Shania is painfully shy. She does her hair and make-up and clothes meticulously, even provocatively, but her shyness renders her mute. She never speaks in a group, no matter how small. In fact, if I didn’t actively engage her in conversation while the class is doing student-directed activities, she might go through the whole school year without saying anything. When she does speak, her voice is so soft that I have to listen intently to understand her.
Whenever the class breaks up to get into study groups, she just stays in her chair, hoping, I guess, that I won’t notice. I sit down next to her, and ask her if there is a problem.
“I work best by myself,” she says.
“Well, Shania, I’m afraid that’s going to be hard to do in this class. So much of what we do is talking to each other. If you are by yourself, you can’t have those conversations.”
“That’s alright,” she says, “I can answer all the questions at the back of the chapter by myself.”
I try a few more arguments to see if I can get her to budge, but she is adamant, and I realize that I have to tread carefully here. My instincts tell me forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to do at this moment might have lasting repercussions.
“Okay, Shania, you work by yourself today. But would you be willing to meet with me outside of class to talk about how we can compromise about this? I don’t think it’s okay for you to never work with other students - you would miss way too much - but maybe we can find a way for you to be comfortable with some work together. What do you think?”
For the first time since I sat down, she looks at me and says, “Okay.”