EFL teaching as an introvert – The good, the bad and the ugly
This time around, I share my experience and thoughts regarding what traditional classroom EFL teaching as an introvert is like.
I’ve been doing the rounds in language schools and universities around Europe since 2006.
Hence, I know a thing or two about the challenges introverts face in workplaces which emphasise collaboration.
Sure, introverted EFL teachers might stick out like a sore thumb.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Introverted teachers just have to fine tune their mindset to ensure that they, and their students, get the most out of instruction.
THE EARLY DAYS - TRYING TO FIND MY FEET
In order for you to gain insight into what EFL teaching as an introvert is like, let’s rewind some thirteen years to August, 2008.
I was just about to embark on my second full year as an EFL teacher, in Bosnia. I’d previously taught in Poland for a year.
Emphasis on socialisation is deeply embedded in the Balkan culture. The fact that I wound up in the Republic of Srpska entity of Bosnia didn’t make any difference. Close-knit socialisation is the norm there too.
From the outset, I was more or less forced to be around people for twelve hours a day. Being around twelve to fifteen students was all part and parcel of my job. However, I had no chance of escaping my colleagues when I wasn’t teaching. There were no separate workspaces in the teachers’ room. Instead, there were six computers around a workstation with two other spare places.
What about lunchtime? Well, I had to eat lunch with the other teachers and admin staff every single day.
Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful for everything my boss offered to me. From feeding me to ensuring that I had everything I needed in my apartment, she tried her best.
However, this school was certainly no place for introverts like me.
Personally, I’m energised by deep introspection, quiet space and meaningful relationships with a handful of individuals.
Anyway, quitting this job in Bosnia would have been quite cowardly. If nothing else, I realised that seeing out the contract would be quite the character-building exercise.
Despite all the frustration and the lack of time I had to myself, I left Bosnia with a lot to be proud of.
IS IT EASY FOR INTROVERT EFL TEACHERS WHO WORK IN LANGUAGE SCHOOLS TO BURN OUT?
A terrific article by Californian English teacher and contributing writer to The Atlantic, Micheal Godsey, illuminates why introverted teachers burn out.
Teaching as an introvert becomes overwhelming, and even health-threatening, when schools insist on collaboration and group work in the classroom.
Godsey cites the case of high school teacher, Ken Lovgren, who quit the profession because of the constant “social interaction” he had to facilitate in the classroom. If teachers are not promoting the current trend of “collaborative education” among students, then they’re likely to be mingling with their colleagues in pointless meetings.
As Godsey puts it: ‘This type of schedule and expectation for constant social interaction negates the possibility to psychologically “recharge” in relative solitude.’
Introverted EFL teachers would do well steering clear of these “collaborative” (controlling) language schools. Fortunately, there don’t seem to be too many of them. However, you might want to give International House a wide berth. I worked for an IH school and was reprimanded for sitting behind a desk. Oh, such a big no no. Many chain schools require you to sit with students in a silly semicircle.
Generally, though, I think it’s tougher to pinpoint the reasons for burnout among introverted EFL teachers than for teachers who work in mainstream education.
In my experience, the majority of private language schools allow you to rock up, teach your lessons and slip out the door when you want to. There should be ample time for solitude.
Perhaps the reasons for burnout in EFL are more related to a lack of personal accomplishment, poor salaries, problems maintaining discipline in the classroom and bleak career prospects for entry-level teachers.
WHY DO SOME INTROVERTED EFL TEACHERS THRIVE?
A big mention for Clare, the founder of GoogooEnglish.
Clare’s post - “Teaching EFL as an introvert - good or bad?” - highlights why being a teacher suits her as an introvert.
In my first year of teaching, I had this drive to be well-prepared for all situations. After all, we introverts don’t like to be put on the spot. Like Clare, I put emphasis on creating extremely detailed lesson plans whilst always putting my students’ development before everything else.
Although my attitude and beliefs towards lesson planning changed after a few years in EFL, I developed an excellent work ethic and caring attitude towards my students. These assets have never left me, and I think they result from my introversion.
Teaching as an introvert has also helped me to become a great listener. This was particularly noticeable in the classes I had with individual students and pairs. I’m not much of a talker so I’ve really had to fine-tune my listening skills over the years.
ONLINE TEACHING - A SAFE HAVEN FOR INTROVERTS
Skype has definitely become a safe haven for me over the past eight years or so.
I focus on boosting my students’ confidence and helping them to open up. For lower level learners, the Innovations coursebooks series works wonders when it comes to getting students to talk. This is because there are so many wonderful short texts in these coursebooks which students can really relate to.
Over the years, I’ve written around 90 of my own texts based on my own experiences living, working and travelling in several European countries. This is probably my way of opening up and enabling students to get a glimpse into my life. As ever, the focus is always on the students and the extent to which they can relate to my own experiences.
I conduct short online classes with individual students. These classes are usually very intense and student-centred. Frankly, the nature of the lessons doesn’t give students much time to analyse whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert.
This is why teaching English online is more suitable for me.
If I worked for a language school again, it would have to be on my own terms. In other words, for a few hours a week.
TEACHING AS AN INTROVERT - WRAPPING UP
When I taught English in language schools, I was completely absorbed in my role. I had classes with kids where I acted foolishly, jumped up and down and played games. Admittedly, there were some memorable moments. However, it all caught up with me after some time. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do that for the rest of my life.
In her article, Clare wrote about the fun times she’s had with kids, thus: “It’s like a cloak that I put on when I arrive and take off when I leave. I can go and prepare my lessons quietly or read or write.”
I understand where Clare’s coming from. However, for me, I didn’t want to keep taking off this cloak and putting it back on again.
Introverted teachers have to experiment and find out what works best for them. In my case, I tend to do best giving lectures at universities because I don’t have to interact that much with the audience. Moreover, one-to-one teaching online suits me down to the ground.
Teaching as an introvert in language schools has its ups and downs.
Some introverted teachers can make a wonderful career out of it.
Unfortunately, there was only so much acting out of character I was prepared to do.