The Introvert Teacher - Interview with Remus Zhong

I’d like to see a world in which education systems will revolve around useful learning instead of merely ‘getting answers right’, in which people can raise questions and do what they are good at without having to conform to unnecessary restrictions.

By Lifestyle Guide

October 8 2018

STYLEGUIDE speaks to author of The Introvert Teacher, Remus Zhong, on what it is like to be a trainer, speaker and educator in this day and age, especially when one is more of an introvert than an extrovert.

How did you get started initially and what inspired you to do what you do?   

After I graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a Diploma in Biotechnology, I wasn’t sure of whether I wanted to pursue a university degree. Also, I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to study even if I had wanted to pursue a degree. As a result, I decided to put it on hold and to eventually earn my own way through a degree should I decide to further my studies in the future.  

In the meantime, I looked for a job. I wasn’t sure what to do, though I was certain that I didn’t want to work in a laboratory or go into sales (of laboratory equipment, reagents, etc.), as some of my course mates had done.

While flipping through page after page of job adverts on an online job portal, something caught my eye. It said, “Life Science Trainer”. I never knew that such a position existed. That thought notwithstanding, I applied for the position and, after an interview in which I had to conduct a 5-minute presentation on a topic of my choice (related to the life sciences, of course), I was informed that I had been awarded the position.

Thus, my life as an educator began.

During the first couple of months, after I had started teaching in my first school (which also happened to be my alma mater), I found myself exhausted after each 2-hour session. When the sessions were back-to-back, the fatigue became nearly unbearable. I wanted nothing more than to disappear into a dim, quiet room far away from people and noise. However, being in a school, few such locations existed that were easily accessible.

I enjoyed teaching, though I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more like some of my colleagues, who were enthusiastic and exuberant even after multiple teaching sessions. I began to think that I wasn’t cut out to be an educator. However, since I was teaching in my alma mater and I wanted to give something back, I stayed on. It also helped that I was starting to form rapport with some of my students and that I was contractually obligated to continue.

It turned out that it was a good thing that I stayed. After overcoming my initial apprehensions and practising my delivery of the content, I no longer wasted energy on anxiety and negative thoughts. Instead, I channelled all of it into doing my best for my students.

This didn’t make me less tired at the end of the day, but it certainly gave me a sense of purpose and a desire to improve my skills as an educator.

As the weeks and months went by, I started to meet more and more teachers who were like me. They, too, sought solitude after their lessons. As I learned more about this tendency, I found that it was simply a trait of an introvert.

There was nothing wrong with me! I can be an educator if I wanted to be one. All I had to do was to learn how to manage my energy!

Since that realisation, I have continued a life of public speaking – not just as a trainer, but a speaker and stage performer as well. I’ve found that introverts actually make excellent educators because they possess characteristics that make them particularly effective, such as astute observation skills and their tendencies to think carefully before they speak.

I wrote this book – The Introvert Teacher – in part to foster greater mutual understanding and co-operation between introverts and extroverts, and also to encourage introverts to become better communicators of their thoughts and ideas.

Remus Zhong with Suria Sparks

What were some of the biggest challenges you've faced? 

Pursuing an atypical line of work in Singapore is, to put it mildly, difficult. You are subject to all kinds of questions and well-meaning advice to ‘get back on the “right” path’, you are seen as a rebel, and you get very little sympathy if and when you meet obstacles, and especially when you meet moments of failure.

Financially, it can be tough since banks are less inclined to grant loans to individuals without a regular salary. The tax system is also much more favourable to salaried workers than it is to those who are ‘doing their own thing’.

At the end of the day, however, challenges are meant to be overcome. I’m well on my way.

What is your main driving force? 

I value knowledge very highly and I am constantly on the lookout for information, especially on topics that I hold an interest in – including, but not limited to, gemmology, psychology, sociology, eschatology, and education.  

Can you share your greatest inspiration/motivation in life? 

I aspire to be able to work for and to provide abundantly for my family and the causes that I believe in.

What would you say is your purpose in life? 

I’d say it is to constantly learn, to share what I’ve learned, and to encourage others to do the same. 

What is the change or impact that you want to make in this world? 

I’d like to see a world in which education systems will revolve around useful learning instead of merely ‘getting answers right’, a world in which people can raise questions, do what they are good at and work towards positive change without having to conform to unnecessary restrictions. 

What does success mean to you and what is the greatest success you’ve experienced? 

Success to me is being able to do what I want, how I want, when I want to. 

In my work, my greatest success so far was when I finally became a published author and, very recently, an international speaker.

In my personal life, my greatest success is being married to the love of my life.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your success? 

Unreservedly, I attribute all that I have accomplished / achieved over the years to the grace of God, without Whom I will be nowhere nearly close to where I am today. When I look back at how so many things inexplicably happened, somehow always at the right time and with the right people, there is no doubt in my mind that He has provided it all and made it all happen.

Can you share about the mentors in your life and how they’ve helped to shape and guide you over the years? 

I have never had a formal mentor, though I am in the process of looking for one. I have a few authors whom I favour, such as Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Zig Ziglar. They have all contributed to my worldview and the way I process information.

To hone my delivery and audience engagement ability, I watch a lot of British celebrity game shows and stand-up comedians such as Dave Chappelle, Gabriel Iglesias and Russell Peters.

In general, I firmly believe that there is always something to learn from another person, whoever they may be and whatever their station in life.

With this attitude in place, we can be open to allowing the people around us to shape us. All we need to do is to ensure that we are spending time with the right kinds of people – those with a good head upon their shoulders, who are positive, and who provide good, well-thought-out guidance.

With Mr Lim Siong Guan, President of GIC Pte Ltd

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Definitely, it would be to trust God sooner rather than later. I say this because by being a Christian, I’ve learned that when God created us, He created us with a sense of purpose. He created us with value. He created us to contribute to other people, to help other people. By knowing that I have an identity in God’s eyes, by knowing that I have value to him - I am more confident, I am more assured that I have something to give to other people. And because I know that I have something to give, I will constantly improve myself to become better at giving this value that I have, to contribute this to society as a whole.  

What is the most interesting life experience you’ve had so far?

Without a doubt, it has to be my wedding day. 

In the months that led up to it, it was a stressful period. There were so many things that we planned to do that we couldn’t complete in time. Even by the night before, there were still some loose ends.

I had, however, decided earlier on that I was just going make do with whatever we had and improvise if there was any problem. I was going to trust God to get us through the day and to set everything in its place.

As it turns out, everything ran much more smoothly than even I had anticipated.

Apart from God, I have to thank my wedding party for this. They handled everything brilliantly and not once were we bothered with the details of the day. The only regret I had was in not having asked for their assistance sooner.

What I learned from this experience was to never be afraid to ask for help, even if it may feel uncomfortable or awkward. I also learned to simply trust others to do what they are able, that if they have agreed to help, they will do what they can to the best of their abilities.

I was also shown how much the people around me cared for me – something that I never really took the time to consider before. With this revelation, it caused me to have a greater appreciation for others around me and to be more willing to show care and affection to them.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future? 

I look forward to being more active in our neighbouring ASEAN countries, not only to impact lives but to encourage and help push for positive change. 

Speaking at Yangon Professional Development Conference 2017