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:
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.