I read with interest your posting on the BAT blog. I teach high school students, but I both know and remember the issues you speak of.
You write very thoughtfully about the challenge of being a shy and quiet student in a classroom where participation is demanded of you, and let just say that it can really suck. Shy, quiet and introverted humans (the three groups overlap, but aren't necessarily identical) too often have to deal with folks who don't get it, who have never had those feelings, who think that these are traits to be "fixed" or "overcome." It is a big fat pain in the butt to deal with someone who thinks there is only one right way to share or express feelings and ideas. I have at various times in my life wondered how those outgoing, verbally expansive, participate-till-they-drop folks would like to be stuck in a class where students were expected to never participate, even when they wanted to. A hundred years ago, students like you were the star pupils-- quiet, respectful, never speaking up, always attentive and on task.
I appreciate you get how much teachers want-- and in some professional sense need-- to know what's going on in a student's head. But on this point you are absolutely correct:
Because you cannot change a person yourself. The second you start trying to is the second things go from normal to wrong, and the second my school day gets a little bit longer and a lot more unbearable. The class with the random participation clogs my thoughts and even when I’m happy, I’m anxious. Even after you called on me and my heart started pounding, I’m thinking about it. And it sucks.
Indeed. One of the very worst thing a teacher (or parent) can do is look at a young human and think "Boy, this would go really well if you could just be someone else. That's all I need-- just for you to fundamentally change how you go about being in the world." And while you say it's okay to have this kind of thought, as long as it's just a thought, I'm going to go one further-- it's not useful to even have that thought, because it's impossible to have that thought without having it color your action and behavior.
And it's big principle to grasp, because historically, we have screwed this one up over and over-- left-handed students, non-white students, students with various disabilities-- we have approached them both as an institution and as individuals with an attitude of, "First, we need you to change who you are." This is, in fact, one of my issues with modern charters-- far too many of them will only teach you if you are in the world the way they want you to be, and all others can just leave.
Our mission should be to find ways to teach students as the people they are. We teachers do have the job of figuring out what's going on in your studenty craniums, but it's a lazy cheat to say, "You have to show us that the one and only way we prefer." (One more reason using standardized tests to measure all of education is a crock.)
It's a never a wise teacher move to try to force students to do anything-- because we can't. When you were littler, we could trick you into thinking you didn't have a choice. Now you're old enough to know better. So I assume I can't "make" my students do anything-- but I can certainly try to nudge them in particular directions.
Having cheered you on for most of your piece, I will disagree with you on one point. You write
And I can almost guarantee that you have a handful of students (or peers, if you’re not a teacher) in your mind that match that same description. The kids who mind their business, take their notes, and leave. We don’t cause trouble. More often than not, we’re probably good students.
I'd hope that students in my classroom set their sights a little higher than just coming in, doing the basic of what's expected, keeping their head down, and leaving. Students who are merely compliant, who just show up and do what they're told-- those are not my idea of good students. That's a low bar to clear. I hope you set a higher bar for yourself in the future.
That said, as teacher, it's my job to make it possible and at least a little more comfortable for my students to do that. I provide a lot of different avenues for "participating," and I do my best to maintain an atmosphere that is safe and non-threatening, where students can do their thing without having to feel anxious. I don't claim to be perfect, and I'm not sure I want to be-- the biggest enemy of growth is comfort. But if you were sitting in my classroom this fall, my hope is that you would be less anxious and able to challenge yourself without having to feel forced to act like someone you are not.
Finally, I will meet my students for this year in about ten days, and I want you to know that I'll be thinking about your words as I work with them in the months ahead. I hope your school year is great.