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Short blog posts to communicate ideas, share experiences on language teaching and learning and reflect on the profession overall. Your comments and feedback are highly appreciated.

Monday, 30 October 2017 18:00

The Introverted Teacher: A curse or a blessing?


Teaching is a highly social profession that, besides lesson planning, requires constant interaction with students, colleagues and parents. So, one can easily assume that teaching might not be a wise career choice for an introvert. People often get that impression because they tend to associate introversion with shyness. However, introverts are not the kind of people who appear to be distant because they don’t enjoy getting into conversations. In fact, they do enjoy the company of others and the chats but in their own terms, which include small groups, meaningful conversations or chitchats with people they know well enough.

Being an introvert in a highly extroverted profession, such as teaching, might place you in a difficult situation, especially in a new working environment . Your colleagues might think you are clueless about what you are doing or even worse they might consider you a snob. These assumption are far from true and the only explanation is that introverts function differently. Brian Little mentions that, unlike extroverts, introverts need to have their stimulus level down in order to be able to cope with everyday tasks. What this means for teachers is, that instead of the buzzing staffroom , they will seek some restorative time in their classroom with their own kind of music on or a chat with a colleague they feel close to. Little refers to these times and places as ‘restorative niches’, where teachers revert to their introverted type after they have used their energy in the lessons or other social interactions. Once they regain their energy, they are ready to function in a high stimulus environment till they feel the need to resort to their own restorative niche again.

Surprisingly enough introverted teachers seem to be quite popular among students who think of them as outgoing and gregarious people. All teachers, whether they are introverts or extroverts, have their own ‘teacher persona’ and play a role when they enter the classroom. However, introverts need to put more effort into it and that’s why in the end the Oscar goes to them. A counter-argument to that is that teachers pretend to be someone they are not and therefore they are dishonest to their students. Being an introverted teacher myself, I never felt that I am deceiving my students. I play the role so that I can satisfy the students’ needs in the most positive environment and I think that they do appreciate the effort. I don’t think they would mind if they knew that after my lesson I resort to my own restorative niche with my cup of coffee and some music on. I don’t think I could have said it better than Little who says that introverted teachers ‘act out of character’ out of professionalism and love for their job.

As for the staff meetings with colleagues, introverted teachers make some time for themselves before they dive in. Attending a staff meeting straight after a lesson seems like a punishment to them. Staff meetings can be quite overwhelming for them especially if there’s not an agenda. Otherwise, they come well prepared. But still, the level of stimulus is quite high and there are so many things that go on in their heads. ‘Shall I interrupt?’,’ Can I object to what is being said?’, ‘Is my idea good enough?’.During the meeting they don’t generate lots of ideas but it might be the next day that they can come up with an idea they would like to share. They need more time to think things through and that’s ok. In every working environment employees are different. There’s always one who is late, one who dominates the conversation, one who is more spontaneous or out of topic. Still, all these different personalities coexist and sometimes they work miracles just because of this diversity.

Introverts make good teachers because of many different reasons. As previously mentioned, playing a role requires more effort on their behalf and therefore they spend more time planning their lessons in detail. They sometimes act out their lesson in their heads and visualize how they would present things in the classroom. At the same time, they are by nature more observant and astute in realizing what doesn’t work in the lesson or who is struggling and change the lesson to accommodate everyone. Introverts pay more attention to the individuals and they are considerate not only for the linguistic but also for the effective needs of their students. Though they are acting a role, they don’t like being the centre of attention and therefore students are playing the leading role.

Moreover, what introverts know how to do best is to reflect. Much of their restorative time is spent assessing their performance in order to become better. This benefits not only their students but also themselves. Knowing the flows of their lessons helps them become more efficient and saves them time from planning.
Research has also shown that introverts become better leaders. They are more interested in inspiring others that attracting attention. Therefore, introverted teachers can help students organize their studying or set up a plan that best works for them.

Being an introvert doesn’t make you a bad teacher. Being energized by the tranquility of your own classroom, instead of the staffroom, doesn’t make you a bad colleague. All teachers have their own little quirks to survive in a profession as demanding as teaching.

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