Introverts as Language Teachers

A while back, there was an #eltchat about whether or not introverts could make good language teachers.  I have to admit that I am one of these people they were talking about.  Given the choice between a smashing good party on a Friday night versus a good book, I will take the book pretty much every time.  If you’re an introvert like me, social interaction tends to deplete your energy reserves.

Having a quick chat every now and then is okay but much more than that can be downright exhausting.  My batteries only manage to recharge once I have some quiet time alone.  I can see why people would tend to think such a person would not make the best language teacher.  After all, our job is to communicate, teach communication, and pretty much deal with people in a manner that is engaging for everyone. Considering all that, you would think the exact opposite of an introvert would be ideal for this kind of job.

However, I would have to say that being an introvert has helped me with teaching in some ways and, dare I say, given me a more rounded perspective on student needs in a language class.  Being an introvert, I can probably more easily spot the students in class who are like me.  They tend to sit at the back of the class, sometimes alone, and politely mind their business.

Put a worksheet in front of them and they’ll attack it with a passion.  Ask them to work in a group of other students and their face fills with unease.  Although many language teachers I know push themselves to have classes with as much student talk time as possible, I instead make tiny breaks in each lesson to give my fellow introverts a rest.  It doesn’t have to be anything crazy – a quick worksheet or a solo brainstorming exercise will do.  These little stops help to recharge their batteries and get them ready for the next bout of in-class socializing.  I never jump from one noisy activity to the next without a cooling down period.  I suppose if lessons are like music then mine would probably be grunge with the quiet-loud-quiet-loud pattern happening throughout.

Being an introvert also changes the way that I design activities in class.  For me, there are no speeches in front of the entire class.  If a presentation needs to be done, I will have the students present to each other in front of small groups scattered around the classroom in order to keep the intensity level down a bit.  I also tend to provide my students with more time to think before starting a conversation or group discussion.

For me, the spontaneity of interaction can be hard to deal with and I often end up fumbling when asked to think of something to say on the spot.  I find that if a student has had a little time to organize their thoughts, they might feel more comfortable dealing with others.  As an introvert, I find meeting new people to be very stressful at times and it takes me a long time to feel at ease with others.  In classes where there are lots of people who don’t know each other at first, I tend to slowly get the students to talk and work with each other over the course of three or four classes when we start off.

This tends to go against the grain of most first class “icebreaker” activities where students are thrown together in a mob and expected to get along just dandy.  As someone who has been on the outside of the mob looking in, I can appreciate how such an activity can actually serve to increase the feelings of isolation that an introvert might have coming into a communication or language class.

So as to the question of whether introverts can be effective language teachers, I would say a definite yes!  But don’t expect them to teach the same way that an extrovert would teach.   I know teachers are expected to mingle with the students and  I’m definitely open to any student who wants to talk but I usually design activities that aren’t “me-centered”.

I used to think students didn’t like me very much but I’ve started to understand that they just don’t know me very well because I almost never talk about myself or my life in class while other teachers are unafraid to do so and teach from a very personal place (which is totally fine).  Everyone has a different idea of where their own line between personal and professional boundaries exists and what’s important is that we are true to them.  It’s the only way to get through the end of each day while still respecting ourselves.

For some good follow-up reading about this issue, I would highly suggest this article, entitled “How introverts can thrive as teachers by Adi Bloom.  Great stuff!