From cooperative learning groups to school cafeterias and homecoming pep rallies, today's schools seem designed for gregarious extroverts—both students and teachers alike. But what about introverts? Do they have the necessary teacher characteristics to succeed in this profession? Or would introverted teachers feel too much like a fish out of water?
What Is an Introvert?
Many successful teachers are self-described introverts, and one of the biggest misconceptions about this personality type is that they're shy. In her TED Talk, "The Power of Introverts," best-selling author Susan Cain explains the difference.
"Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation," said Cain, who's an introvert herself. "Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive, their most switched-on, and their most capable, when they're in quieter, more low-key environments."
Kids Are Not the Problem
Self-identified introverts admit teaching may pose challenges, but those challenges are seldom with the students. Other parts of the job can be much more nerve-racking.
"I'm an introvert," said Liz Barry, a reading intervention teacher from Milwaukee, WI. "It doesn't affect my teaching or talking to parents, but I can tell around coworkers. Large groups of coworkers especially."
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Karen Covington, a transition/life skills teacher for 18- to 21-year-olds in Bakersfield, CA, agrees. "I can barely call and order my own pizza," she said. "I have to drag myself to special occasions, and can barely stand among my peers when asked to talk about something, but put me in a room full of kids, and I have zero problems."
Communicating with coworkers, parents, and other adults can be stressful, but thanks to technology, teachers are now better able to manage this aspect of the job. Preferring time to think or craft written responses, many introverts find that communicating through digital platforms, including e-mail, helps them express their opinions and ideas, while avoiding the awkwardness they might feel during face-to-face interactions.
Finding Freedom in the Classroom
Unstructured times, such as time spent in hallways or the lunchroom, can be overstimulating and draining for introverts. But once inside their classroom, teachers are the CEO of the class. Many introverts enjoy the freedom of planning their own day and structuring their classroom environment.
Alex Rose, a high school special education teacher from Owatonna, MN, describes herself as an outgoing introvert. She embraces the freedom of teaching in a classroom. "I find that lessons where I plan to be a little crazy—like a couple days ago, when I danced around the room with my trash can—work well for me. I get uncomfortable doing lecture-type teaching, but I love being so silly that it almost forces engagement."
Some introverts naturally feel more relaxed around students, while others find teaching to be like performing on stage, which allows them to temporarily express a more extroverted or silly side of themselves. "I'm definitely an introvert," said Amber Seck, an elementary school counselor from Paola, KS. "But working with kids feels different, and I can make a fool out of myself without problem, and laugh while I'm doing it."
Consider Nontraditional Teaching Spaces
Now, becoming a regular education teacher with a class of 30 students may not be the best fit for every introvert. All the introverts interviewed for this article described their teacher characteristics as better suited for jobs in settings other than traditional classroom.
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"I teach in a self-contained class of nine kids with five aides," said Susan Jeltsch, a special education teacher in Vancouver, WA. "It's much better than when I taught 30 kids. There were literally days when it was so overwhelming that I didn't even get a chance to check in with my quieter students."
Self-Care Is a Must
Teaching can be stressful and exhausting for anyone, but particularly for introverts. Whether it's prep time during the day or quiet time at home, introverts must take care of themselves and seek out the solitude they need to recharge.
"Taking care of myself outside of school is important," Jeltsch said. "I need lots of sleep, exercise, and alone time in order to keep up with the demands of this job."
Introverts can be teachers. They may not lead school assemblies or direct the marching band, but they play a critical role in every school. If you're an introvert who's passionate about teaching, don't hold yourself back—go for it!