I am an introvert.
I have also been a teacher for over twenty years. When I first started teaching in my twenties, I didn’t really think I would stick with it or love it. As a student, I hated standing in front of my peers to give a presentation. I was always super prepared and had all of my visual aids and notes ready but as soon as I got up in front of everyone I started to sweat and all of my confidence disappeared. I would start to speak quickly in order to get it over with as soon as possible and I silently pleaded with my audience not to ask any questions. I also really liked to work alone. It is not that I didn't like my peers, I did, but when it came to working and studying, I preferred to do it by myself, at least initially.
I became an ESL/EFL teacher because I loved learning Spanish and I wanted to travel. As far as teaching went, I just didn’t want to be totally awful and I was willing to work hard in order not to be, but I never really thought I would enjoy it. I thought it went against my introverted nature. Over the years however, I discovered that I could use my introverted traits to my advantage as a teacher.
Great teachers, whether they are introverts or extroverts, recognize their strengths and use those strengths to create courses that serve their students’ needs.
A sure way to fail and not enjoy teaching is by trying to force yourself to be someone you are not. As a beginning teacher, I often looked over at my extroverted colleagues with a bit of envy. Observing how comfortable they were in front of their students and wishing I felt that way too. Even though I am no more extroverted now than I was then, I have achieved a certain level of ease when talking in front of groups because I have done it so often. I enjoy it now to the point where I am relaxed, I smile and can joke with my students with confidence. My current students are often shocked when I tell them how shy I was as a student. What I feel I have accomplished as an introverted teacher however, is not that I can now pass for an extrovert, rather it is that I have found ways to use my introverted traits to improve my students’ learning.
How my Introverted Traits have Helped me as a Teacher
Trait 1: Introverts enjoy being alone.
If you look for images of teachers you will usually find a picture of someone standing in front of a class or working closely with small groups and individuals. While this is certainly part of the job, it is also true that teachers spend a lot of time alone planning lessons and grading papers. Many people don’t like this part of the job but as an introvert, I love it! Spending hours putting together materials specifically aimed at my students needs makes me happy and when I get student assignments back, I relish sitting back with a cup of hot chocolate to enjoy their efforts.
Trait 2: Introverts shy away from the spotlight.
In the beginning, the hardest part of teaching for me was when I was in the spotlight. This made me look for ways to turn the spotlight on my students as quickly as possible. For my extroverted students, this was great, they had plenty of opportunities to shine. It was also great for my introverted students because they had to take a more active role in their own learning. They couldn’t sit back and listen to me talk, they had to engage in conversations with their classmates and practice the target language.
Trait 3: Introverts like listening.
One of the great joys for me in a classroom is to join a small group discussion and just listen to my students speak. I love asking questions just so they will keep talking. I have also found that the ability to listen is important when something goes wrong. When a student stops coming to class, homework is late, students are not understanding something or not able to apply what they are learning, it is super important to be able to really listen to what my students are saying. Quickly jumping to conclusions like “They are just lazy.” or “They aren’t paying attention.” rarely solves the problem, listening does. Most of the time there is a reason for whatever is happening and that reason is coming from the students’ points of view so for me to really understand the problem and fix it, I need to be able to hear what they are saying.
Trait 4: Introverts tend to be humble.
We don’t think we know all of the answers or that we are always right even when we are the teachers. This is a great trait to have because it means we can, and do, give students autonomy. I often assign my students creative projects. When I write an assignment I have an idea of what I think the students’ work will look like but often they surprise me. They understand my directions in ways I never thought of, and that thrills me because it gives me new ideas. Instead of telling my students they have done it the wrong way, I usually ask them to explain what they have done and why they did it like that. By giving them the freedom to interpret things their own way, I am allowing them to take ownership of their own learning and gain confidence in themselves. I often thank them for showing me new ways of thinking.
Trait 5: Introverts notice and empathize with other introverts.
It is easy for teachers to overlook introverted students because they are usually not clamoring to get attention. They tend not to raise their hands or demand that you listen to them and as an introverted teacher, I can totally understand why. I never raised my hand when I was a student either because the thought of exposing myself to the judgement of the entire class put knots in my stomach. I was usually getting a lot out of class though because I really was listening to what other people, including the teacher, were saying. As a teacher, I appreciate that in my introverted students. I know they are participating even if it doesn’t look like they are. I also know that with the right kind of encouragement and support, they can share their thoughts and opinions even in big group settings.
I always think twice before asking my students to do something like make a presentation in front of class. This doesn’t mean I won’t assign it, but it does mean that I make sure that everyone, including me, understands why I am asking them to do it, and I make sure my introverted students have strategies and support while they are doing it. You can find some of those strategies here 7 Ways to Help your Students Speak with Confidence Even if they Feel Like Crawling Under a Chair.
Extroverts also have so much to offer as teachers and I really enjoy watching them work and learning from them. Weather you are an extrovert or an introvert, it is important to take care of yourself, recognize your strengths and always keep learning and growing. In my next blog post I will be exploring some of the wonderful things I have learned from my extroverted colleagues.
How do you think being an extrovert or an introvert has affected how you teach? Please share your experiences in the comments!
Further Resources for Introverted Teachers
For more thoughts and ideas on teaching ESL/EFL, check out these posts.
Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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