How much noise can you work in?
As a general rule I write in silence. I find it impossible to pour my thoughts out onto paper surrounded by noise, not even soft music playing in the background. Life would certainly be easier if my pen and I could function harmoniously whilst the noise of the world carried on around me but the reality is that noise distracts me, takes my mind off my work. I need quiet for my thoughts to flow and peace to write them down.
“There’s a well-known study in psychology by a guy named Russell Geen. He gave learning tasks to kids to solve, with varying levels of background noise. He found that the extroverts did best when the noise was louder, and the introverts did best when the noise was softer.” Susan Cain: How to Teach a Young Introvert
My son harbours the same need as me, but, unlike me, he doesn’t have any control over his working environment. He sits in a classroom with near to thirty other children. He has to focus on his sums, read instructions and complete tasks whilst all around him classmates chatter with, or whisper to, each other, shuffle around, drop things, consult with the teacher or demonstratively vie for his attention.
He 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 a magnet with their noise and disruptive behaviour. Teachers have no choice but to react. So quiet children fade away in classrooms all over the world. Children feel lost in the learning spaces that are 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, like he is working devotedly on his schoolwork; it’s a brilliant façade that hides his racing mind that is frantically trying to process the overload of sensory input that engulfs him.
His introvert 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 tears, fat uncontrollable tears, or anger, or aggression or a wordless retreat to a safe haven to be alone.
I can hold my son, take him in my arms and let him know I understand how he feels, let him know I have his back and that he’s in safe hands and he can let go of his emotions.
I can listen to his frustrations.
I can help him find tools to use in the classroom that can perhaps help a little.
I can keep the dialogue open with those who’s role it is to educate him. But they can only do so much with the resources they have.
But I can’t magic up quiet. I simply don’t have the power to magic up the quiet he needs in the place he needs it most.
For more on this topic read 5 Ways for a HSC to Get Quiet Time in School