As I stood in front of the class on my first day as a teacher, my knees were knocking - literally! How would I ever learn the names of the 33 students sitting in front of me? Would I be able to control a rowdy group? Had I prepared enough material? Would I be able to remember everything on my detailed outline for the first class?
Just like many of you who are reading this, I am an introvert. In a profession that seems to value extroversion - the gregarious, social, energetic teacher who is never at a loss for words - where do we introverts fit in? I've learned that introvert teachers do have a unique place. Here are some typical introvert attributes that can make you an outstanding teacher:
• Ability to plan communication and attend to details. Careful planning leads to effective teaching. It's valuable to think through presentations in advance. Remember: over-planning is better than no planning.
• Need for quiet and order. You can create a peaceful, respectful classroom atmosphere that promotes productive learning.
• Tendency to think before speaking. How many times have students' feelings been hurt by a teacher who thoughtlessly blurts out tactless comments? "Holding fire" - thinking first - helps introverts to avoid this sort of irreparable damage. Taking time to consider what you are going to say can also be of value in your collaboration with colleagues.
• Preference for one-on-one communication. The fact that you are an introvert doesn't mean that you won't be effective in front of a group of students. Instead, it can help you to see each student in the group as an individual. It can help you to tailor your instruction to every student's distinctive needs. Introverts make great mentors, as well as exceptional role models for introverted students.
• Desire (and respect) for privacy. This may help you avoid dangerous teachers' lounge gossip!
• Ability to draw energy from time alone. Use this to make profitable use of your solitary planning time. You'll be able to shut out the distractions that plague your extroverted colleagues.
• Tendency to burn out from too much social interaction. Sound like a deficit? It's not, when it helps you to participate in activities selectively instead of over-committing.
Of course, every good introvert teacher appreciates the need to take care of him/herself after the day ends, too. When you return home, reward yourself with interludes of down-time to regroup and re-energize. If you live with others, make sure they know how important it is for you to have some peace and quiet to recover from the chaotic school-day pace. Then, when you're ready, you can apply your natural focusing ability to grading papers and developing plans for the next day.
Schools are made up of students who are both introverts and extroverts. They need teachers that reflect each personality preference, too. As entertaining as an all-extrovert teaching staff might be, introvert teachers have essential contributions to make, too.
Don't regret your introversion...cherish it!
Dawn S. Jones
Online Advisor, Career Services
Northern Illinois University