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Mindset & Motivation, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Nov 23, 2022

Thriving as a shy or timid teacher: you don’t have to be gregarious to be good!

By Jay Benedith

Equity Leader & Coach

Thriving as a shy or timid teacher: you don’t have to be gregarious to be good!

By Jay Benedith

So you’re shy and you’re a teacher. There are typically two approaches shy teachers choose.

Some want to become less shy and more outgoing.

Others want to learn ways to navigate teaching while shy.

Usually, it’s a combination of the two.

I commend you for being a teacher–your own kind of teacher. It’s easy for someone to count themselves out of the profession because of shyness. You didn’t and that’s great.

We need diverse personalities and approaches to respond to and support our diverse students.

The difference between “shy” and “introvert”

People often use these terms interchangeably, and while there are some overlapping features, there is a difference between shyness and introversion.

First and foremost, introversion is a personality type while shyness is an emotion.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to be shy is to not be inclined to be forward. It implies a timid reserve and a shrinking from unfamiliarity.

On the other hand, to be introverted is to be a reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone. It has been noted that introverts gain energy through solitude and quiet.

To further illustrate this distinction, let’s explore two teachers: Sam and Toni. Sam is a shy teacher. He is fearful of speaking up and being the center of attention. Toni is an introvert. She enjoys spending time alone and derives her energy from that alone time.

At first glance, Sam and Toni may show up in the same ways: quiet demeanors, very self-aware, and spending time alone or in small groups.

However, upon closer inspection, Sam is not always shy whereas Toni is always an introvert. Sam’s shyness is fueled by fear and discomfort whereas Toni is content and comfortable in her preferences.

How to thrive as an introverted teacher

Characteristics of a great teacher: myths and facts

When thinking about the traits of great teachers, I am reminded of the children’s show The Powerpuff Girls. The superheroines are born from “sugar, spice, and everything nice.” What are the ingredients of great teachers? Can shy teachers fit the bill?

4 myths about the traits of effective teachers

  • They must be extroverted: Some extroverted people can be shy. So there is a chance that a shy teacher is extroverted when confident. However, being extroverted is not a prerequisite for being an excellent educator. After all, Albert Einstein was an introvert and an amazing college professor!
  • They must be gregarious: While it is wonderful and crucial to build relationships as a teacher, it is unnecessary to be “on” at all times. Great teachers do not need to be friends with students, families, and colleagues; instead, they can be friendly and cordial. Furthermore, they do not need to go to every work and social event hosted by their school; instead teachers should strive to set and maintain boundaries to feel both a sense of belonging within the school community without feeling overwhelmed and pressured.
  • They must be talkative: Teachers certainly talk a lot but we don’t need to be talkative! We should be intentional about what we are saying and how much we are saying. An economy of language that is clear and consistent is most important when teaching!
  • They must be completely independent: Everyone will need support and guidance throughout their career. This is especially true in the teaching profession where we strive to meet the diverse needs of our students and their families. We need to stay current on the skills and knowledge we need to foster our students’ success. This is only possible when we acknowledge that we don’t know it all, can’t do it all, and are open to support!

4 facts about the traits of effective teachers

  • They must be strong communicators: As Socrates said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” In order to ignite students, teachers must be engaging and they must listen well to their students, their colleagues, the school community, the wider world, and to themselves. It takes constant reflection and deep self-awareness to become a masterful, effective communicator.
  • They must be good collaborators: Great teachers collaborate with others. They understand that to operate in a silo is to miss out on opportunities to share, adapt, and adopt best practices for their students. Great teachers also cultivate a deep knowledge and passion for their subject matter. They are lifelong learners and are adaptable.
  • They must embody core values: Great teachers embody values that are instrumental in building community and connection. They are warm, enthusiastic, compassionate, patient, and empathetic. This makes them approachable and accessible. After all, educator Rita Pierson is right when she says students don’t learn from people they don’t like!
  • They must be emotionally regulated: Great teachers recognize and manage their stress. They possess strong organizational skills and coping techniques to help them effectively navigate challenges. They cultivate and maintain their resilience and support ecosystem on an ongoing basis so as not to burn out.

Why are you shy? What can you do about it?

As mentioned, shyness is an emotion, and emotions are mutable. Therefore, there are ways to become less shy.

Here are some questions from licensed psychotherapist Wendy Leeds to consider along your path towards increased confidence:

  • How have I successfully dealt with fear-based situations like this in the past?
  • Who might be able to help me handle my anxiety?
  • What new information could help me deal with my fearful thoughts?
  • What’s one small step I can take right now to feel better?
  • How can I tell the story about this fear differently?
  • What’s the best possible outcome I can imagine?
  • What would my life look like, if I could move past this fear and focus on positive possibilities? Is there a role model I can learn from and emulate?

Ultimately, some introverts are shy but not all shy people are introverts. An extroverted person can be shy in particular situations.

If you are a shy person, you can certainly be an amazing teacher! Perhaps this realization (along with the information included in this article) is the boost you need to become the best version of yourself for your students.

Jay Benedith

Equity Leader & Coach

Jay is a progressive educator and a passionate equity leader in New York City! Through J. Benedith Coaching Services, she facilitates interactive workshops, 1:1 coaching sessions, and group coaching programs.
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