7 Strategies for Surviving as an Introverted Teacher

I am an introvert who spends his days interacting with 140 seventh and eighth graders. Noise and chaos often overwhelm me although I believe that both are necessary for the learning process. I struggle to “be present” in the crowd and often find myself wanting to withdraw into my own world. I believe that relational engagement is critical to student engagement, and yet I have a hard time with start of a semester, trying to see students as individuals rather than six class periods.

I’ve had moments when I wondered if teaching was the wrong profession for me.

When I first began as a teacher, I forced myself to be extra visible on campus.  After hearing my college professors talk about the need for “team players” and collaboration, I made an effort to plan lessons with other teachers even though I felt most comfortable planning projects alone. I ate lunch in the staff lounge even though I wanted to read a book. I chaperoned dances and attended sporting events so that the students would feel supported. I felt guilty that I didn’t look more “high energy” when leading a class discussion.

Within the first year of teaching, I found that I couldn’t keep it up. Lunchtime was more exhausting than teaching, and I found myself quietly leaving the staff lounge in order to have some think time. I quit two committees, and instead I volunteered to help them with independent projects. It was a slow transition of giving myself the permission to be an introvert, but I figured out how to carve a space for myself in an often extrovert-dominated field.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve used:

  1. Student conferences. I meet one-on-one with every student once a week. Instead of wandering around—monitoring the class or endlessly lecturing, 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. This has taught me that being an introvert can actually be an asset to student engagement. These conferences allow students to feel known on a personal level by their teacher.
  2. Introverted hobby. I write often. If I’m not writing blog posts, I’m up early in the morning working on a novel or a column. I spend my lunch periods painting or drawing. Those activities leave me feeling restored and ready to deal with the second half of the day.
  3. Noise limit. I can handle small doses of noise, but I have a threshold where it becomes overwhelming. For this reason, I drive to work with no external stimulus: the radio is off. It’s my chance to reflect on how things are going. I also limit noise in my room. It’s not silent, but it isn’t loud either. My students get a high level of peer-to-peer talk time, and they can listen to music on headphones during independent project time. However, I require them to keep the volume to a moderate level.
  4. Permission to be alone. I give myself the 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.
  5. Volunteering for introverted projects. I am the first to volunteer to design a logo or a website. I’ll write a proposal for a committee. I enjoy editing videos and podcasts. In this way, I get to be indispensable to the school while still having ownership over the projects and working independently.
  6. Social media. I still need community to challenge my thoughts about teaching and push me to refine my craft. I have a few good friends that I meet for coffee or for a pint. However, I have also found community through social media. Often, we plan our projects together in direct messages, Google chats, or Voxer conversations. I love these interactions because they have built-in think time. They’re both synchronous and asynchronous, and they often have a level of depth that doesn’t necessarily happen in the staff lounge.
  7. Awareness. People who don’t know that I’m an introvert assume that I’m standoffish, shy, or even angry. I’ve had to explain that my introversion is why I do well as a listener one-on-one, but large group collaboration kills me. This is one of the things I share with fellow teachers on the first day our school assembles. It’s one of the first conversations I have when we get a new administrator. I may not be hanging 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 the students throughout the week. I’m not saying this is better—just that it’s different, and that’s okay. And by advocating for myself, I’ve become an advocate for introverted students who might be struggling in the chaotic space of middle school.

I began using these strategies for my own survival, but I had no idea that I would go from surviving to thriving. Respecting my needs made me more energized and engaged with students. I became a better colleague and team player for the school.

I thought I was “getting away” with being an introvert. What I didn’t realize was that I’m a better teacher not in spite of being an introvert, but because of it.

Share your thoughts.

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  • Hanwright Hanwright

    Oh my goodness, thank you SO much. I was desperately googling this subject tonight with no real hope of finding a substantial answer, but a lot of what you said resonated, especially the idea for one-on-one conferencing, and just owning my introvert status and explaining it to students and admin! This post was a blessing! Thanks again.

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  • Perla

    wow! I just randomly found this post and it spoke to me on so many levels. I’m in college now trying to become a teacher. Lately after every lecture I feel defeated and like this isn’t the right career for me because I am an Introvert. People constantly tell me “how can you want to become a teacher when you’re shy?” and I was foolishly starting to believe it. So thank you for making me feel like I can still become a teacher, even if I am an Introvert.

  • Amy Klco

    It’s good to know I am not the only introverted teacher out there–because sometimes it feels like I am, like I missed seeing the sign that say, “Introverted people need not apply.”

    I know that, as an introverted teacher, I have things to offer my students that others can’t. But the fight to not be overwhelmed by the constant noise and commotion is a daily struggle (and I’m in my 13th year of teaching.) I am a special education teacher and half the day, I teach inclusion, which means I go into another teacher’s class to help the special education students there. This means dealing with the noise and chaos level that the other teacher is comfortable with in their classroom. The second half of the day, I work with small groups of students, giving them more focused help. This should be an ideal situation for me, except that the majority of the kids I work with have sever focus issues AND I share my room with another teacher and the kids she is working with. And she is just loud. When I try to talk to my administer about other options, she just smiles at me and tells me to find a way to make it work–there is no other space for me to be.

    So while I agree that it is up to us introverts to advocate for ourselves and find ways to make things work for our personalities, it is also often a very difficult thing to do, especially in a profession where everyone seems to expect you to be extroverted.

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  • Wonderful note, thanks for writing this. I have embeded many of these routines, but could never articulate it so well. Thanks a ton.

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  • Glenda Reilly

    I see this is an old thread but it nailed my experience as a student in a teacher education program. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of group work we are required to participate in and then the extra-curricular socialization that goes on outside of class hours. I came home last night feeling like I had chosen the wrong profession and that there was something wrong with me. You have really made me think about accepting myself as I am, not seeing it as a failing but a strength, and looking for ways that I can advocate for myself. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (P.S. I love the one on one idea!)

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  • Rizwana Shamima

    How do the (extroverted) teachers react when you don’t hang around much in the staff room or lunch room, or take less part in social events like teacher get-togethers and partying, or even managing? Don’t these teachers run to management to say nasty stuffs about you behind your back? Because I am facing such a situation in my school as a new teacher, who happens to be introverted.

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  • Chantal

    John thank you so much for this! I’ve been thinking of becoming a teacher for some time now and feared being an introvert and what that would mean….and letting it lead to doubt. I’m so glad I came across this blog!

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  • Jan Nast

    I can just hear the collective sigh of relief for your suggestions, from all the introverted teachers out there! :):)
    I’ve been a corporate trainer for 35+ years because I was too afraid to jump into the noise of a school setting!

  • Bryan C.

    I wonder.. as an introverted teacher yourself and being aware of your nature, do you have an eye out for introverted students? Many introverted students could use an beacon in the sea of community.

  • Katie Condra

    This is great! I LOVE teaching, but the social intensity wears me out completely. I gave myself permission last year to eat lunch alone in my room, and I love the suggestion to keep the car a quiet zone on the way to school. I am also working on creating new online tools this year that can keep students engaged while I do one-on-one conferencing so that I am not “holding forth” in front of the class as often. I am also hoping to enjoy my introverted hobby of reading more this semester, and not feel guilty about it. Reading enhances my teaching by helping me create a strong community of independent readers in my HS English classroom.

  • Dawn Kruger

    I have come to realize that when my stress level is raised by noise or chaos, I am not the only one in the room who feels this way. I explain that quiet time is not a punishment for those that are too loud, but a reward for those of us who need quiet from time to time. I love to read to my class as they work on an art project. It is soothing for them and me, and they will typically shush each other because they want to hear the story. It’s also surprising how well most problem-solve independently so as not to interrupt. I have even done this with high school with success.

    • Katie Condra

      Nice job reframing “quiet” as a reward. I will be using this!

  • Geoffrey Bryce Frasz

    Can this site add an icon that allows one to print the article. Tried copying, but no go.

    • Quiet Revolution

      Thanks for the feedback, Geoffrey. Were you unable to print the article via the print options from your browser?

  • Emily Tuttle

    Great article! I am an introverted teacher and often feel ambivalent about the desire to be peppy and the desire to withdraw. I have to have silent work time frequently for my students. I find it helps them by forcing the, to read directions 🙂 I teach high school English and reading and writing are active, silent, paired activities frequently. Another strength is I support my introverted students 🙂

  • Great article, John. Thanks for sharing your tips.

  • Rich Day

    in all my years as a student, I NEVER encountered a teacher who had individual meetings like you suggest, and I have to wonder why, because it seems like it is the very thing that would connect with students who get lost (or hide) in a class. I am not an educator, so I have no real feel for how this would work, but it almost sounds like a no-brainer to me. Like a no-brainer that is rarely done!

    • Josh

      The biggest challenge logistically is what to do with the rest of the class while you are doing the one-on-one conferences. I’ve found that my HS students can devolve into social things when I’m talking with a single student.

      • Bryan C.

        isnt there something like homework hour? or similarly where students go of in the books on their own? that would be the perfect time. 30 students, 5min each. with some prep work, a lot can be done in 5min talks.

        • Bonnie Taylor

          I love the idea, however 5 min each with a class of 30 is 2.5 hours. I’m only with students for 50 minutes at a time, so students would have to be engaged in other things for three class periods in order for me to connect like that with everyone.

  • Chrissie Lazarus

    Thank you so very much for sharing! I’m an introverted teacher too. I never wanted to be a teacher but it was either I teach or suffer at home as good paying jobs are extremely hard to come by in my country. In two months’ time I was already trying to think of ways of not hating the kids who were sucking up my alone time. I’ve thought about quitting a million times since then; it’s extremely frustrating cuz in my country basically teachers aren’t expected to have a life outside of the classroom. Many parents don’t give a damn about their children and teachers are expected to be everything from parents to doctors and I just want to yell “Your kid is not on my mind 24/7, okay!!!!” I can’t even focus on my passion anymore which is writing stories and writing in my journals. It’s like I’m not even myself anymore and I hate this job cuz it’s forcing me to be someone I’m not. I wanna try your suggestions but when I think about work and those students I already feel very exhausted and depressed 🙁

    • Hi,

      Just curious did you ever quit or find another job? I’m really trying to find out if I should go into teaching as an extreme introvert myself.

  • Thank you for sharing your insights. I can relate to many of your experiences as I am an introverted 2nd grade teacher in a Title I, inner city school in Phoenix, AZ. I, too, have used many of the strategies that you have stated here to sustain my energy. It’s always best to stay true to yourself and educate others, including your students of your temperament and way of interacting with the world. This is beneficial because it gives them permission to be themselves in a world that is constantly trying to change them into something that they shouldn’t be. It teaches loves and acceptance of oneself and each other.

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  • Cincy43

    These are some wonderful strategies that I wish I would have had years ago when I started teaching. I left the profession after only four years, as it was physically exhausting to me. I only realized why this was so when I read “Quiet” and recognized that being surrounded by noise and people all day was draining to me. Being a traveling teacher, working between two schools during the course of the week, I felt that I needed to always eat lunch in the staff lounge to keep up with everything going on in both schools, even though I would have rather read a book quietly in my classroom. I think introverted educators almost need to educate their peers about the needs of introverted teachers and students. Introversion had always been associated with shyness when I was growing up, and this isn’t always the case!

  • Susie

    I am an education assistant, also surrounded by loud, extroverted colleagues. I find them more exhausting than the students I support. The staff room is the worst! I can’t be there at lunchtime at all. Team meetings hellish, where the loudest person wins. The noise; I have had to adapt my life too. I have always been a music fan, but now I need peace and quiet, solitude, more than ever. When I get home from work, I want quiet, and the last thing I want to do is go out and be around more people!! I’ve been in this field for 14 years, and I’m seriously considering dropping down to part-time hours. I do believe my sensitivity and gentleness are a real asset when working with students. Thank you for sharing, it is so rare to find another quiet person in the field of education. Now if only there was someone at my workplace!

  • lizamariewhite

    I’m just beginning in my teaching profession and this piece gave me great insight. We have some amazingly awesome in depth discussions in class and while I’m actively listening with a want to engage but so many thoughts going through my mind I need time to sit and process the information. Thanks for these strategies.

    • debbie

      I am an introvert and just retired after 25 years of teaching. I didn’t realize there was a name for how I felt. The noise really got to me and I was always tired. I just thought it was my job. After reading about signs of being an introvert I realized …..wow…..no wonder!! I am so enjoying my quiet time now and I still don’t listen to music. I am no longer tired all the time. I wish I would have had all the advise on here when I started teaching.