Being an introvert has become almost as trendy as eating quinoa or listening to vinyl. With Quiet and TED Talks and all the infographics I’ve seen, there’s a part of me that feels like society finally understands introverts. We’re no longer the loners or the weirdos or the ones who seem freakishly skittish every time the staff is asked to do an ice breaker (can’t we just let the ice melt slowly?).
I’m a hard introvert to spot. I can be loud and social and nobody sees how tired I feel as a result. I’m not shy. I’m often loud. And yet, I am introvert to my core. Every minute I’m at a party I’m having to work hard to pull myself out. I get wiped out by the noise and the chaos and the sheer number of conversations.
In the past, this has forced me into wearing a super-social mask. I felt like I had to eat lunch in the staff lounge even when I wanted to read a book. I felt like I needed to know what was going on with everyone even when the network of relationships felt tiring. I felt guilty if I wasn’t up front launching into an energetic lecture-discussion in class – as if being in a perpetual state of exhaustion was a good thing.
Eventually, I figured out how I could be an introvert and still survive the often extrovert-dominated teaching field:
- Student Conferences: I meet one-on-one with every student once a week. Instead of wandering around monitoring the class or doing tons of lecture, I keep the direct instruction short and schedule lots of one-on-one time. This keeps me from burning out and it helps students get valuable face time with their teacher.
- Social Media: I still need community. I still need people. I find this through social media. Often, it’s in direct messages or Google chats or Voxer conversations. I have a few close friends as a result and they are the ones who I can be deep with. There’s a depth in this community that’s often not present in face-to-face interaction.
- Introverted Hobby: I chose an introverted hobby. I write often. If I’m not writing blog posts, I’m working on a novel or a column. It’s my chance to process things internally and creatively.
- Limit Noise: I drive to work with no external stimulus. I also keep a noise limit in my room. This might sound harsh. However, my students get a high level of peer-to-peer talk time and they can listen to music on headphones during independent project time. Yet, I get anxious when there’s too much noise.
- Permission to Be Alone: Give yourself permission to withdraw. I used to feel like I had to attend every sporting event to support my students. I felt like I had to coach sports. I felt the need to allow students to come in before school and hang out. Now I see that I’m a better teacher when I’m not exhausted. In the same vein, I don’t go to the staff lounge for lunch. I rarely even turn on music. I eat alone and I read. A half hour later, I’m starting to feel normal again.
- Volunteer for Introverted Projects: I am the first to volunteer to design a logo or a website. I’ll write a proposal or edit a video. People assume this because I’m tech savvy, but I’m really not much of a techie. I just like work that allows me to be self-directed.
- Awareness: People who don’t know that I’m an introvert assume that I’m standoffish or shy or even angry. I’ve had to explain that my introversion is why I do pretty well as a listener one-on-one even if collaboration kills me or that I may not be around the staff lounge, but I’ll quietly write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it. I may not be able to handle a loud, noisy group in my classroom each morning, but I connect and conference with each one of them throughout the week. I’m not saying this is better, just that it’s different and that’s okay.