Hugh Reilly: Meek shall inherit an easier time

Abu Qatada (L) prepares to board a plane to Jordan at RAF Northolt. Picture: Getty
Abu Qatada (L) prepares to board a plane to Jordan at RAF Northolt. Picture: Getty
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STRIDING up the steps to the jet, Abu Qatada cut quite a reserved figure. Sitting alone at a much-sought after window seat, the demand of the UK’s most unwanted man that the Foreign Office pay for a Speedy Boarding pass seemed a tad redundant.

For someone whose chances of a fair trial in Jordan are as likely as him receiving a mid-flight invitation to join the Mile-High Club, I had expected the preacher of intense dislike (hate is such a pejorative word) to exude the palpable edginess of Danish cartoonist aboard an open-top bus tour of Cairo.

I may be going out on a limb here but I’m speculating that having an introverted personality is regarded as a somewhat eminently suitable quality by the Human Resources department of most terrorist organisations; sadly, in the cut-throat competition for posts in this industry, garrulous applicants usually fall at the first hurdle, either due to asphyxiation or gunshots to the left temple. Should a career in international terrorism not hold any allure, there are other occupations for weak-kneed, silent types. For example, a quiet individual with poor interpersonal skills, who recoils in horror at the very thought of communicating face-to-face with people, could obtain a secure future as an administrator in the trade union movement, signing up strangers for membership of local Labour parties.

Whenever the BBC announces a news item on education, the stereotype image of an all-singing-all-dancing teacher moving around the room like a whirling dervish fills the screen. Film footage of the classroom of a slightly reclusive teacher where Sir is ensconced at his desk perusing his lesson plans and pupils are engaged in a reading activity just isn’t ‘sexy’ for broadcasters. However, the media’s portrayal of the teaching profession being monopolised by extroverts is misleading. In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain points out that one third of the population is comprised of introverts.

In schools, as in other institutions, Cain feels that introverts are not valued. According to her, introverts suffer discrimination, losing out in the promotion stakes – being “upbeat” and a “team player” would seemingly rule out timid teachers.

It’s only anecdotal but in my opinion introverted teachers have an easy time of it in schools. On days when my gas was at an abnormally low peep, miffed youngsters would enquire as to the source of my perceived moodiness. Repeated denials of being upset only oiled the wheels of the rumour mill as to what had triggered this melancholic episode: my wife had left me/ decided to stay with me, I had been spotted in a bar that caters for the flamboyant male community, planning permission for a granny-flat that would allow my mother to reside at my address had been approved.

At retirement ceremonies for departing staff, chalkies with outgoing personalities are expected to crack the funnies while the introverted mafia sit unsmilingly, the omertà mob taking passive aggression to new, intimidating heights. At parents’ evenings, the school management team demands my sort put mums and dads at ease with witty banter about their problematic progeny. A few desks away, a pedagogical hermit monotonically rhymes off a pupil’s report while simultaneously seemingly to be acutely interested in checking the number of shoes he is wearing. Incredibly, some dullard parents misinterpret the disconcerting lack of eye contact and a dalek voice pattern to be signs of a serious professional rather than early indications of a mental illness.

With its emphasis on scissors, posters, coloured pens, non-sniffable glue and classroom presentations, the Curriculum for Extroverts, sorry, Excellence, puts shy children at a disadvantage. When asked to deliver a short exposition to their peers, many kids say nothing and appear sheepish – more reticent to speak than Johann Lamont on the Falkirk farrago.

Apparently, extroverts live off the energy of noise-filled rooms and large-group interaction whereas introverts thrive in one-to-one situations. With the closure of rural schools in the tundra-afflicted regions of Scotland, teaching opportunities for meek geeks have become conspicuously limited.

Listens closely, one can hear an almost inaudible whimper against the education machine.