness, melancholy, and despair. We can get caught in a torturous cycle of angst, hopelessness, and dejection. 

The reason for this comes from our highly sensitive brains. We tend to find any kind of stimulating environment overwhelming, whether we are talking about lights being too bright, loud social gatherings, or crowded streets. And school is already loud enough as is with its rowdy cafeterias and overflowing halls. Our highly sensitive brains when put in these overwhelming situations will only cause us to retract into our shells. We will withdraw and avoid all social interaction. With time, these unhealthy coping mechanisms can evolve into those symptoms mentioned previously.

Photo by Tess Robinson

Not that you would notice. Unlike extroverts where a change in mood causes immediate alarm, introverts are already isolated, this tendency becomes normal, it goes unnoticed. To add icing to the cake, we won’t let you know what goes on in our loud, chaotic brains. We think too much and speak too little. The likeliness of an introvert expressing their feelings is extremely low. Speaking out means unwanted attention, thus we are less likely to seek help. So please don’t call us out and don’t push us to verbalize our inner turmoil.

Society associates being social with being happy. They will “encourage” us, push us to be more outgoing. It is what has become acceptable, normal in society. For a long time, extroverts ruled the world, with only one out of three people tending to be introverted. It formed a world perfectly suited for that majority of extroverts. They have become the model student, the model employee, the model child. When becoming a teen, the pressure to fit into a narrow definition of normal is at an all-time high. Conditioning begins. Behave in a way that makes others feel more comfortable. Smile more, speak up, make lots of friends.

Every day for my past 11 years of schooling, I have never belonged. I was lost in this world of wishing to change myself. It only gets worse upon realizing that many children like me are brought up the same way. We don’t want to go to homecoming, it gives us headaches. We don’t want to hang out after school, we feel drained. No, we don’t enjoy working with strangers, we get anxious. Most of all, no, I don’t want to introduce myself to the class on the first day either. The need to make up excuses like “I am busy,” “it’s too expensive,” and “my parents won’t let me” in order to avoid such events only adds to the conditioning of having to hide how we truly feel. We are conditioned into suppressing our feelings to cater to this extroverted world. To avoid getting asked too many questions.

Sprinkle in the modern-day education system and you established a torture chamber for introverts. Our serene tendencies are not often accepted, and introverted people are undervalued and even pathologized in school. Yet research has shown introverts get better grades and are more knowledgeable, growing up to be more creative and have a greater capacity for deep thoughts. However, how can we further prove this if everything keeps going against us? We can’t. We are flung into these learning environments that do not suit us. And when we finally do get the work done, it certainly will not be our best. Frustration becomes our closest friend. Frustrated at ourselves for not working to the best of our abilities. Frustrated at how fatigued we feel when the 5th block hasn’t even started. Frustrated for not being able to remember what the assignment was about, much less any information we were supposed to have retained. We thrive when we have time to work independently. We thrive when we get to observe quietly and study on our own. We flourish when we can just keep quiet because we don’t feel the need to verbalize every passing thought. We want time to think and process our thoughts. 

Don’t get confused though. Contrary to what many believe, introverts still do want and need human connection. As an introverted teen, we face the challenge of finding friends who don’t drain the life out of us, who understand us, who accept us the way we are. So please be patient with us.

Ideally, all students -whether introverts, extroverts, or ambiverts- should be comfortable with their own individual personalities. If kids are fighting against their natural inclinations, it will be harder for them to discover their true potentials and succeed at what they do best. It becomes a breeding ground for a long line of mental health issues.

My advice for my fellow introverts? Take note of the way I constantly used “we” throughout this editorial. You are not alone. We are in this together. Thrive with your people, flourish in your own unique way.

All I can ask is for those of you who aren’t is to be more considerate of us next time. It is not a condition or a disability or a problem that needs fixing. It is a personality trait. Reading this far is already a leap in the right direction for which I will forever be grateful. Thank you.