Introversion, Confidence, and ‘Performing‘

Make no mistake - I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying introvert.  I’m the person who relates to all the fridge-magnet pictures on Facebook and cartoons on Tumblr about finding social interaction exhausting and needing to hide in my cave sometimes, while not necessarily being ‘shy’.  But my chosen career path requires me to teach, network and speak at conferences, so I can’t hide all the time.  And you know what?  Even though I’m wiped out by these activities, I’m not bad at them.

Often, there’s a gap between what I think I can do and what I actually can do.  This week I taught three classes in a row (it was meant to be four, but it’s essay season and nobody turned up to the first one!).  I agreed to it because I wanted the experience, it was a subject I’m personally interested in, and I have a tendency to ‘take one for the team’ (see, introverts can do teamwork!).  I’d only taught on my own a couple of times before, a good few months ago, and the prospect of teaching caused me a fair bit of worry because I was imagining my socially-awkward, hide-from-people persona leading the classes in a desultory fashion.  There was something I’d forgotten: that I change roles if I have to work with an audience.

I wouldn’t call it ‘faking it’ per se.  I’m still being myself when I act outgoing, I’m giving more voice to things that happen to be in my head naturally.  I did the same sort of thing in when I worked in retail - on the bus to work I’d put my earbuds in and hope to God nobody sat next to me, but as soon as I got behind a till, I’d be greeting people, offering help and making small talk (if they initiated it!).  But I can’t act like that all the time, partly because I’d probably annoy people, and partly because it’s tiring.  That teaching absolutely slayed me and I envy people who can teach and do other worthwhile things afterwards.  I also have an annoying habit of analysing everything I did during the lesson, which is great for getting a qualification based on reflection, but not so good if I actually want to calm down and think about something else.  This also happened in retail if I came out with something I wasn’t expecting myself to - I’d keep prodding at it in my head.

Another worry I had was that the students wouldn’t take me seriously because I’m only eight years (in a couple of cases, only one or two years) older than them.  But actually, it’s not age that matters so much as a) having two more qualifications than they have and b) confidence.  I’m not a naturally confident person; I’ve been described as ‘diffident’.  So I had to assume an air of confidence I didn’t really feel, certainly not before the seminars anyway.  It helped that I did have things to be confident about: I’d done enough reading and planned enough activities to carry the class/push the students to talk, and generally know how to ‘do’ history, extracting relevant information and putting it in the right place, not to mention having a sense of the early modern from my previous work.  For the same reason, I don’t worry hugely about giving conference papers - I know my work better than anyone else does, and that puts me in a position of security.

Do I want to teach again?  Based on my experiences this week, I would say ‘yes’.  Sure, it’s tiring, but when the classes go well, as they did this time, it gives me a bit of a buzz.  I thought of myself as an ineffectual teacher before, largely based on having mostly worked with more experienced people I naturally deferred to rather than forcing myself to run the show and stand on my own two feet.  But you know what?  I can teach.  I’m confident about it.

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, editor of web content, haver of PhD

Colchester, UK