A breakdown of...school confidence
"For about a year, I just thought you were really aloof..."
Confidence is not something that gets talked about when you first go into teaching. A lot of people assume that all teachers are extroverts, spending their time dancing around the classroom, dressing up as historical figures and waving hello to every teacher in the school (If anyone knows of Mr G from Summer Heights High, then this is what I’m talking about).
But cut to me, sat at my desk during break times, with absolutely no clue who half of the staff in this school even are (and I have been here two years...)
So does introversion hold you back as a teacher? Perhaps. There are certainly some things that introverted educators lack, which is definitely picked up on by students. Last year, I asked my Sixth Form to fill in a SEEQ (Student Evaluation of Educational Quality) questionnaire and the results were generally positive; but then I looked at the the section entitled: 'Individual Rapport' and my ice cold heart sank. Students did not feel I had 'a genuine interest in their lives' and that I was not particularly 'friendly towards individual students'. Ouch...
Now I must admit, a small part of it is just because I am a miserable northerner who is emotionally adjusting to life in the south; but the other 90% is something that I have carried with me throughout my twenty-something years...introversion.
There are many teachers who will be terrified at the thought of the staff room at break time and who are referred to as ‘aloof’ for the first year that they are in the school (shout out to the member of staff who made me aware of this after a bit of Dutch courage...) Yet, it is important to remember that all personality types possess essential skills for teaching and that nobody is perfect. Remember that SEEQ questionnaire I mentioned earlier? My analytical, introverted self achieved near-perfect scores in the ’Organisation’ and ‘Learning’ categories - skills that are honed through strategic thinking, conceptual awareness and planning. So clearly introverts are not the people to be pitied and we do not need to be ’supported’ by our extroverted friends - thanks but no thanks...
Alex Quigley in his blog and accompanying book,The Confident Teacher, agrees. He highlighted the individual strengths of introverted teachers and pointed out the importance of highlighting the difference between shyness and introversion:
‘I was able to differentiate introversion from shyness. I wasn’t shy at school, but I needed some time alone to recover and reflect upon a day filled with people.’
So what is my advice for fellow introverts and early-career teachers as a whole? Know yourself. Ask colleagues, friends, family... ask students to complete a SEEQ questionnaire, do a Myers-Briggs test, book a yoga retreat in Bali... Ultimately, find out the kind of teacher you are because it will make your teaching practice so much stronger. Knowing my introversion, I now push myself to find out the name of someone new in the school each week and I make a point of talking to them. It’s terrifying and often ridiculously awkward, but I know that it will help me in the long run. In class, I make a point of starting every lesson with an “Everyone OK?” alongside a constipated smile that I have yet to perfect... Often, there is no response (the pupils are still comatose from their previous lesson), but sometimes there will be a “Fine, how are you?” and EUREKA! I have sowed the seeds of conversation. Granted, it is nothing groundbreaking and I will not be asked for selfies on the last day of term, but it is enough, for now.
Also, try to make a point of going to the staff room as often as possible. Throughout my first year, I spent break times stuck in an office preparing for my next lesson (‘it is just such a rush to go down there!’) But believe me, this just makes the problem even worse (cue me asking for peoples’ names twelve months later and then blogging about it...) The same goes for those weekly pub visits - I met so many people from across the school that I simply would not have met otherwise. Just a word of warning, avoid staying in the pub for too long, otherwise you may end up a little ‘too extrovert’...