May 13, 2014

Introverts Make Great Teachers

Red apple clipart
In this article, I'm going to talk about a paradox of the introverted mindset, and how it relates to one of the oldest and most ubiquitous professions in the world: teaching. There are no pre-requisites for this lesson. :)

If the thought of public speaking or lecturing a class makes you want to leave the room via the closest exit, I don't blame you. Naturally, the thought of being the center of attention for a group of people for an entire day should stir up feelings of anxiety for introverts and extroverts alike. There is another perspective on the subject, however, that may help you quell those feelings of anxiety if you ever find yourself in that situation, just as I do on a regular basis.

Years ago, on a whim, I decided to accept a teaching assignment to help a small group of people learn a new software tool that I was a very proficient user of. Almost immediately after I said "yes", the reality of what I had just accepted sunk in, and my over-imaginative mind began to find ways to convince me that I just signed a contract to make a complete ass of myself. At least my students, I thought, would be well entertained for the day.

Donkey speaks - Good Morning class!
A strange thing happened when I began to deliver the course, and officially became a teacher for the first time. After enduring the obligatory state of nervousness and those feelings of not belonging in front of a room of people staring at me (an unnatural situation for many), a remarkable sense of calm flowed through my body, and I felt reaffirmed in my decision. It has taken me the better part of a decade to figure out what that feeling was all about, and since then I have probably trained in excess of a thousand students.

If the title of my blog hasn't given it away, I am an introvert, and probably an extreme introvert at that. For this reason, as a rule you won't find me in situations that require a lot of small talk, or mingling with people in a large group. If you are a fellow introvert, you can probably relate to wanting to avoid these types of situations. If you do happen to find yourself in this scenario, do you ever wish that you could just slow down the relentless small talk and take control of the conversation, instead of struggling to get even a tiny slice of your own ideas in?

If this is the type of conversation you are looking for, then teaching might be a good career option for you, because it is the ultimate way to participate in a conversation where you are expected, even encouraged, to fully elaborate on your ideas and explain intricate concepts to a group of eager participants. In some ways, being a teacher is an introvert's paradise, because you have the opportunity to deliver new ideas and fresh perspectives into the world, by giving them the time and attention they deserve.  As introverts, we are rarely impatient with our words, we have a deep respect for needing to convey meaning and truth when we speak, and we take great care in helping others understand our ideas.  This is also what good teachers do.

As rewarding as the teaching profession can be, however, getting in front of a group of people and interacting with them all day can also be physically exhausting for an introvert, so taking care of your energy levels before and after instructing a class is of equal importance. Thankfully though, this is a manageable issue, and the benefits can far outweigh the costs if you are teaching a subject in which you want to attain a mastery level of knowledge.  I also want to emphasize that there are certainly many great teachers out there who are highly extroverted, and this article is not meant to suggest in any way that extroverts cannot also be excellent teachers.  I am only trying to explain, from an introvert's perspective, how our personality traits can be leveraged in the classroom to help us become better at our jobs, in our own unique way.

Like an athlete, a teacher is only as good as their last performance, and a skilled teacher will learn as much from their negative experiences in the classroom as they will from their positive ones. In my own journey, I realized that I needed to develop a better understanding of what assets I bring into the classroom, as a subject matter expert and as an introvert. Every day that I teach, I try to remind myself of how I am creating value for my students, by leveraging my ability to intimately understand technical concepts and explaining them in ways that are rich and accessible to everybody in the classroom. This is what deep thinkers do. This is what introverts do.

What do you think?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks Anna! Great to hear that my own experiences in teaching were helpful for you in your decision. Have fun and best of luck! :)