Experiencing Awkward Moments as an Introverted Teacher

You can listen to the podcast version of this blog post here.

As the minute hand reached 12, I announce, “And that’s the end of class.” I unplugged the HDMI cord from my computer and watched the projecting screen go black. It was now break time for the 9 students taking my summer English class. While I packed up my teaching materials and got ready to leave, many of the students’ eyes fell down to their phones.

Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

The silent taps on digital screens filled the air as I walked towards the classroom door. I pushed open the door and waved goodbye to my students, “Have a good lunch! See you tomorrow.”

Except for one student, an awkward silence greeted me back.

This was during the first and second day of the English summer class I am teaching at the moment. Slowly after a couple more days, more students started saying bye to me when I leave. You might think that I would get used to students ignoring me by now as a fifth year teacher, but it still feels awkward. I know that in Asian countries, greeting teachers is a big deal and an important etiquette to follow. When I taught English in China on my summer mission trips, I can feel the respect radiating from my students even though I would only spend three days with them.

As an introvert, I do not mind the fact that I do not hold long conversations with my students. I prefer to keep a certain distance—a professional distance. Saying hello and goodbye to my students are my automated responses, like an on and off button that opens and closes my teacher mode for each class session. I avoid initiating small talk as much as possible with my students, but I do occasionally overcome feelings of anxiety and awkwardness to engage in short conversations to get to know a handful of my students at a time. It becomes easier when students initiate the small talk, allowing me to parallel the same energy back to said student. But it takes a lot of effort on my part. So, I feel extremely self-conscious when students do not respond back to a simple “bye,” but I’m glad to say that the act of walking out of the door eases my embarrassment, since I am no longer in the same physical space as my students.

I am working on becoming less awkward outside the classroom. During the school year, when I see students walking down the hallways, I will greet them if they make eye contact with or greet me first. However, if I see that they are not really looking in my direction or ignores me, I will not say anything. I know, I know, as a teacher, I should not ignore my students like this, so I will work on greeting my students even if they ignore me in the hallways during the upcoming school year. The next level of awkwardness to overcome is to maybe greet students who are not my students in the hallways.

In terms of my English class this summer, because the class size is so small, the silence is even more deafening. I never thought I would feel discomfort in a silent classroom. During the school year, I treasure every moment of silence in my classroom, because it is much more difficult to keep over 30 students on task. Unfortunately, I have the pleasure this summer to desire more classroom noise in my class of 9 students. This is my first time teaching in person for this summer English class. During the last two summers, I only taught this same English class online, in place of my summer mission trips. For some reason, I did not mind the silence as much online as I did in person this time around.

Aside from the awkward silences, I sometimes wonder if I can be as good of a teacher as an extroverted teacher, a teacher who is not afraid of opening up and connecting with many students right away, someone who is so charismatic and full of fun energy that all the students are drawn to them. I am the hardworking teacher, serious teacher that would occasionally say hi to you and be a little awkward when engaging in nonacademic conversations with you, but can be a little silly sometimes and plan Kahoot games to play in class. So, when I see positive comments and love for introverted teachers, like from this Youtube Video, where Frank James acts out the differences between extroverted and introverted teacher, I feel warm and fuzzy inside.

To all the introverted teachers who face awkward moments like me, I leave you with a quote from Erik Apple, a former American professional mixed martial arts fighter, “Awkward, odd, and difficult situations will always present themselves. You just have to stay cool and work through them.”


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