How to Survive as an Introverted Teacher:
Many introverts question whether or not they can actually be a teacher. We’re expected to talk to students, parents, and colleagues all day. It’s exhausting for even the most extroverted people, so how can you do this as an introvert?
The first thing that I want to emphasise is that you can be a fantastic teacher and still be an introvert. In fact, I firmly believe that we need more introverted teachers. However, introverted teachers are more likely to burn out than their extroverted colleagues. This means that the system is increasingly moving towards being more and more tailored to these extroverts.
You need to keep on top of many things if you’re looking after your well being as a teacher. Teaching is not a profession where you can just let this slip, even though it is tempting to when you’re so passionate about teaching young people. As an introvert, you do have additional well-being needs that many other teachers and school leaders forget about, but there are strategies that you can put in place:
Find some time alone during the day.
You may not get much time to yourself, but you usually can find a spare half an hour if you look for it. Many teachers (myself included) regularly work through their lunch breaks to keep on top of their work.
Sure, doing some extra work through your breaks during the day may mean that you don’t have to stay back as late after school. However, as an introvert, you must recharge your batteries during the day to be ready for the next lesson. It isn’t worth burning out during the day to completely collapse when you get home.
When taking a break, don’t feel guilty if you’re not going and socialising with your colleagues. If you have a classroom where you can hang out and not be bothered, that’s fantastic! Not everyone has this luxury, though. I know teachers who have found a particular place in the corner of the yard where they can sit and not be bothered in their break time, or you may want to go and hide in another room during lunchtime. This may seem like an odd thing to do, but if it means that you can be left alone for a bit, it’s well worth it.
Limit your social interactions outside of work.
I hate to suggest this one, but if you need to do it, you need to do it. I’m not suggesting that you withdraw from your friends and family, and this is a line that you will need to walk very carefully. If you can talk to your loved ones about your work and why you will need some extra time to yourself on the weekends and when you get home.
Teachers are unlucky to often have friends and families who don’t understand what they go through during the day. I’m an incredibly extroverted person, but I need to clarify to my family that when I get home from work, I usually need about an hour alone in the bedroom to just sit in the dark and unwind.
I’ve also got some great friends who are very social, who I often catch up with on weekends. They know that I just need to sit and listen some weeks without them expecting me to engage. We’ll go out for coffee, and I’ll love just sitting and hearing about their week. They know that sometimes, I will struggle to contribute much to the conversation, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t care or am not interested. I still really appreciate their company, and they are okay with me not burning any more social energy than I need to.
If you’re open with your friends, I’m sure you’ll find that my friends are not unique. Many people are okay with this, but they will be confused or think that you don’t want to be spending time with them if you don’t tell them precisely what you need. This is similar if you need to debrief about your week; it is well worth telling people exactly what you need from them and having people around you who will listen.
Tell people when you need a break.
This goes for your friends and family as well as your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to cancel plans at the last minute if that’s what you need to do, but it is worthwhile letting people know why you need to cancel. Being open and honest about having an intense day or week and needing some time to recharge will mean that people will keep inviting you when you are ready.
If your school expects you to be involved in regularly shared morning teas and social meetings, it is usually acceptable to skip these things at least once in a while. This may rub some people the wrong way, but you need to be clear about what you need and look after yourself. If you’re worried that it looks bad if you’re not socialising with people during your breaks at work, shift your perspective. You are making sure that you recharge and be your best for your students.
Your students’ needs should always come before your colleagues’ social needs. You need to look after yourself to be the best teacher that you can be for your students. You may need to clarify that this is what you’re doing, which can be very difficult when most other teachers are extroverted and may not understand. Make sure that you are as open with people as possible because looking after yourself is the most crucial factor in being a good teacher.
Be honest with your colleagues about what you need.
There can be a lot of pressure to spend time with colleagues outside of work. Many schools have social clubs or after-work drinks, which can further drain your energy reserves that are better spent with friends and family. Don’t be afraid to say no to these events; if you are in a workplace where they are compulsory, this is a sign of a poor work culture that you may not want to be involved with.
I draw a very firm boundary between my work and personal life for many reasons, and I’m very transparent with my colleagues about this. They know that I am more than happy to have coffee and long chats during the workday, but I’m heading home as soon as the clock hits four. If your colleagues have a problem with just being work friends, this is another sign of poor work culture and is unsustainable for many people. Most of these people are our introverted teachers, but you are not alone.
Use meditation as a method to recharge.
A lot of people find it challenging to meditate. If you’ve never done it before, you may not believe me when I say that it can significantly impact your state of mind, mood, and energy levels. If you’ve had a challenging day and need to quickly recharge before another commitment later that night, starting to meditate for the first time probably isn’t the best option. Meditation is something that you train and get better at, and it is pretty tricky to get started when you’re already finding it difficult to focus and calm your mind.
If you practice and get good at meditating, it can be a quick and efficient way to recharge when you have very limited time. It can help you make the most out of those rare moments you get alone during the day and significantly impact how you feel. There are many apps that you can use to practice meditating and a lot of guided meditations on YouTube. Teaching your students how to meditate, while tricky, can also be great for them. It could be worth trying to do it together as a class so that you all get a break to recharge.
The importance of looking after yourself as an introverted teacher.
Looking after yourself as a teacher can take some serious dedication. With the way teaching is now, introverted teachers are at particular risk of being inadequately supported in their well-being.
Many of the things that I have just mentioned seem pretty scary. A lot of it is about asserting yourself and building strong communication about your needs with the people around you. This is difficult, but it is necessary for your well-being and the well-being of all of the other introverted teachers out there. Teaching itself doesn’t need to be hostile to introverts.
What makes it particularly difficult for introverts to be teachers is how teaching is structured as a profession. The additional expectations placed on teachers mean that introverts often get burned out of the profession when our students desperately need them.