Archive: Can introverts be successful teachers?

Originally published on the Teach First Community website, July 2013.

Yes, according to this very welcome article in last week’s TES.

Speaking as a lately self-diagnosed introvert, this comes as a great relief. Few people understand that the really important thing about the extrovert/introvert distinction is that the former get their energy from being around other people, whereas the latter tend to expend energy on social contact. Introverts are not necessarily shy or anti-social, but they usually find interaction (especially prolonged interaction with a large group of people) exhausting, and crave downtime to recharge their batteries. If this sounds familiar, you are probably an introvert (here’s a better explanation).

If you’re an introvert, the chances are that you found the social side of your first term at University a bit overwhelming. The same is probably true for your first weeks of Summer Institute (SI), where it can sometimes feel like you’re expected to spend all day with large numbers of chatty, outgoing, self-assured people, and the chances for “me-time” are few and far between.

As always, the first step to success is to know thyself. We introverts need to ration our energy carefully if we are going to make it to the end of week six. Above all, don’t feel guilty about separating from the group to find your own personal space. If you are worried about appearing anti-social, try explaining to other participants that you aren’t expressing a lack of interest in them, but that you would like to pick up the discussion at a later point. Introverts naturally love deep discussions in small groups and loathe small talk, so look for opportunities to talk with lots of different people in a more intimate setting. Remember: you will make a better impression if you keep your energy levels up and are able to listen with interest to what others have to say.

So much for SI: how will we introverts fare in the raucous, turbulent environment of real-world classrooms?

Introverts and extroverts each have natural strengths and vulnerabilities when it comes to classroom management and creating environments for learning. As with our peers, so with our pupils: it all starts from self-reflection. Introverted teachers: are more likely to pick up on cues for punishment than cues for reward; like to make time for introspection and expression arising from this; prefer peace and quiet(!); like to ask probing questions; and prefer one-to-one and small-group work over issuing direct instruction from the front of the class.

Virtually all of the behaviours listed above were noticed by the participants who observed the English lesson I team-taught this morning; some behaviours promoting effective learning, others hindering it. Whilst it is true that different routines and teaching styles will work for different teacher personalities, we are all going to have to do things like giving whole-class instructions at some point or another. Find a teaching style that plays to your strengths and devise strategies to help you cope with types of tasks that disorientate you. (For example, two of my EBI’s from today are to be more authoritative in getting the whole class to pay attention, and to model group-work so that my pupils know what I expect of them as independent learners.)

If there’s one thing i’ve discovered from my taste of teaching so far, it is that pupils are savvy; if you don’t feel confident in what you’re doing, they will pick up on your unconscious signals, and exploit any perceived weakness. As a trainee teacher, I don’t think that you can be consistently confident in what you are doing unless you have intimate knowledge of the boundaries of your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you should never leave your comfort zone, of course; you don’t have that luxury of choice. If you’re an introvert, plan your lesson to provide plenty of opportunities for small-group and one-to-one discussion and feedback, but also keep some tricks up your sleeve for pupils who prefer to perform for the whole class.

And if you need to lock yourself in the toilet to read a book for ten minutes afterwards, do it. You’ll (probably) be a better teacher for it.

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