How to Survive as an Introverted Teacher

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.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

6 responses

  1. I like the conference idea, but how do you pull that off without and have the rest of the class effectively "managed"?

    I'm not being flip here, I'm honestly curious. I've tried one-on-one conferences on essays and other things with my general-level students and the other students in the class take the opportunity to try to turn my room into a zoo.

    1. I am interested to know the answer to this as well. As an introverted student teacher, I am definitely feeling the pressure of being around people 8+ hours a day since August. I would also struggle with the management associated with 1-on-1s… Any strategies would be helpful!

  2. I'm an Elementary Education major at the University of South Alabama. I also happen to be an introvert that struggles with being around people. These are some great tips on how to be an educator while being an introvert. I struggle with what to say to the kids in the classes I observe in all the time. I'm glad to know that there are other teachers who make it as introverts! Thanks for a great post.

  3. I can relate to that. But at some point, there was a need for me to speak in a meeting while all I wanted to do was listen. After that, I am really so tired. But did you notice how well we get along with friends from our childhood? I don't seem to have a problem when they come unexpected and yes, there were times that I just wanted to be alone.

  4. Hello John. My name is Dominique Jones and I am a student at the University of South Alabama class EDM310. I can really relate to this post. I consider myself to be an introvert especially meeting new people or being in groups. I am a Secondary Education major and I get nervous when I observe classrooms and I definitely need to work on that! These tips are great and I will remember to use them when i become a teacher. Great Post!

  5. I've thought a lot about how we balance our own needs with the (varying) needs of our students. I like how you included having a quiet environment because I feel it is an important factor for me personally as well. I've wondered if it was fair to the students to have expectations such as these, but really, as you stated, if having a quiet environment makes you a better teacher, that is something all the students are benefiting from.
    Just yesterday, a teacher at the middle school where I'm doing an internship, told me it was so important to have lunch in the staff room. He said it was a great time to socialize with other teachers and blow off steam. He even said teachers that don't are the ones that get burnt out. I couldn't help but think that he might be right for some personality types, the opposite is probably true for introverts. I think I'll follow in your advice and give myself permission for take alone time.
    I appreciated your thoughts on these issues!

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