Teaching the Introvert

An article in today's NY Times," Smarts vs. Personality" by Anna North, inspired this memory of a boy I'll call Roberto.

Roberto slid into my sophomore English class each day and took his assigned seat wordlessly. Unlike the other boys who favored jeans, he dressed as if for church, in slacks and a button down shirt. He carried a briefcase, not a backpack. I never saw him speak to another student, and he never answered in class, although he did well on tests and always handed in homework. The motherly security guard at the main desk worried about him. "That boy's in trouble. I don't want to read about him someday," she told me. His guidance counselor said to give him space, that he was like one of the early flowers in the spring - a harsh wind or careless footstep would destroy him. I was new to the school, and I had to be observed by an assistant principal several times a term. These observations would be reduced to writing. Typically, a lesson's critique would mention three good things and two things that needed to improve. For example, repeating student answers was a no-no for the teacher. Instead, the teacher was supposed to ask another student to repeat a classmate's answer, encouraging kids to pay attention to each other. This was one of my "bad things" on a previous observation. I had to watch out for that during my next observation. With the supervisor sitting in the back of the room writing diligently, I asked a question and got a correct answer from a girl named Rachel. "What did she say, Miss?' a boy asked. "Who can repeat Rachel's excellent answer?" was my careful response. The class was silent. "Why you being so stupid today?" the same boy asked. "Why can't you just tell us?" The supervisor was writing furiously. I looked around at the students, desperate. But the room was silent. And then, a miracle occurred. Roberto's hand, for the first time, slowly went up. For the first time that term, his voice was heard. He repeated Rachel's correct answer. And he smiled at me.