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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: Coming Out
February 29, 2012 - 8:16pm

All my life, I've been an extreme introvert. A thoughtful, quiet child, I was continually told by strangers to “Smile!” At the beginning of graduate school I scored 98% introversion on the Meyers-Briggs test. A vocational test in high school suggested that I was temperamentally suited to be a sculptor. I suffered through dorm life, hating the enforced jollity of the ice cream socials and floor hockey. All I wanted was to be left alone to read in peace. Waitressing was particularly painful; making contact with strangers all day left me feeling jangled and raw. Academics are often introverts.

My daughter, on the other hand, lives for a party. She knows every neighbor on our street and frequently visits the couple on the corner for cookies and a chat. Perhaps because she's lived in one neighborhood all of her life, she assumes everyone loves her.  And perhaps because she's an only child she would like a play date every day of the week. She has never called home in the middle of a sleep over to come home. She enjoys getting on stage.

So I was excited to read Susan Cain's defense of introversion, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Cain critiques the extrovert ideal and argues that introverts – those of us who are more reflective and tend to “recharge” with time alone – often make better leaders. Cain criticizes the current fashion of group work in schools, arguing that students are not given enough time for individual reflective thinking – the kind of thinking that often results in the most creative ideas.

Cain’s book forced me to examine my own classroom practices. In my attempts to create a more democratic, participatory classroom, am I privileging those students who are more comfortable speaking in large groups over those who prefer more time to formulate their thoughts alone? Educator Stephen Brookfield suggested that we model thoughtful reflection in the classroom, instead of only rewarding rapid-fire exchanges.

Yet as I read the book, I realized something unsettling: I have either turned into the world's most outgoing introvert, or I have morphed into an extrovert without realizing it.

Like most professors, I enjoy talking about my subject matter, but now that I’m an administrator, I talk to people all day long. Not only that, but I enjoy making small talk with just about everyone: other faculty, staff, administrators, the guy who makes my latte, and the woman who cleans the campus bathrooms. I even approach people in airport bookstores. I love public speaking. I prefer large parties full of strangers over small gatherings.

I don't know if my change in personality is the result of having found my niche, coming out of my shell, or of being at a point where my public and private selves have merged. Or, if my wildest dreams have come true and I have simply become like my bold and sassy girl.


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