Q: My fourth-grader just got his report card—straight As! But at the bottom, his teacher wrote, “He’s very quiet and needs to work on classroom participation.” I’m so upset, how should I handle this?
A: It sounds like you’re raising a smart, hard-working kid. I understand your irritation with the teacher’s comments. Here are a few suggestions that might help:
1. Share information with the teacher. It’s probably most productive to assume the teacher has your son’s best interests at heart and that her comment stems from lack of awareness. Use this opportunity to share books and articles on temperament and its impact on learning styles.
2. Make a plan with the teacher. Start by determining the end goal, then identify steps to achieve it. For example, if the end goal is for your son to demonstrate engagement, he can do so by taking notes rather than raising his hand. Or if the goal is to be part of the classroom team, he can contribute by tutoring another student one-on-one.
3. Coach your son to express his ideas. It’s perfectly okay for your son to be quiet most of the time, but it’s also important for him to feel comfortable speaking up when he has something to contribute. Here are some suggestions for making participation less stressful:
Write & Share: The teacher writes a question on the board, then give the students “silent time” to jot down ideas. Students can then share verbally. Your son might be more willing to voice his thoughts if he’s given the opportunity to process them first.
Jumbo Notes: Students are encouraged to scribble ideas on large sheets of paper, then hang them on the board. This gives students the opportunity to phrase their ideas clearly. It may also reduce the anxiety some students feel when writing on the board in front of the class.
Sleep on It: The teacher assigns a “question of the day” at the end of class. Students then ponder or research it on their own and come back ready to share the following day. This strategy might appeal to your son, as many introverts love to delve deeply into a subject.
4. Continue providing positive affirmations at home. Your son will likely encounter many people who initially misunderstand his temperament. Help him realize that although others may try to label him, he doesn’t have to let negative labels stick. He has the power to replace them with a more positive interpretation.
Your son’s situation is certainly exasperating, but it has the potential to become an empowering experience. As you include your son in parent-teacher discussions, he will learn strategies for initiating a positive dialogue about his introversion. That knowledge will come in handy long after class is dismissed!