Six Strategies for Thriving as an Introverted Teacher

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 quick to engage in deep conversations. And yet, I am introvert to my core. Every minute I’m at a party I’m having to work hard to pull it off. I get wiped out by the noise and the chaos and the sheer number of conversations. It’s not social anxiety, either. I can be “on” as well as anyone but inevitably my battery will drain down to nothing.

As a college professor, I have carved out an introverted life. I read and write and research and try and craft quality feedback on student work. Nearly half of my classes are online. I spend hours designing courses and materials. But then I’m still present and energetic when I teach in person. I spend four straight hours once or twice a week being fully present.

This was harder to pull off when I taught middle school.

When I was a new teacher, starting off 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. And I thought I would share that.

This video is part of a new project called the New Teacher Academy. I want to create something practical, inspirational, and fun. If you like it, please share the YouTube Channel with a new teacher.

Six Strategies for Thriving as an Introverted Teacher

  1. Conduct one-on-one conferences with students. I met one-on-one with every student once a week. Instead of wandering around monitoring the class, I pulled students aside to talk about their progress. I kept the direct instruction short and scheduled lots of one-on-one time. This kept me from burning out and it helped students get valuable face time with their teacher. Confession: I often hit a point in March when I couldn’t be as present. I would zone out a little. When my students wrote blog posts and articles in journalism, I would crank out a few of my own. Perhaps I wasn’t as “on” but the upside is that they saw their teacher as someone passionate about writing and they knew I was quietly available to help them as they worked independently.
  2. Try social media. Being a classroom teacher could feel isolating. However, I didn’t thrive on the hours of face-to-face collaboration. So, I still need community. I still needed people. That left me in a bit of a jam. Enter social media. Although I would go on Twitter and Facebook, I also enjoyed the conversations on the margins, in direct messages or Google chats or Voxer conversations. To this day, I have a few close friends as a result of this PLN and they are the ones who I have deep conversations with. One of my best friends here in Oregon is Luke Neff, who I met through collaborating on visual writing prompts.
  3. Find an 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. More recently, I’ve gotten into video creation. I also enjoy Minecraft.
  4. Limit the noise. I always had a basic noise limit in my room. This might sound harsh. However, I couldn’t handle really loud classrooms. I created experiences where extroverts could thrive as well. My students got a high level of peer-to-peer talk time and they can listen to music on headphones during independent project time. They were often excited about our hands-on projects. And yet . . . our room ran on a gentle hum more than a loud cacophony.
  5. Give yourself the 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. Eventually, I realized I was a better teacher when I wasn’t exhausted.  In the same vein, I didn’t go to the staff lounge for lunch. I rarely even turned on music. I would eat alone and read or maybe go for a walk. Man, I miss Phoenix sometimes. It was always so sunny.
  6. Volunteer for introverted projects. I was the first to volunteer to design a logo or a website. I would design curriculum or write a proposal or edit a video. People assumed this because I was tech savvy, but that wasn’t the case. I just enjoyed work that allowed me to be self-directed.

It’s possible to thrive as an introverted teacher. You just have to rewrite the rules of what it means to be a passionate, dedicated teacher.

listen-as-a-podcast

This post is also available on my Creative Classroom podcast. If you’re someone who enjoys listening to podcasts on the way to work, this might be a great way to “read” my blog. (Note: if you enjoy the podcast, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or Google Play). You can also listen to it below:

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.

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