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.

More about John

2 responses

  1. Thanks so much for writing this blog post and for your tips for thriving as an introverted teacher! I teach middle school and am more introverted as well. Like you mentioned…. That doesn’t mean that I am not social. I love the students and being around people but instead of the energy of other people energizing me, it drains me. I just need the quiet time to recharge and then I’m on again. =)

    I really like your idea of having the one on one conferences with the students weekly. I plan to try this, not only to build relationships with the students, but to also connect with any students that are also introverted and may not be as vocal in class. Taking on introverted projects is a great idea too! I like the self-directed piece, and love to plan, design, and create projects or products. That would be a great and effective way to serve the school!

    I just discovered your blog recently and have been enjoying all of your articles! I also really liked your article on the Genius Hour as I’m starting to work towards that goal in my classroom. I teach 6th and 7th grade science and am thinking of giving the students creative choice, but within the steps of the engineering design process. In this way, they can select their content topic, but will still be meeting the engineering standards and engineering design practices of NGSS. We’ll see how it goes!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, creativity, reflections, and ideas!

  2. I have been looking for this post for a couple of months now! I’m currently student teaching, and had no idea how hard it would be on me as an INTJ. After school, I’m ready to be silent and zone out for hours–which can’t really happen as a mom! Thank you for the advice!

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