Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Introverted Child

The last few weeks have been a flurry of activity as my youngest daughter graduated from high school on May 24th. We’ve attended awards assemblies and band banquets, shopped for napkins in school colors, made Sam’s Club a bit richer, made multiple trips to the airport to pick up and return visiting relatives, and learned to pinch hit when the lady who was making her graduation cake ended up in the hospital.

My high point was the area churches’ co-sponsored Baccalaureate service. My graduating daughter played in the school’s jazz band. My eldest daughter, now a junior at college was the keynote speaker. As proud as I am, neither of those were the pinnacle moment for me. The highlight was the testimony the school valedictorian gave. This young man is in my high school Sunday school class. He’s always been one of those kids who is never a problem, but never has anything to say either. It’s not my boring class or not enough sleep Saturday night that causes him to stare at me for forty five minutes. That’s just him.

In a moving revelation, J. told how he has always struggled with shyness. He is the kid who always sat in the back of the classroom, scared to death a teacher might call on him. He is the kid who never wanted to be involved in activities because he was so shy. He told how, each year, he came out of his shell a little more, getting involved in the band, widening his social circle, moving up a little farther toward the front of the classroom.

His point? In each situation, he told us, “I knew God was there.” When he was scared to respond in class, “God was there.” When he ventured into more social situations, “God was there.” When he prepared his remarks for Baccalaureate, “God was there.” And when he goes off to college and faces new challenges, “God will be there.”

I learned several lessons from J. that day.
1. There are shy kids in the world. They aren’t defective. It’s not my job as a teacher to draw them out. I need to accept them as they are and let them blossom at their own pace. I need to structure my teaching to maximize their strengths instead of forcing them into the box of my expectations.

J.’s admission has caused me to do a lot of thinking as a teacher. Is something wrong with our educational system that we reward class participation and students who take extroverted initiative? Should we not instead teach kids how to do projects by themselves as much as we insist they work on group projects? My two children are mildly introverted. They have always felt uncomfortable with school group projects and social settings. Was I wrong to urge them to “get over it” and be bolder in their approach? I haven’t come up with any decisive answers yet. Except this one. We need to affirm and restructure our teaching methods a lot more for the introverted child. If you have any specific ideas, please comment on my comment page!

2. Kids are learning even though they are not responding. Shame on me. I wondered about J’s commitment to God. After his testimony, I have no doubt! Even though he wasn’t saying much, he was internalizing what I and other Sunday School teachers were teaching him. If he has learned the lesson that “God is there” no matter what he is facing in his life, he has come a lot farther than many other, older Christians.

3. God accepts us as we are and builds us into what we can be. Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul could have easily added “introvert nor extrovert” in that list but he probably figured we got the idea. No matter who we are, no matter our personality type or background, no matter how we are growing as we each reach for Christ and His best for us; in J’s words, “God is there.” As God accepts us, we need to accept each other as we are as well.

I teach children. And they teach me. Constantly.

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