Career Tips for Shy/Introverted ESL Teachers and Students

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In general, Western society favours people who are extroverted and outgoing. This bias can be seen in multiple areas of daily life. At school and work, it is apparent in the emphasis placed on teamwork and open workspaces. In language, it is evident in the positive connotations associated with those who are outgoing/extroverts (e.g., approachable, the life of the party) and negative connotations for those who are shy/introverts (e.g., sheepish, wallflower).

Personally, I am an introvert. I prefer calmer environments and get depleted by lots of stimulation. I was once very shy, and I feared negative social judgment. In this blog, I present three strategies that have helped me cope as I have climbed the TESL professional ladder.


  1. Overcome the shame attached to being shy/introverted

Introverted and shy people often get told they are inadequate and need to change, to “break out of their shell.” However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being introverted or shy. A problem only arises if one or both of these attributes prevent you from doing something you want to do. In such cases, it is important to recognize that you can stretch your comfort zone. For example, if you want to be a more confident public speaker, begin by speaking up in less-stressful situations (e.g., a meeting with known colleagues) and consistently build up to situations that produce more anxiety.

  1. Find a sponsor who can speak for you at work

Introverts and shy people are typically not natural self-promoters and often feel uncomfortable discussing their achievements. Further, research shows that introverted and shy people who do talk about their accomplishments can come off as smug and cold because effective self-promotion is nuanced. This is where a sponsor – a person in a position of authority within your organization and who advocates on your behalf – can be incredibly beneficial. When you have a sponsor, you can have someone else discuss your strengths (e.g., reflection, planning, listening, empathy) and avoid the potential perils of self-promotion. This 2022 Time Magazine article provides helpful tips for securing a sponsor.

  1. Re-think networking

 Even people who don’t classify themselves as shy or introverted dislike networking as it can seem shallow, transactional, and exhausting. However, tweaking your mindset and approach can make networking more tolerable. Experts have noted that the most beneficial networking events are those in which you can strengthen current connections or interact with others in non-work-related activities because these types of interactions generate more authentic conversations. But if you need to attend a large formal event like a conference, there are specific steps you can take. Before a conference, think about relevant talking points and set a realistic target for the number of people you want to meet (e.g., three to five). On the day of the event, arrive as early as possible because it is easier to enter a uncrowded room. Also, bring an extroverted friend who can navigate the initial awkward small talk stage of conversations but then give you the chance to shine. Provide other shy/introverted people easy opportunities to begin conversations by wearing something interesting – large rings and bold shoes are my go-tos – and situate yourself in an open semi-circle rather than a closed circle. As needed, take breaks from the action to recharge and refocus. After the conference, follow up with new contacts and discuss ways you can reconnect. 

If you are shy/introverted, how you do navigate your professional advancement?

Sources Consulted

Clark, D. (2021, May 11). Professional networking [Course]. LinkedIn Learning. 

Clark, D. (2019, January 3). Managing your career as an introvert [Course]. LinkedIn Learning.  

Kolovou, T., & Bailey-Hughes, B. (2017, November 2). Finding your introvert/extrovert balance in the workplace [Course]. LinkedIn Learning. 

Pitman, E. (Host). (2019, October 21). Why are we shy? In The why factor. BBC World Service.

Heather Donnelly has been a faculty member at Fanshawe College since 2015. She has also taught EAP/ESL courses for a number of colleges and universities in Ontario and Manitoba. She is very interested in the professional identity development of novice ESL instructors, and this topic was the focus of her 2015 MEd thesis "Becoming an ESL Teacher: An Autoethnography." She enjoys writing about ways to navigate the TESL job market.


2 thoughts on “Career Tips for Shy/Introverted ESL Teachers and Students”

  1. Thanks for writing on a topic that extroverts like me forget to give much attention to. It gave me a lot of food for thought to help my LINC students, as well as the ESL teachers who attend my presentations and webinars.

    1. Thanks for reading, reflecting, and commenting! Simple actions (e.g., giving students time to think individually prior to a group discussion) can make a huge difference.

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