I knew I was going to post something today, but whether it was going to be a review or this, I wasn’t sure. But this won out because I thought some of you might be able to relate.
This morning, I was having a discussion with someone in an authority position at my school about my first year of teaching. I told him the first few months were really rough, but I felt like I was getting through it. In the last month or two, I’ve really started feeling like I’m getting my feet under me. And he followed that up with, “You’re just so quiet. I wish you would be more assertive.”
That hurt more than I thought it would.
My entire life, I’ve been told that I’m quiet. When I was younger, I was “shy”. Strangers would coo over something and i’d just blush back at them, unable to say a word. At 6, this is endearing. When I grew up, I was simply “introverted” or “quiet”. I spend my school years with my nose in a book. I preferred to spend my time with a few close friends rather than being a boisterous presence, though I did find a love of being on stage. (It’s an interesting contradiction, I know.)
To have this person say that I was quiet like it was a bad thing really hurt. Because for all those years I was shy and introverted and quiet, I’ve had people telling me that I need to speak up. That I was smart or had good ideas, but no one was going to know that if I didn’t say anything. And I, in turn, told myself over and over that I needed to be louder and more confident. So this reminder that I’m quiet was the slow leak in the balloon that is my self-esteem.
It ate at me. All. Day.
And the ironic thing is, the more I’m reminded of how quiet I am, the quieter I get. I get uncomfortable with how I’m “not talking enough” and therefore spend more time stressing over that and less time actually speaking up. But the more confident I am, the more comfortable, the more I’m likely to be loud and playful and myself.
Reminding me that I’m quiet is so not the way to help me.
I dwelled on this all day, whenever I had two seconds to let my mind drift over it again. (I’m a worrier, and since an authority figure said this, I’m terrified this means my job’s in jeopardy.) And the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.
It wasn’t until I was telling my mom this story that she said something that made me rethink the whole situation. My younger brother recently got a new job as well, and a coworker of his who knows my mom constantly comments on how quiet he is. And she wanted to ask this woman why this was a problem. Just let him warm up to the job and the people, and he’ll be fine.
Really, why is being “quiet” such a bad thing?
With that, I started thinking about the positives of being “quiet”. Because I’m quiet, I hear what everyone in a group is saying before I pose my own ideas. I like to analyze every side of an argument before I speak my mind. Because I’m quiet, I see things. I notice body language and what people are trying not to say. I see the little things in life that others may not stop to notice, like the smell of books or the pinks and oranges of a winter sunset on fallen snow. I like noticing those little things. For those brief moments, I am more myself than I was the moment before…and not a single word was uttered.
And it’s true, being a teacher and being “quiet” is kind of an oxymoron. But I think this authority figure was basing his statement more on how I act around other teachers rather than how I am in the classroom with the kids. I’m practically a baby compared to my coworkers, most of whom graduated high school before I left elementary school. (True story.) I still feel like a student around them and that makes me quiet. I want to learn from their experience, and listening is the best way that I know to do that. And teachers are usually a talkative bunch, so it’s hard to get a word in edge-wise. While I want say my side occasionally, it’s usually the same teachers constantly talking. I am not the only one who is sidelined in meetings.
My new goal here is to embrace who I am. I think this was one of my New Year’s Resolutions too. I like the sides of who I am that come from being quiet. So the next time someone says I’m quiet, I’m going to look them in the eye, smile, and say, “Thank you. You’ve just made my day.”
I wonder how they would react to that.