Why do we need more introverted teachers?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The benefits of having more introverted teachers:

It’s not a secret that teaching is a people’s profession. You’re not only dealing with up to 30 students at a time for the entire day but there is also a lot of contact with parents and an increasing expectation that teachers work collaboratively.

All of this social pressure is enough to exhaust anyone, and we need to make sure that we’re being proactive in looking after our own well-being. But this kind of exhaustion disproportionately affects introverted teachers.

Personally, I know several people who are in education-related professions. Many would make fantastic teachers, and they are told so regularly. However, they do not believe they can be a teacher. Some have considered studying to become a teacher but have been put off by the social demands of the job.

A lot of this cannot be avoided; after all, teaching is about interacting with students and building relationships with families. I’m incredibly extroverted, and I still come home at the end of the day not wanting to talk to anyone else for at least an hour. With so many teachers considering leaving the profession, making sure that we have introverted teachers in our schools is incredibly valuable and should not be overlooked.

Young female teacher helping a middle school aged student on the computer. Both are smiling.

Before I get into it though, I need to say that the introvert/extrovert spectrum is not static. It is incorrect to say that someone is entirely an extrovert or introvert, especially all the time and in all contexts. Many people do tend towards a particular end of this spectrum though, and so much of what I discuss relates to a set of behaviours and perspectives rather than static people.

Introverted teachers can empathise with their introverted students.

While extroverts are hugely overrepresented in teachers, this is certainly not the case for your students. Teaching attracts extroverts, both because it can be easier to be a teacher as an extrovert and because teaching fulfills the social needs of many extroverts. Extroverts are more likely to become teachers, but also more likely to stick to teaching for the long term. 

This does create a problem for your students. You will teach a huge range of students with different personalities, backgrounds, and needs. This means that it is a huge problem when only a limited number of personalities and backgrounds are represented in their teachers. 

If you’re an introvert, I’m sure that you experienced this at school. Teachers telling you to put your book down and go and play with your friends, or forcing you to do groupwork with people who you didn’t know very well before you were ready for it. Many of these teachers would have no problem doing what they are suggesting, and sometimes struggle to put themselves in an introverts shoes. 

By being an introverted teacher, you can be the teacher that you wish you had as an introverted student. You are better equipped to understand the needs of these students, who are often misunderstood by their other teachers.

They offer different perspectives

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve heard around staffrooms about students ‘misbehaving’. “My student won’t work with her group!” or “My student can’t keep his nose out of his book!” or, even more common, “My student won’t talk to me and doesn’t ask for help!”.

This last case is particularly interesting because sometimes students don’t ask for help because they’re embarrassed or overwhelmed. But the question is, do they need help? In many of the conversations that I’ve had, the student is silent but doing well. The teacher doesn’t know how to manage a student who won’t talk to them.

Now, social skills and seeking support when required can and should be learned. It is an essential skill in the workplace and having students leave school without ever feeling like they need to ask for help can set them up for failure. But in this case, it’s not a matter of going over and forcing the student to interact. If this is a skill you’re trying to build, approach it just like any other skill instead of through a talking-to before calling the parents to complain or putting it down as a failing on a report card.

These kinds of conversations may not come as intuitively to many teachers, and so it is vitally important that we have a greater range of perspectives in our staff rooms.

They are good at listening to their students.

Again, I’m biased because I’m incredibly extroverted, and I will generalize here. I know that I often need to focus on listening to other people. I can sit and be quiet, but I’m usually completely distracted by trying to hold back everything I want to add to their story.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we need balance and variety. We need some teachers who can listen to a quiet student’s problems for hours without needing to insert themselves or give their opinion. Even when we have extroverted teachers who have no problem with this, you also want teachers who give the impression of being someone who will sit and just listen. I’ve repeatedly seen that introverted teachers seem to attract students’ problems. All of the students go to them if they need to debrief or ask something embarrassing because they seem like people who will just listen.

Young female teacher listening to a young female student.

They are great at interoception and understanding themselves.

Introverts are particularly well-equipped to understand themselves. Many teachers know who they are in a social situation or in a particular context, but knowing who you are when sitting in a quiet room by yourself can also be incredibly valuable.

Knowing yourself, your strengths, and how you react in difficult situations is essential for a teacher. A lot of teaching comes down to on-the-spot thinking and responding to a situation. Yes, this applies to behavior management. You need to rely on how you will react if you have a parent yelling in your face or a student throws a chair at you from across the room. But you also need to recognize and use incidental learning opportunities for your students.

Being prepared is vital for a teacher, which is comparatively easy for activities and lesson planning. What is more difficult is preparing what you would do in one of these situations. Doing this properly means that your knee-jerk reaction is something that is professional and supports your students’ learning and well-being.

They don’t need to seek social connections

While a good teacher will be great at quickly building a solid relationship with their students, not requiring this to get through the day is definitely a skill. Suppose you have a student giving you absolutely nothing, no work, no eye contact, and wants nothing to do with you. In that case, introverted teachers could be more prepared to be patient and wait for the student to initiate a relationship.

While all teachers know not to expect this, having a natural propensity towards it can be helpful. Having a teacher who students can just be with without the complication of social expectations, even if it’s just for a period, can be good for their well-being and growth.

Introverted teachers are role models for our introverted students.

Many extroverted teachers (and honestly, people in general) fall into assuming that everyone is like them. This is easier for extroverted teachers as when they look around the staffroom, many people are actually like them. Teaching attracts extroverts, and to add to that, it also retains more extroverts. And while it’s one thing to assume that the other staff at a school think and feel like you, this can also leak out into assuming how the students feel.

The impact of having a teacher who understands you can be incredibly powerful. Having a teacher who is comfortable with silence and will gently encourage you to seek them out rather than vice versa can be a game-changer for many students. Being a role model is part of the job description for a teacher. Having a greater variety of personality types in the teachers that our students interact with is incredibly important for the confidence and well-being of all students.

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