I’m a writer. As a general rule, I write in silence. I find it impossible to pour my thoughts out onto paper when I am surrounded by noise—not even soft music playing in the background. Life would certainly be easier if my pen and I could function harmoniously while the noise of the world carried on around me, but the reality is that noise distracts me, taking my mind off my work. I need quiet for my thoughts to flow and peace to write them down.

My son harbors the same need, but unlike me, he doesn’t have any control over his working environment. He sits in a classroom with nearly 30 other children. He has to focus on his sums, read instructions, and complete tasks while all around him his classmates chatter with or whisper to each other, shuffle around, drop things, consult with the teacher, or demonstratively vie for his attention.

My son is distracted by this classroom noise, and he loses his train of thought; his concentration ebbs. His frustration builds because he’s a conscientious student who cannot meet his own high expectations. The level of the work is within his reach; the quiet he needs to concentrate is not. He falls behind on his tasks. He shuts down. And he says nothing to his teacher. He feels helpless. He feels inadequate. He feels like a failure. His self-esteem is quashed. But he stays quiet.

Quiet doesn’t mean he’s okay.

Other children draw attention to themselves like magnets with their noise and disruptive behavior. Teachers have no choice but to react. Quiet children, like my son, fade away in classrooms all over the world. Children like my son feel lost in the learning spaces filled with chatter, fidgeting, and distractions—the very environments that are set up to nurture them and help them blossom. Their learning is impeded. Bright students doubt themselves. Enthusiastic pupils lose their hunger to learn.

There are no tell-tale signs on my child’s face that he is struggling. His head is down, and from the outside, he seems focused as if he is working devotedly on his schoolwork. It’s a brilliant façade that hides his racing mind, which is frantically trying to process the overload of sensory input that engulfs him.

His introverted nature means he won’t purposefully draw attention to himself—he won’t scream for help even when he needs it most.

Instead, he’ll muddle on as best he can, bottling up his emotions, frustrations, and struggles until he gets home. As he crosses that threshold of safety, comes in through the front door of our home, he releases what he has kept corked up during his school day: there’s an explosion of big emotions. It may take the form of fat uncontrollable tears, or anger, or aggression, or a wordless retreat to a safe haven to be alone.

I can take my son in my arms, hold him, and let him know I understand how he feels. I can let him know I have his back, that he’s in safe hands, and that he can let go of his emotions. And I can listen.

I can keep the dialogue open with those whose role it is to educate him. I can keep talking, but lessening the dim in the classroom seems an impossible ask. I don’t have the power to conjure up the quiet he needs in the place he needs it most..

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12 responses to “Amanda van Mulligen”

  1. Billjw says:

    It is interesting that the norm is “noise”. And yet in parts of business what effective managers need to do is to get past the “noise” and find the facts. But we persist with the “noise.” I wonder how much better we’d all be if the norm was “peace and quiet”? I think the best bit is if you continue to really listen to him. Everyone needs to know they are heard. Also, a lot of the noise I hear could also be referred to as BS.

  2. Amanda says:

    Thank you! I have only just seen that this was published and am delighted to see such supportive, kind comments! 🙂

  3. Amanda says:

    He has headphones, and he now has a place he can retreat to on his own when it gets too much. School has been great supporting him – but at the end of the day his classroom is full. One of my others sons is in a class of 36. It doesn’t get easier……..

  4. Pam says:

    This makes me smile, because I know how very real this struggle is and I know WE are not alone in this dynamic! It is not an anomaly that we are library studier/workers, but that someone, somewhere thought “All together now!” was a good idea and should be the way learning ought to be done!!! It came after 1976; I don’t recall that teachers were champions of group studying. This is the way it is at my work; my boss just asked me, “Why do you so desperately want the corner desk?” I don’t know that there is a way of explaining this so you would understand!

  5. Wejdan Alaradi says:

    this hits me. Its me in every unquiet environment I struggled to keep my work and focus going. I didn’t know that some will listen to how i feel about this in class. And my frustration was is battling inside that it could tears me apart invisibly. I would really open up more about this situation into trusted friend. But i didn’t trusted how i feel and kept it battling inside too long. Hope you and your son feel better soon. <3

  6. I felt like you’ve wrote about me instead your son. For my entire school I was dreaming about home education as school stressed me. Have you thought about such solution or is it out of the question?

  7. CuriousMind says:

    Your son is not the only one out there. I’m in college and I still suffer from the same problem. However, it’s okay to be an introvert student. In fact, that’s what make us special. People around your son will realise how special and good he is. You’ll see, in time.

  8. Teto85 says:

    Waldorf schools are pretty good as well and they go from K – 12.

  9. disqus_TVIHb6qJDo says:

    Well written Amanda. Tell your son; that many people have experienced the same struggles in school. (Myself included). It’s great you let him know you have his back; let him know that all us (introverts) have his back as well!!

  10. Sheryl Morris says:

    I would like to invite anyone curious about more child-centered education methods to visit and observe a classroom; I, myself, am most familiar with Montessori. I have found concerns written about here by Amanda addressed in many Montessori environments. “Grace and courtesy” are lessons that become a part of daily life in small, real world communities. Not all Montessori schoools are private or charters. There is a growing number of public Montessori schools and classrooms within more traditional schools; the growth stemming in large part from parent request and demand at the local level. Every child deserves an environment which ebbs and flows in a harmonious manner, prepared to meet the needs of each. (Grandparents or grandparents-to-be, you, too, can be a part of growing more Montessori alternative environments.)

  11. Laurie Nuzzo says:

    Is it possible for him to wear noise cancelling headphones in class?? Or ask to go to the library to do his work? Either might help a bit. He doesn’t have to have anything playing on the headphones, just have the noise cancelling on.

  12. freelytree says:

    This is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing this, Amanda. I’m certain he’s not the only kid in that classroom quietly struggling. Your motherly way of soothing him and allowing him to feel his feelings is just beautiful. Keep up the great work!

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