7 Tips for Making it as an Introvert in the Teaching Profession11 March 2020 / By Nathan Falde Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 11, 2020
Teaching is an attractive profession for people who prize learning, and for those who like to help others grow and advance. The best teachers have a passion for their topics and truly enjoy passing their knowledge on to eager students. They even embrace the challenge of trying to reach underachieving students, believing that all young people have innate abilities and the potential to achieve.
While teaching might be attractive to any personality type, many assume the teaching profession is best suited to extraverts. Teachers give lectures and lead discussions, and must frequently communicate directly with individual students and their parents.
But the qualities that define an excellent teacher are not reserved to Extraverts. Introverts are just as likely to possess those qualities, which include thoughtfulness, empathy, selflessness, open-mindedness, good listening skills, advanced organizational skills, and a yearning for learning that cannot be quenched.
If you recognize yourself in that description, a teaching career could be your destiny. But Introverts face challenges—and disappointments—if they fail to take their personality into account. Your introversion really could hold you back if you try to ignore it or pretend it isn’t a factor.
The good news is that with smart strategies and the right attitude, you can be highly successful as a teacher, at whatever level you are to teach at. Your introversion can actually be a positive rather than a negative as long as you customize your approach to the job based on your personal needs. Here are some ideas that can help you do that.
Involve students more directly in the educational process
One way to reduce your need to lecture and present in front of the class is to delegate more responsibility to students. For example, you can put students in charge of group activities, letting them lead while you observe and occasionally offer advice or insights.
Another tactic to involve students more deeply is to ask them open-ended questions that require exposition and discussion. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ questions, or questions that only have one possible answer, will keep your classes teacher-centered rather than student-centered. This isn’t good in any case and might be especially undesirable for you.
Ideally, teachers should be facilitators instead of lecturers, regardless of their personality type. Taking this approach will lighten your speaking load, even as it makes your classes more participatory and more interesting. It will also show your students that you respect them and are interested in hearing their opinions, and they in turn will have more respect for you.
Create decompression spaces both at school and when in transit
Many people mistakenly believe that Introverts don’t like socializing. In fact, they are perfectly fine communicators in most situations. But they can only take so much before they begin to feel stressed and overwhelmed. As an Introvert, it is vital that you make time for yourself during the school day to rest, refresh, and relax.
Many teachers spend break times in the teachers’ lounge, socializing. But it might make more sense for you to enjoy some private moments instead, in locations where you won’t be bothered. The idea is to create safe spaces where you can decompress by reading, writing, drawing, meditating, or otherwise spending some quiet time alone, which for you would be an essential survival strategy. If you have an office at school, that can function as one retreat space. The library is another good possibility, as are outdoor areas on campus where foot traffic is light.
On your way to work, and returning home, consider switching off the music or the talk shows completely, to make the environment as tranquil and soothing as possible. If you can get to school or back home on a less traveled route, go ahead and take it, even if it extends your commute time for a few minutes.
The idea is to make your environment as peaceful and stress-free as possible at different times during the day. This will allow you to unwind and reset, which is necessary if you have to spend time in crowded, noisy locations. Like inside a school, for instance.
Teachers have many opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, as coaches, club leaders, event organizers, monitors, chaperones, and more. This is expected and is usually seen as part of the job.
Some introverted teachers try to overcompensate by becoming too involved in such activities. They think it will help them fit in more, and prove that they’re fully engaged and involved in school life.
While this eagerness is understandable, when you aren’t motivated by genuine enthusiasm you shouldn’t volunteer. The best way to handle extracurricular activities is to volunteer sparingly, and based entirely on your personal interests.
When you’re passionate about something, whether it’s sports, theater, debate, music, or any other activity, volunteering will be an enjoyable experience and not a burden. Your introversion likely won’t be much of a factor if you’re pursuing an activity that brings you pleasure or satisfaction. And even if there are the occasional awkward or uncomfortable moments, where you feel pushed to speak or socialize more than you’d like, the rewards will be more than worth the sacrifice.
Another option is to volunteer primarily for activities that are appropriate for Introverts. In other words, for work that doesn’t require much if any socializing. This could involve behind the scenes work at various schools events, preparing flyers or other printed materials for distribution, working on cleanup or decorating projects, or answering email inquiries from parents or other sources, just to list a few of the possibilities.
Make use of digital communication whenever possible
In the past, you could only communicate with students, parents, administrators, and other teachers face-to-face or over the phone. But now, digital communication provides multiple options for exchanging information or answering questions that don’t require direct contact.
These days, nearly everyone else is communicating by email, text, social media, or messaging apps, meaning what you’re doing will seem completely normal. In fact, others will likely appreciate your efforts and praise you for making things easier on them.
Obviously, you can’t use emails or WhatsApp messages to replace most normal teaching-related duties. Most of your contacts with others pertaining to education will still take place the old fashioned way. But you can cut down on the frequency of your direct, in-person communication requirements by incorporating digital options into your contact portfolio.
Speak openly and honestly about your introversion with other teachers and administrators
When you are friendly, polite and considerate, that will earn you respect regardless of how often you engage others in animated conversation. If you are open about your need for quiet time, or alone time, or about the anxiety you feel when you’re overburdened with too much responsibility, your colleagues won’t hold it against you.
Regardless of their personalities, all teachers recognize the stresses and frustrations associated with their jobs. No one will question your absences in the teachers’ lounge, once they know the real reasons why you aren’t always a part of the group. Other introverted teachers in particular will understand your preferences, and they might be inspired enough by your honesty to start following your example.
A lighthearted, self-deprecating approach may be the best way to raise the topic with others initially. If you show others you aren’t taking your introversion all that seriously, they won’t take it all that seriously, either. Humor relaxes everyone, and that makes it something you can use for your benefit.
Investigate jobs teaching online or in smaller schools
Teaching has traditionally been associated with face-to-face contact in brick-and-mortar settings. This is still the normal environment in which most teachers function, but the rapid expansion of online learning opportunities is changing the rules of the game, rapidly and irrevocably.
About one-third of all students have taken at least one virtual course, while nearly one in six are now attending school entirely online. Colleges, high schools, middle, and elementary schools that offer online coursework, either partially or exclusively, are hiring new teachers all the time, and this could be an attractive option for you as an Introvert.
Live interactions with students take place in virtual classrooms, where your control over the classroom environment is more extensive and where you can use online tools to enhance your teaching capacities. The environment is social but less intimate and noisy. This gives you a natural buffer zone that would be missing in a normal classroom setting.
Another possibility is to seek employment at schools in small towns and rural areas. You can expect to find less crowded classrooms and a generally more peaceful atmosphere in these schools, which have trouble attracting teachers in many instances and would be pleased to know of your interest.
If you’re attracted to the idea of smaller class sizes and fewer distractions, teaching at private schools could be another option. Many private schools have a specialized focus, like Montessori or Waldorf, that might appeal to your creative side.
Embrace your introversion as a positive characteristic
When you’re an introverted teacher, strategies are important. But attitude matters just as much if not more.
Your introversion is not a problem to be solved. It is your natural personality and an essential part of who you are. You shouldn’t see it as something to cope with or overcome, but as a reality to adjust to out of respect for yourself and your needs.
Taking this attitude will help you become a better teacher, since you’ll be taking action to ensure you’re able to perform at an optimum level. A stressed out teacher is an ineffective teacher, and you’ll serve no one’s best interests by trying to repress your introversion or denying (to yourself or to others) how it affects you.
Be yourself and be a great teacher
The idea that Introverts aren’t suited for teaching is a stereotype based on outmoded concepts. If you give it any credence, you’ll try to be someone you’re not in the classroom, which will sabotage your performance and eventually lead to burnout.
You can be yourself and still enjoy a wonderful teaching career. In fact, being yourself is one of the prime requirements to make it happen. Your idealism and your passion for working with young people are defining characteristics. Your introversion is simply a personality trait that will only interfere with your teaching career if you let it.
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