In a year, I have to deal with at least 40 students who are shy. Even at the end of the academic year, they remain shy. How do I get them to open up?
First of all, it is important that teachers make a distinction between a quiet student and a shy student. Many a time, a quiet student is also erroneously labelled shy. A quiet student is one who participates in class rarely but is otherwise comfortable with herself and with other people. A shy student, on the other hand, feels uncomfortable, no matter what the situation is – whether she is being questioned by the teacher, her classmates or even when trying to enjoy herself. The student is besieged by a feeling of being unable to perform in front of audiences, both familiar and unfamiliar. The teacher can play a positive role in helping such a student surmount these feelings to become more proactive.
At the very start of the year, explain to your students that it is all right to be shy initially since they don’t know you and don’t know each other. Talk about celebrities and great personalities who were shy as children. Discuss the strategies used by these people to overcome their shyness in order to achieve what they wanted. Most shy children imagine that they will continue to be in the shadow of other people perpetually; this bubble has to be burst by you!
It is easy to target children who are noisy and articulate because they help you get your class going. Focusing on the shy students takes a great deal of time and energy on the part of the teacher because it can be very challenging and time consuming. A smile from you, a comment, a gentle, easy question put forth to these students will make them understand that talking in class or communicating with an unfamiliar person isn’t so painful after all! Give these children a task to do every day so that they interact with you and the rest of the class. This will unwittingly induce them to talk to you and their fellow students, while at the same time facilitate your tasks. Remember to target the ones that are not terrified of being in class! There are degrees of shyness and you need to first focus on the ones that are open to being prodded.
Allot tasks such as closing the classroom door once the bell rings and the students are in. You could easily tell the student, “X, could you from today on close the door once the bell rings, please? Otherwise we do have to deal with the noise outside. Thank you. I would really appreciate that.” The last sentence sends out the message clearly that the student is going to be performing a task to help the teacher. That is enough to instil confidence in the student and make her feel good. She will get accustomed to moving around in class.
The student could also be asked to collect the homework/assignment books of other students. This task would have to be given to the student who doesn’t dread interacting with students who haven’t brought their homework books to school. This could prove threatening, so you could tell the student, “Could you from today on collect the homework/assignment books? It would be such a great help. In case you run into someone who hasn’t brought it in… I’ll take care of it.” The sentence will only get rid of the nervous jitters of how to handle the impossible situation of a rebellious student.
Converse with the shy students in your class every day, even if it means only complimenting them on an item they are wearing or carrying. However, make it casual and move on to the business in hand so that the student does not go into a panic of how to respond to the compliment paid. First allow the student to get used to being in the company of people and then teach her how to respond. Everything cannot happen at once; this will trigger anxiety attacks.
Persuade parents to participate in gearing up their child for the world. Have them play games with their children, in which the children have to raise their hands to answer a question. This will make them comfortable with their class tasks.
Tell parents to ask the child to read stories out aloud to them instead of reading to them. Children will get used to hearing their own voice and eventually learn to love it!
Parents should also get their children to answer the phone, the door and do the ordering at restaurants. This will give them the opportunity to interact with total strangers, thereby making things easier in the classroom.
Children can also be encouraged to put up skits and plays with the other children in the neighbourhood. Once they overcome their shyness in a known environment, mingling in the classroom seems a less formidable task. Education ultimately is all about life skills and the teacher definitely plays a pivotal role!
The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at [email protected].