Effective Teaching Methods for Introverted Teachers, According to an Introverted Professor

An introverted teacher helps a student

By drawing on their natural ability to listen, introverted teachers can develop a greater understanding of how to cater to a wide range of students’ needs.

Unfortunately, there is no roadmap for navigating the educational system as an introvert. Whether student or teacher, introverts face their own unique challenges in a system largely built to capitalize on extroverts’ strengths.

As I reflected on this idea, I was curious: Are there any scholars actively researching, and writing, on introversion within the educational system? And if so, what can we learn from them?

My curiosity led me to Women Also Know History, an online database of research experts, where I keyword-searched the term “introvert”. On the results page, I found Dr. Jessamyn Neuhau, an introvert, historian, and professor of popular culture, gender, and pedagogy (the approach to teaching) at SUNY Plattsburgh in New York. She is not only an advocate for introverts in academia, but the author of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers.

Introversion Within the Higher Education System

I had the immense pleasure of speaking with Dr. Neuhaus about introversion within the higher education system. Since she’s an introverted teacher, she shared her personal thoughts on how to be the best introvert — and educator — you can be. 

As we talked, I realized that her expertise (and personal experience) work as an excellent instruction manual for other introverts navigating educational spaces. What follows is a guide geared toward introverted teachers, focusing on methods of effective teaching in an environment that is not always hospitable to introverts’ needs and strengths.

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5 Effective Teaching Methods for Introverted Teachers

1. Understand students’ varied needs so you can cater to them as best as possible. 

By drawing on personal experience, and capitalizing on their natural ability to listen, introverted teachers can develop a greater understanding of how to cater to a wide range of student needs.

In Dr. Neuhaus’ case, her research on introversion — and the inspiration for her book — were born out of her personal experience as a student, teacher, and parent. When she was a student, school hadn’t felt difficult to navigate due to her introversion. If it did, society lacked the language to understand the cultural nuance of introversion and extroversion when she was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. 

But when she witnessed her own child — a highly sociable extrovert — moving through the school system, she began to realize that many people experience school differently due to where they fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. She contrasted this observation with her own experience, teaching and learning as an introvert. She then discovered that the habits, needs, and methods of introverts and extroverts in the classroom differ significantly.

It’s important for teachers to acknowledge how students’ relative introversion (and/or extroversion) can manifest differently in the classroom. Introverted teachers in particular can do this by capitalizing on their proclivity for thoughtfulness and introspection, catering to students’ needs with ingenuity and experimentation.

Introverted teachers, too, have diverse needs in the classroom. Dr. Neuhaus admits that her introversion sometimes gets in the way of her teaching efficacy. This can result in “introvert guilt,” thinking of all the things one should do to be a good teacher, rather than what one can actually do. 

Much of this introvert guilt is informed by societal stereotypes about what effective teaching looks like. (Hint: in the media, it’s often highly confident, performative teachers delivering vociferous lectures to a captive audience). Dr. Neuhaus’s book offers a counter to that, giving introverts the power to address, and conquer, negative stereotypes, thus increasing their development as effective teachers. She aims to help introverts harness their innate strengths while also offering advice on how to improve oneself as an educator in a space that, even today, relies heavily upon dynamic communication.

2. Be willing to self-identify (as an introvert) so your students know where you’re coming from.

The wonderful thing about the classroom is that it’s symbiotic, in many ways — what benefits the students often benefits the teacher, and vice-versa. One method Dr. Neuhaus uses to find this balance is identifying herself as an introvert in the classroom. (Even if you are not a teacher, this can be beneficial in your career, too.)

“It enables introverted students to feel more comfortable and understood, while simultaneously inviting communication with all students, introvert and extrovert alike,” she says. “It helped me say to my students, very clearly, that I care about their learning and I want them to succeed. Self-disclosure often helps with clarity in these instances.”

Clearly identifying herself as an introverted teacher also helped Dr. Neuhaus acknowledge her own nervousness about her teaching efficacy, which led to a heightened desire to understand herself, as well as improve her teaching methods. And even though she is highly introverted, Dr. Neuhaus has experienced impressive levels of success in academia, proving that the two are not mutually exclusive.

3. Diversify modes of participation (i.e., not everything has to be a group project!).

Another method introverted teachers can use to improve their teaching efficacy is to enact diverse methods of participating in the classroom, both for the students and the teacher. Sometimes, this redefines what our societally-determined idea of “classroom participation” looks like.

But how does an introverted teacher enact varied methods of participation on the ground?

Dr. Neuhaus contends that effective teaching practices must make space for all students (introvert, extrovert, and ambivert) by offering diverse ways for them to engage, and exercise, their agency as learners. She is quick to point out that participation is not always verbal. As a result, she says her students have multiple avenues amenable to their preferred participation style

“I incorporate opportunities for reflection — including self-reflection — for my students, and different ways for that to occur,” she says. “It can look like an independent research project with built-in meetings throughout the duration of the project. It can also manifest as a research log, featuring a verbal, written, pre-recorded, or presentation-style analysis, depending on student preference.”

Offering a multitude of participation avenues allows teachers to better understand all students, but especially those introverts who may not participate in the classroom verbally as much. Using one of Dr. Neuhaus’s methods, teachers can see evidence of how class participation isn’t one-size-fits-all.

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4. Communicate effectively and with empathy.

Though introverts are generally regarded as those who prefer to be “selectively social” in many spaces, they may behave and communicate differently in educational settings. Dr. Neuhaus observes that, “Introverts in normal socializing spaces are not prone to monologuing, but scholarly introverts might do so as a coping mechanism in the classroom. This can manifest as a type of nervous tick, especially when teachers are in training.”

Both extremes — the pinch-lipped professor who does not engage with students at all, as well as the tongue-fumbling teacher chatting through their anxiety — can foster damaging teacher-student relationships in the classroom. “Student impressions become student realities,” Dr. Neuhaus says.

Therefore, it’s important for introverted teachers to find a way to balance their communication impulses. But how?

One of the most compelling methods Dr. Neuhaus discussed was the idea of capitalizing on the introvert’s natural desire for connection between teacher and student. At times, introverts might struggle to articulate the depth of their care for their pupils. But finding ways to emphasize this care can aid in fostering a positive and welcoming classroom space for all.

Dr. Neuhaus contends that much of this comes down to the idea of educators being approachable. “Introverted teachers don’t have to be someone they’re fundamentally not — but as part of teaching effectively, they must be attentive to their students,” she says. In order to make one’s approachability easier to convey, it’s important to feel passionate about the topic you’re teaching, she notes, saying enthusiasm is contagious and drives student engagement. Communicating genuine care for the subject — and the students’ learning — can make them, in turn, care about the class, too.

But teaching as an introvert is not without its challenges, especially in the modern-day era. It feels even more challenging to communicate subject matter, not to mention nurture student engagement with students who can so easily turn their attention toward their tech devices instead. How can introverted educators combat this? “Work at it every time,” says Dr. Neuhaus. In other words, folding the practice of attentive communication into the long-term goal of teaching effectively helps keep things in perspective.

5. Make use of tools and resources, like connecting with fellow introverted teachers.

When it comes to education more generally, Dr. Neuhaus says that “the point isn’t to talk, the point is to learn.” Not all methods of learning must rely so heavily on speaking; the quality of the content, and the ability for both teachers and students to learn, must be the priority. Much of this relies on the introverted teacher’s ability to make use of the tools available to them.

One of these tools is to harness an inherent strength of introverts: focused enthusiasm for a particular passion. This tool can be used to ease public speaking and teaching nerves. For example, if introverts remind themselves that they’re speaking on a topic or subject they care deeply about, they can harness this passion to push past their initial reluctance and share with others.

Another useful tool is to build connections with other introverted colleagues. While the bad news is that introverted teachers might have to engage with small talk at first, the long-term effects of establishing a network of supportive colleagues can be empowering. Likewise, Dr. Neuhaus notes that introverts in academia are oftentimes their own subset, meaning this is a community that most likely already exists and will not need to be established from the ground up.

Making use of books, articles, podcasts, and other media resources can help introverted teachers learn, too. These resources can remind them they are not alone, and the challenges they face are faced by many introverts the world over. Texts, like Dr. Neuhaus’s own book, attempt to counter introvert guilt over teaching efficacy and give introverts the resources needed to enhance their own natural teaching gifts and strengths.

Dr. Neuhaus also makes use of social media to increase her ability to network and nurture a community focused on similar teaching initiatives. Initially leery of using any type of social media, she identified Twitter as a particularly helpful resource. “It opened doors in a really meaningful way,” she says. “One thing that improves teaching everywhere is the time, and opportunity, to talk about teaching, to have conversations about teaching. Twitter is a way to do that, but Twitter is only one kind of conversation.” Other social media avenues may feel more natural for introverted teachers — you have to see what works best. But the key is making use of these tools in a way that feels comfortable and productive.

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