Archive for the ‘personality’ Category

I do not care what you say. I am a millennial.

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

And that subject line, you may be thinking, is obviously quite millennial.

My year of birth is 1982. I am right on that cusp of being classified as a millennial, by some standards, as some list the year where the millennial generation starts as 1982 and I have even seen 1984. In my mind, we can just probably call 1980 the start year, since we are thinking generationally. And really, I think I fit with the millennial generation, even though some of my friends tell me I think very much like  Gen Xer and even act that way most of the time. Still, I feel like I think and act like a millennial, more often than not, though I do have my Xer stereotypes. And frankly, these “generational codes” are nothing but stereotypes, though let’s ignore that for the purposes of this blog post.

When I first learned of these different generations, it was probably the early 90s and I desperately wanted to be an Xer. These kids were so cool, I thought, with their hip contemporary authors like Douglas Coupland whose books I devoured and cool music like Nirvana and Alice and Chains and their real, paying-the-rent day jobs. I was in junior high. I didn’t like school and honestly didn’t like much of anything unless it was literature or music. I idolized the lives of the generation ahead of me and wanted to be like them, so I often mimicked their attitudes, their dress, and desires.

But I am a millennial, though perhaps not the classic, garden variety, and I have been thinking about this far too much lately. For instance, I ride the bus and rely on public transit like any good, true hipster in Portland, Oregon would, even though I am not living in Portland. And when on the bus, I wonder why there isn’t a place for my coffee cup so that I can send a text without spilling my coffee all over my favorite skirt, which is a thrift store purchase. I see this type of thing as not only inconveniences, but problems that need to be solved.

While the above isn’t the strongest example, it certainly gives a good indication of how we think as millennials. Technology is not only important, but almost everything, to us. Yes, we love our families, our pets, but we also have a space in our stiff little hearts for our hybrid cars, macbook pros, smartphones, ipods and bicycles. So do notice I went from families and animals and then moved back to technology without so much as needing a transition.

When I was reading Carol Bly‘s book on Beyond the Writer’s Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction for my comp exams coming up, I noticed the generational differences and the generation-speak between us. For example, she deeply dislikes our current (book published in 2001) “junk culture” and bemoans that there is nothing interesting within it. That it is deadening. In some respects, she has a point. Think of the Kardashians and the question of, “so, why are they famous again?” But this was also written before “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and really how could you? Still, I think there is a lot of value in our highly visual, highly technological culture. I think our culture is making us not less creative, but more creative and not dumber, but smarter. Yes, we no longer need to remember phone numbers since they are saved in our smartphones. Still, technology makes us learn how to do things better, more efficiently, and effectively. Also, we can get a lot more done in one day than we could before because of technological improvements. A story somewhat related to this, but mostly demonstrates how far we have come in terms of technology, is about how one of my former professors typed up his dissertation on a typewriter. Every time he tells this story of the hours he worked, of how he typed and retyped the whole thing plucking away with only two pointer fingers. I always stare back at him, with my cup of coffee from my Kerig or the local starbucks and ask, how?

So yeah, I am a little spoiled, but aren’t you as well who may or may not be a millennial? You are reading this on a computer, right? Is it a macbook pro? Or are you reading this on an iPad or some other tablet? You got it pretty convenient, too.

One of the differences, though, between myself and the stereotypical, garden-variety millennial is our upbringing. I was not raised in some weirdly comfortable middle class family. I never had any feelings of entitlement, as people claim millennials have. The only thing I really feel entitled to is technology because, really, how else can I function and do what needs to get done? I do not know any difference since I have been online since 1995, and really that is a late start considering some of my peers. I don’t feel the world owes me anything. But I also think these are really negative aspects of being a millennial that are not true for everyone and, perhaps, may be a little overblown, despite our fancy coffee makers and technological gadgets that our parents do not completely understand (even though my mom and dad are pros at their respective iPads).

Millennials, I feel, are good problem solvers. We are efficient. We want change. We want diversity. We don’t accept answers from authority figures just because they are authority figures (think of all the times Mom said “because I said so.”). We want to make our community’s better. We may not be the original hipsters, but we are nonetheless hipsters. I think we are also highly creative individuals because we have to be. We must be creative in order to succeed at all. And this is why I value creativity so highly in my classroom. I think students will need to be able to think creatively, to think outside the box in order to succeed. Today, for example, I instructed them on cover letters. Then I had them imagine they were writing a cover letter to be on an episode of a TV show. I used two TV show examples, Glee (which I admittedly know very little about) and Mad Men (freaking love it), and they could write a cover letter geared toward the specific criteria I listed. One group even wrote a cover letter to be on an episode of the Walking Dead as a zombie, which was cool. While each cover letter had its strong points and flaws, when considering the genre, each cover letter was imaginative and creative. Students seemed to enjoy writing these, even though at first they really struggled to find those brief stories the cover letter needs. But as each group shared their cover letters, students laughed at the humor or found the cover letters engaging and interesting and creative on some level.

Earlier, I also had a couple students present on the topic of how to deal with difficult clients or customers. This is something any professional should know how to handle since you will deal with difficult people from time to time in the professional setting. I deal with difficult students from time to time, for example. And so these students presented on this topic and instead of just relaying to the audience of how someone can work with these situations, they acted out a skit between an airline worker and a unhappy flyer. During the skit, each student stated the viewpoint that individual was coming from and how the other individual should handle it. Overall, I found this not only instructive, but creative. It engaged the class. It had some humor. It wasn’t just a boring old powerpoint. Again, while this isn’t the greatest example ever, it shows creativity and thought.

While the millennial generation has its share of criticisms, such as we are money-obsessed and lazy and entitled it is important to realize the Gen Xers did, too, as did the generation before them. Everyone criticizes the present generation, but the present generation is also there to make the world better, and so I do believe millennials will, despite their stereotypical flaws.


The extrovert and introvert in the collaborative classroom

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Demblingwhose blog “The Introvert’s Corner” I have been reading for a couple of years now. I like the blog she writes, even when there are things I disagree with, like her article on how Halloween is an extroverted holiday. I, for one, am an extreme introvert (clinically) who adores Halloween, mainly because I love hearing and telling scary stories. But, for the most part, I can relate to the majority of what she discusses.

As I was reading her book, I started thinking about how we often educate our students. For instance, in the classroom, collaborative learning is all the rage. We want assignments to be collaborative, not only because it cuts down on our amount of grading as writing teachers (an added bonus, we must admit), but because so much of what one does in the “real world” is indeed collaborative. And I usually do have one assignment each semester that can be done collaboratively, or one that I purposely created to be collaborative, like the group marketing project for my English 320 class. I don’t think doing any of these things is problematic since it is important we teach students how to effectively work together in groups. What I do wonder about, however, is how much we push collaborative learning in the classroom. Are we leaving out the introverts? Are we stressing them out further? Are we causing them unnecessary anxiety?

I think back on how I used to, and still occasionally do, react to group work in the classroom. While I don’t mind it, I do dislike it when it becomes overdone. This happens if I come to a class and every class period involves a heavy dose of group work. When this happens, I begin to yearn for a lecture where I can sit quietly and take notes and think. I start to romanticize the lengthy lecture professors sometimes give, even though they typically do not constitute what many of us consider good pedagogy today. The point is, after too much group work, I become exhausted, slightly angry, and rarely, but occasionally, apathetic toward that specific classroom environment.

The problem with my feelings, however, is that I am guilty of doing similar things as a teacher. I have students do what I consider is quite a bit of small group work in my classroom. Sure, I often break this up with mini lectures and individual activities. I even often allow students to choose their own group members, and they usually have no problem with this, being juniors and seniors. They easily group themselves together. And I have noticed that when they get to choose their group members, they often are more engaged than when I choose their group members for them. But all the same, I can’t help but wonder if the quieter students are getting frustrated with the levels of group work, even though I do try to break it up with other activities. I know as a student I would feel this way from time to time, even in the way I structure my own classroom.

So as I was thinking of this I grew concerned that our present learning environment is problematic for introverts. I did some surface level research on this and found out the way we teach isn’t necessarily fantastic for extroverts, either. For example, most of our assignments are individual assignments. We also tell students they need to study, which is often a solitary activity, or  at least traditionally speaking it is a solitary activity. We also ask students to be quiet and work independently a fair amount of the time, even if our current pedagogy is collaborative in the classroom. Like I said, they still have to create most of those assignments alone and they still take tests independently.

To be fair, I did try to change a lot of my pedagogy this semester in consideration of the quiet kids. For example, I often emailed discussion questions for class a couple days before they were to be discussed. I had a couple of my introverted students tell me they appreciated me doing that for them, since they know they take more time to think than other students do. And this isn’t because they aren’t as smart, but there really is a biological difference in the brains of introverts and extroverts.  I also asked students to send me a professional email where they discussed how they participated in class, with a few examples, and articulate to me the grade they felt they earned because of that. Of course, most students claimed they earned an A, but from these emails I did learn a lot about my students and how they felt they had participated. The quieter students talked about writing a lot during free write activities or talking more in small groups or coming up with ideas during group work that were instrumental in the completion of the activity. They also talked about how they helped other classmates solve problems. These two changes I made, I feel, really did help the quieter students. It also allowed the introverted students to speak up more, so I wasn’t constantly hearing from the 3-5 overly social extroverts in the class.

Still, I feel there is more I could do. I still feel guilty about how we push collaboration so much in the classroom and in ways that are so directly collaborative. What I want to start thinking about are more ways we can be collaborative, and yet be a little more subtle about it or quieter about it. Perhaps doing some online discussion boards or using other forms of social media for discussion will help. That way, the quiet students can participate more freely and without having to speak up in a classroom of 22 students. They will still be doing this, only on their own terms and from the comfort of their laptop. I understand it is important to push collaborative work, but I think collaborative work is a more loaded term than we immediately consider.

So, here are some solutions that I thought of during this post:

  1. Simply ask students how they feel they learn, and politely ask them to forget what they know about learning. Make them think of a time where they had to learn something new. How did they do it? Why did it work for them?
  2. Ask students what they value in collaboration. Work from this and build a discussion from the responses. Incorporate the findings into pedagogy.
  3. Ask students for feedback during the course and collaborative work. Check in. Maybe this will help us with what I discuss above, for both personality types.
  4. Have some individual work included in the group work. As a teacher, we could make this information clearer and help with assigning certain tasks and have students give us some feedback regarding this. A big problem here would be making it seem as if we are micromanaging them in their group work, though.
  5. Have students work on something individually and then create something collaboratively from the individual work. This might be a really good exercise for everyone.

Teaching, introversion, and academia

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

I recently read this article titled “Screening out the Introverts” about introverts as teachers and the whole question of “why?” that introverted teachers sometimes get from students after talking about introversion/extroversion with the class and, essentially, doing a kind of “coming out” to them. (Though I always assume they can pretty much guess my personality type, but perhaps I am wrong. I’ve been told in certain circumstances that I “talk a lot.”)

There is a passage I particularly liked and related to well in here, though I related well to many:

A few sympathetic students tried to persuade me that my introvert result was a mistake. How could I stand in front of that room, leading that very conversation, smiling at them, without being an extrovert? The answer: careful planning, acting, and rationing my public appearances. Also, my introversion fades when I become comfortable with unfamiliar people (the first weeks of classes are a strain).

The above is pretty much how I get through life. 🙂 It isn’t just in teaching where I find myself “standing in front of a room,” after all. As an academic, I give multiple presentations a year that are not necessarily me in my role of teacher. I also have a rich life, believe it or not, outside of academia where I find myself in social situations that require various types of socialization and performance abilities. Basically, I need to talk to people and so I do and as a strong introvert, I honestly dislike talking to people I don’t know well. I have a few close friends and those people I will talk to quite a bit. In fact, I tend to talk to the point it might drive them half-crazy, or they may say that I am “talking their ear off” to use a popular idiom. The reason why I talk so much is because I know them and probably have known them for quite some time. Hence I am incredibly (and perhaps sometimes too) comfortable.

The last part of that quote, the comment about how it takes weeks to get comfortable with a class, is so painfully true to me. Those first few weeks are strenuous because as a teacher, you already have to show that authority. That has to come immediately, and I do have tricks for this (for example, I tend to “lay down the law” pretty quickly and I have had students tell me that I “scared them” in the first few weeks because I seemed “very strict.” I explained how I have to do that in order to gain authority, and they understood completely. They know I am not really that way. Embarrassingly, I am a softie. I even cry easily.) But even while I am acting all tough, it is just an act. And during that performance, I am working on simply getting comfortable with all of them in the room so that I can forge on and outwardly be more of who I am with them later on. (This seems all badly explained to me, but whatever. It is the end of the semester and I have other things on my mind right now.)

But it is frustrating to be an introvert in academia. People tend to create rumors about you (and there is no greater place for rumors than an English department.) In reality, if you want to know something about me, ask. I will probably tell you what you wish to know. Sometimes I honestly make things up about myself to see how far rumors go. (It is a hilarious experiment, really, and if you wish to be entertained, try it. Great fun!) People also tend to paint you as the following: weird, socially awkward, quiet (I am, but not always. Trust me.), misanthropic (a little reductive, don’t you think?), or just generally deviant in some way. Introverts, by the larger group, are never seen to be the person they really are. Is this unfortunate? yes, but it is unavoidable given the way introverts interact with their social groups.

At the end of the article, the author asks about how introverts cope with the demands of academia, assuming we all cope differently, and I suppose we do. We are all individuals and so we are all different. So this led me to think about how I cope with it. Here is a short list (and it is probably very short. I apologize.):

  • I avoid large group get togethers for the most part. Large groups are exhausting and usually those large groups are filled with people I normally do not associate much with. Why use that energy? I occasionally make exceptions, but not usually. I do this because a. I am not interested in being friends with everyone  (I know enough people) and b. if I am being social, I’d rather use that energy with people I enjoy being around. I know extroverts would see this as very limiting, but it really isn’t to someone like me. So sorry if you see it that way. (I do talk to strangers, by the way, but that is mostly small talk and I avoid small talk.)
  • I am selective about the friends I make. I know that may sound harsh. It is the way it is. And I think most people function similarly.
  • I set aside time to be alone and set aside time to be social. I stick with these times.
  • I give myself time to think about questions and discussions that occur in class. To be honest, class is this time for me to take in information and use it later. Class is almost like recreation for me because I listen to a lot of ideas and thoughts and let them stew in my mind for a while. Then I’ll write about them somewhere. And I am not alone in feeling this way. I’ve read articles about how people, such as musicians, use concert practice and other group practices as recreation. They enjoy the time and learn from it, but think of the real work being the work they do alone (individual practice and so on). I am the same way, only with writing and my other classwork. So though I see it as recreational, I am not being lazy or relaxed. I am thinking the whole time and taking the information I need to think about and use later on.
  • I eat lunch alone most of the time. I teach during lunch time and so when I get lunch it is also time to “get away.” And this actually works out really well for me.

I am going to end with the following quote from the article I linked to above:

Should academe be concerned that it loses many of its introverted graduate students? Do they not have something to contribute? Does selecting for extroverts favor a cult of charismatic leadership: a star system? Is Cain correct in her view that a profession that sorts out introverts selects for unwarranted enthusiasms for, say, the latest theories, technologies, and institutional practices without considering the consequences? Does it foster a winner-take-all system in which compassion and sensitivity have no place?

I think those questions are good ones. And to better explain the Cain question, what she talks about in her book is that people listen to those who are talking the most and/or most admire the things that are new instead of taking time to consider if it is useful, if it works, if it is realistic and so on. As someone who comes from the working class, I can tell you that our academic institutions only support classism and have unrealistic views of technological access. (Yes, I can certainly back this up if you are interested.) But of course, we have trouble admitting to this because so few people in academia seem to have experience with being in poverty, just as how few people have experience of being a more introverted person in a world that doesn’t value listening as much as it should or could or misunderstands why quieter people aren’t the ones talking.

Confessions of an Introvert

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The other night my friend John called me and I almost didn’t answer the phone. Each time I see “incoming call” on my phone I always hesitate. When my phone rings I always have the urge to run away from it or make excuses as to why I should not answer it.

I only answered because it was John and I had not spoken with him in a few weeks and, in the end, I was glad I did because we made plans to hang out at another time.

But the reason that I react this way to a simple phone call is because I’m an introvert. No, I am not antisocial because that behavior is antagonistic toward social situations, and to be truthful, I do my best to avoid conflict. I just prefer to be in solitude.

Introverts are not any of the following:

  • antisocial (aggressive/antagonistic)
  • maladroit  (we do like people, actually.)
  • shy (because shyness is anxiety about social situations and we are not necessarily anxious, we just get exhausted being around people)
  • Awkward (Introverts are not socially awkward. When you look up “introvert” it does not come with the words “socially awkward”. I think social awkwardness is just a matter of immature or maladjusted social awareness, and introverts are not maladjusted or immature by definition.)

Simply put, introverts are people who get tired of being around people. We do not gain our energy from being around others, like extroverts do. While both introverts and extroverts need “alone time”, introverts thrive on alone time.

But the truth of the matter is that much of the world is, or at least appears to be, extroverted. Also, society loves extroverts and much of the functions and activities of society is geared toward extroverted personalities. How wonderful.

Recently, I lamented with my friend Anthony about how though there has been talk of introverts in the news lately because of Susan Cain’s book Quiet. Even with this positive publicity, introverts are still misunderstood, ignored, and occasionally maligned by others. I think I even said introverts are “hopelessly maligned”, which sounds severe, I admit, but I think it is at least mostly true because it seems as if the “battle” between introvert and extrovert is a battle you just can’t win. In fact, Doc Mara once told me this and I nodded and understood, though I really had no idea as to the truth in his comment. Now, I think I am beginning to understand.

One of the reasons I am interested in voice comes out from being an introvert. I am the kind of person who thinks about if what she is about to say has value at all. If I am in a seminar class, I worry that I don’t talk enough and if I talk more than usual I can’t help but wonder if I have spoken up too often. But my main concern is always the relevance of my comments because I hate talking just to talk. When I speak to my students in the classroom, I am always careful about how I word things, so I realize I probably talk slower than many of their other professors who are extroverts and so easily go from one thing to another in a fluid manner.

That is the greatest thing I admire about extroverts—their almost spontaneous fluidity along with the fact that they are amazingly quick thinkers. It takes me a long time to make a decision, for example, but an extrovert will come to a decision almost immediately. Extroverts, I admire your quick responses. Seriously. Bravo.

And so when I showed a video in class today, which was Michael Strand’s discussion titled “Between Spaces: Art, Craft and Humanity” I noticed the first thing he identified with was being an extrovert. He talked about how he is the annoying type of person who wants to talk to you and get to know you, even if it is only for two minutes. He said, “I love people.”

Yes, we introverts also love people, but don’t think poorly of us if we don’t talk to you. We love people for the potential that people have to be creative, thoughtful, wonderful individuals, but just because we think these things doesn’t mean we want to hang out or even form a friendship with someone. Introverts, or at least I am, are notoriously picky about the friendships they choose to invest time in. (Note: if we choose not to be your friend or hang out with you, it does not mean you are a bad or inferior person.) Don’t think we are being maladroit or antisocial if we don’t come to your party because we probably have been at work or school all day and we are tired of people, or perhaps we have seen you all week and want the weekend to ourselves. If you walk past us in a crowded room (or even in a room that is not crowded), don’t be upset if we don’t notice you in enough time to say hello. We were thinking about something and perhaps trying to make an important decision or trying to further understand a newly learned concept. The point is that we were not trying to ignore you because we don’t like you or whatever, we just didn’t notice you because we were busy thinking.

I do appreciate Susan Cain’s book, even if it cannot change the world. I doubt it can, honestly, but perhaps giving a little more awareness to a personality type that isn’t the socialized ideal will be beneficial.

And no, I probably don’t want to join your committee or work collaboratively, but realize that it isn’t because I don’t see the value in those things. I do. I think any type of collaborative work has a place and time, however, and most of the time I prefer to work alone and be alone because when working alone I am at my most productive.


When the bullied becomes the bully

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

When I read this article from HuffPo this morning, I was not surprised by the findings. I admit to being bullied as a young person and I admit to being bullied as an adult. While I always thought that after public school bullying would cease, it never completely did. Mature adults do bully other adults, though the bullying is more matured (seems like a contradictory statement, I know) than the bullying of, say, a seventh grader. I’ve noticed that the bullying that occurs between adults is far different and I’ve witnessed multiple occasions where this has happened not only to myself, but to others I know, even in an academic environment where we pride ourselves on being open-minded, encouraging and thoughtful individuals. It happens in the underhanded comment, bullying disguised as humor, or outright aggressive behaviors.

Recently, I had to deal with bullying in my own classroom. During conferences, a student told me that one of the other students in her peer group made her feel “uncomfortable because of sexual jokes” and even going so far as to make fun of her last name. The student confessed that this individual had been in other classes with her and she had worked to mostly avoid this individual (who is another female, by the way, if that matters and I think it does). We talked about it and I have since talked to the student accused of the remarks who claims that is just her “trying to be funny.” I explained it wasn’t funny to her peer group members (I never said who lodged the complaint or made it obvious it was only one individual) and explained that during peer review one should stick to the work involved. I told her humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Though I didn’t disband the group, I thought about it, and if problems continue I will probably have to. But I feel that disbanding the group could make the bullying situation worse as I do believe the student who is the bully knows full well who lodged the complaint. But, at the same time, I can’t help but thinking if it is individualist ideology (solve your own problems) and a type of groupthink (we have to work with all kinds of people, so let’s practice now) that caused that decision and that best practice would just be to separate these students. But for now I am simply keeping a close eye on this group to make sure everything is comfortable for everyone and that peer group is productive and inclusive. I told the student who discussed the situation with me that if it continues, I need to know immediately and I believe she will comply with this.

But I can’t help but feel I could do more or that I have made the wrong decision, and I know it is the bullied individual in me that responds to this so strongly.

I want to tell you I am not a victim of bullying, or at least not the way we have read about it in the news. Think of the suicides that have resulted from bullying, which the documentary Bully in part focuses on. I realize media thrives on hype and groupthink, but the news is disturbing nonetheless. When the shootings were first reported in Ohio earlier this week, many suspected bullying where the bullied became the bully. This certainly happened with Littleton, CO in 1999. I remember when the news broke because I was “sick” that day and I was able to watch the events unfold on CNN in my parents’ living room.

In a way, I doubt many of us are not guilty of bullying to some extent, but there is evidence that suggests bullied kids become bullies as adults, or at least have a higher likelihood of bullying. Part of this is the revenge factor. A bullied kid does desire revenge and that is in part human nature. Another part is the self-esteem issue: we need to belittle someone else in order to raise ourselves, which is really ridiculous if you think about it. Either way, you would think the bullied would be more sympathetic or empathetic to others who are bullied, but not really because being a bully equals power. People like bullies. Look at some of the people who are popular or well liked in the media. I would argue a few of these are bullies. Look at some of the people at work or at school who seem to be admired. Some of these people are also bullies.

But, like I said, bullying in adults is different, much different. As an introvert, I am a keen observer of behavior. I have overheard almost whispered comments or things said under one’s breath about someone. I have seen bullying disguised in humor. I have seen colleagues leave a room laughing together at the expense of another colleague, though I hate to admit this here. This behavior is unacceptable.

I wish I had solutions, but I don’t and I think right now that is what many are searching for: solutions. This occurs through activism and non profit organizations geared toward helping others deal or work through situations regarding bullying. But do I have answers? No, of course not. As I told my friend Anthony recently, people suck. Though I admire people and have so much hope for the creativity and ingenuity of the other humans around me, I realize how cruel people can be. How thoughtless. And I have seen it throughout my whole life and sadly, I don’t expect it to change.

But I do expect we will keep talking about it and trying to do something about it as we build further awareness around it because let’s be honest, this is counterproductive to everything we as humans could achieve together.