November 12, 2009 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Is it normal or is it the symptom of a serious cognitive / psychological disorder that I don't like teaching?

I have never had a diagnosis, and I'm an adult now, but I think I may have Asperger Syndrome. I am highly introverted, I love research, I am comfortable with a high level of detail, and I don't really care what other people think. I don't perceive social cues well, and when I start doing anything that takes a high level of focus, the rest of the world goes away.

This makes me terrible as a teacher. I don't perceive my students' social cues until they become blatant, hence I'm not sure when I am losing them. I do not get the reward that good teachers get from the back-and-forth with their students. I furthermore am alienated and get angry when students goof off or are disrespectful.

I have learned not to spam other people with an Asperger level of detail (think horror vacui; I used to read the dictionary for fun). But I don't instinctively empathize with what other people consider a normal (low) level of detail for instruction. It seems "dumb" to me. I could follow the cookbook (rely on other teachers' research and worksheets) but I would be bored with it. There's no there, there.

I bailed out of of one career (academic) because I couldn't teach. I now am looking for a librarian position that won't involve user instruction or too much work with the public. I don't mind IT, research, or day-to-day administration.
posted by bad grammar to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not saying that you don't have Asperger's, because I'm not a doctor and I don't know you, but what you describe is totally normal. Especially this: I furthermore am alienated and get angry when students goof off or are disrespectful.

Some people (actually, I'd say most people) just don't like teaching, and there's really nothing wrong with that.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:37 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're sure that you can't perceive your students' social cues, and you're sure that you can't change that, why does it matter whether that counts as a "cognitive / psychological disorder"? Having your particular combination of personality features labeled as a disorder should not make it more or less "okay" to have those features. Either way, you have a personality that makes you better at certain jobs than at others, so just do whatever job you're best at.

(Also, if you have some other reason to care about labeling them as a disorder, you should ask an expert, not MetaFilter, to diagnose you.)
posted by k. at 6:37 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hey, some people just aren't cut out for teaching. One of the biggest skills you need is to be able to react quickly and change your approach when you perceive that what you are doing isn't working. If that isn't your strong suit, then teaching may not be a good fit for you.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:39 AM on November 12, 2009

"Normal" is not a helpful term. If this is how you feel, whether what you feel is "normal" is irrelevant. If you were to discover your feelings were abnormal, would/could you change them? If so, do so now without being told you're abnormal. If not, then look for a different solution.

First off, I would second k. here and say you should find the career that works for you.

Secondly I would add, make the career work for you by being up front. If you teach again for whatever reason, say in the course syllabus how detailed the level of instruction will be. Also, perhaps create a signal with your students--ask them to hold up their text books when you're missing there cues, for instance.

Changing ourselves entirely is often an impossible--and depressing!--task. Adapting our circumstances to the world can be better.
posted by jefficator at 6:42 AM on November 12, 2009

Many people don't like teaching, and many people aren't good at it. It's a sign of the times we live in that this fact leads you to think you have a psychological disorder. The idea is, well, crazy.
posted by smorange at 6:56 AM on November 12, 2009

Lots of people are introverted. Lots of people don't like teaching. I don't think those are likely symptoms of a medical condition.
posted by dortmunder at 6:58 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't stand teaching either, and I don't think that it is a personality flaw. I don't have the patience or the empathy. I like research, and detail, and I don't mind being alone. I am happier sometimes not working directly with people, but around them is okay. I can't stand adolescents either.

Do what you like, that is what you will be good at. And vice versa. I am grateful that the world is filled with car mechanics, surgeons, airline pilots and teachers etc. I don't like to do those things. But I do have some skills, and I use those in my job.

If you think you have Asperger's, go get tested.
posted by chocolatetiara at 6:58 AM on November 12, 2009

Totally normal. I'm an academic, and I loathe teaching. I always have. I thought that this might change with time and practice, but I've been at it for 15 years, and it's still the worst part of my job. I'd rather sit through a 3-hour faculty meeting than go to class. Honestly.

This is hardly uncommon: the skills and personality traits needed for academic research (focus bordering on the obsessive, as you mention; minute attention to detail and high standards for accuracy; the ability to be happy working alone for long periods of time; the desire to contribute something new to the sum of knowledge...) are not at all the same as those needed for success leading a class (group-leadership ability and public speaking/entertainment skills, high tolerance for repetition, high tolerance for student rudeness, etc.). I look at teaching as the price I have to pay in order to write. Sometimes I think it's not worth it.
posted by philokalia at 7:01 AM on November 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

You should consider becoming a cataloger librarian! It requires a very high level of attention to detail and lots of solitary work. Work environments for catalogers are calm and not very social.
posted by mareli at 7:01 AM on November 12, 2009

I don't think you need a diagnosis, I think you just don't like teaching. That's ok. Teaching isn't something every mentally healthy or "normal" person likes or is good at.

In my experience, even today, there's still considerable social pressure on young women to consider a career in teaching--or at least to expect that it's something they'd be naturally good at. Young women who don't like or aren't good at teaching (like me, and apparently like you) are sometimes made to feel unusual or abnormal just because the thought of nurturing young minds and shaping tomorrow's leaders doesn't fill us with happy sparkly feelings.

If a man confided in you that he felt like there was something wrong with him because he felt no desire to study economics and become an investment banker, would you tell him to go in for a psychological evaluation?
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:03 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am an academic librarian. In my prior position I had to teach undergraduates. In my reviews I was pretty good at it, but I hated it. It took an enormous amount of my time and I wasn't paid extra for it (everyone else who did teaching there got a stipend) and I was really poor at the time, so it made it perfectly miserable for me. So no, it's not unusual to dislike teaching. I do like doing one-off instructions and public speaking, just not semester long slogging through and grading people.

BUT -- it will be very difficult for you to get a librarian job (at least in public and academia) that allows you to avoid the public. Someone upthread mentioned cataloging librarians; cataloging is done 90% by paraprofessionals nowadays and not librarians. Please don't go to library school with the expectation that you'll be able to avoid interaction with the public. You will be unhappy.
posted by the dief at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am a librarian, a professor, and a teacher. I actually enjoy the classroom most of the time. There are days, and even whole semesters, when the classroom demands things from me that I cannot easily provide. I am more or less an introvert who has fake extroversion for so long I can now do it pretty easily. I do not think it is at all unusual to dislike teaching, and I will nth the suggestion that this does not remotely approach a disorder (not dismissing your feelings that you may have a disorder, just saying that a love of teaching is probably as much a disorder as a loathing of it). So rest easy on that account. Teaching is a strain, and doing it well requires a wide range of skills that does not overlap with other academic skills. Please don't think you are weird or a failure for not possessing (or even wanting) those skills.

I'll also nth the suggestion that you look into Technical Services librarianship -- cataloging or serials management would probably be good career tracks. Both require attention to detail and focus, and neither demands much contact with the public.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:18 AM on November 12, 2009

To respond to what the dief says -- Technical Services Librarians can avoid contact with much of the public, especially in large academic settings. While paraprofessionals do a lot of the work, there is often a Head Cataloger who is usually a librarian. Of course, this may mean management, which involves dealing with people, but it may be easier if they are regular contacts as opposed to strangers -- your millage may vary.

Or, at least, this has been my experience. Your willingness to move to find a job that meets all your needs will obviously affect how easy it is to find such a job. If you do go to Library School, I highly recommend finding a student position in a cataloging or serials department, both to get experience and see if the process satisfies you.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:25 AM on November 12, 2009

Yah, GenjiandProust is correct about there still being positions for things like head catalogers, but it's not a growing field by any means, and if you're looking at academic positions you may very well still be looking at levels of public interaction that may make you uncomfortable. But if you love cataloging, by all means plug ahead and you might get lucky. You might also want to consider becoming an archivist, as in my experience librarians are expected to be "people persons" to a much greater degree than the typical archivist, and archives can involve scads of research.
posted by the dief at 7:32 AM on November 12, 2009

Agree with the dief - nearly everyone has to teach as a librarian now. And it is not true that technical services is a no-human contact zone - our cataloguers had to train on how to use various systems and explain new cataloguing processes in a class-style arrangement to other staff.

Our IT people also had a ton of people interaction and not formal instruction, but certainly one on one instruction and walkthrough.

Seriously. Do not go to library school if you don't like interacting with people. Even and especially if you want to be a cataloguer.

So you don't like teaching, fine. But you've got to work out a way to manage your dislike of it to a certain extent. It's part of being a professional.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:07 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Alrighty, I'm a cataloging librarian, and in fact a head cataloger. Granted I don't often deal with the public, but I do have to manage staff, work closely with other librarians, faculty members, and I have to constantly think about how students will use our resources.

If it frustrates you when students goof off, or do things that are illogical, just imagine how you will feel when your peers are the ones goofing off or doing things in an irrational manner.

I started out in library school because I was burnt out from a customer service job. I didn't necessarily want a job that was in the public, but I knew I could deal if I had it.

If you want to go the librarian route and in tech services, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get experience in graduate school. Do interships, do practicums, do any single thing you can to get hands on experience. I won't hire a cataloger that only has course work. There are still some academic libraries that cling to the idea that catalogers should be librarians, but they are getting smaller and smaller. Also, be prepared for serving on committees and doing work towards tenure. Some of us actually have faculty status and have to deal with all the extra personal interaction.

Good luck.
posted by teleri025 at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

You need to be able to be empathic when you teach and this sounds like something you don't like to do and/or are not good at doing. Some people would diagnose this, but if it's not something you're interested in changing, I suggest you find other work instead.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2009

I loathe teaching, so I hear you. Doesn't make you a weirdo. You might be a weirdo for other reasons, though. Is teaching the only thing that is bothering you, or do you have other social problems, problems with friends and family, problems interacting in other arenas? If so, maybe it's time to talk to a mental health professional or do some personal research about what could be going wrong and what you might do to fix it.
posted by kathrineg at 9:29 AM on November 12, 2009

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