Being an Introverted Teacher in an Overwhelmingly Extroverted Profession

PLCs.

Collaborative structures.

Team-based learning.

Parent meetings.

Group work.

Are you getting anxious just thinking about these words? I am.

These past few weeks have been very trying on me, to the point where I considered not teaching. Just…stopping. And doing what? I don’t know.

The week back from Spring Break exploded into a frenzy of people tugging at me from all angles—seniors who are rushing to graduate, parents who are needing me for various information about their students, department meetings and staff meetings requiring my full attention, etc. In fact, this is probably what every teacher is experiencing right now. I ended the week with my head swimming, exhausted, and unfortunately totally unmotivated to actually do the work I needed to do on the weekend, when I had spare moments. The truth is that I’m almost apathetic. And then I realize it and I feel guilty. I’m getting burned out, my friends. Big time.

Where’s the Passion?

I wondered why I was dreading going to my job within a profession I have declared for the last ten years as something I would never want to leave—even, if I’m honest, I lie about how much I “love” it sometimes. Am I passionate about education? Absolutely. I have all the feels for education, but I don’t know if I’ve let myself even become passionate for other things since education is my “thing.” I feel guilty spending time reading and doing other things if I’m going to sacrifice spending time on teaching. It’s just how I am. I’ve always been an “all or nothing” sort of person.

So if I spend all of this time thinking, writing, talking, and doing teaching-related stuff, then why does walking away seem so tantalizing? Freeing, almost?  I have some theories. And I’m very certain I’m not the only person who is being ripped apart by it.

I am a textbook introvert, no doubt about it. I am most energized by the solitude and calmness of being alone, but that doesn’t mean I hate people. I even enjoy being with people—on my terms, which include one-on-one or small groups of people I trust and connect with. In fact, I spent the evening hanging out with my coworkers last night—yes, on a Friday!—and loved it. However, today I’ll probably not talk to a living thing other than my dog.

Teaching is not an introvert-friendly profession by nature. From the moment you walk in the door (and even before, since there’s email), you are expected to be available. We tell that to students and parents to create a relationship where we can be approachable and ‘there for them.’ I am glad that my students and parents feel that they can come to me about anything, but it is something I have to negotiate. I teach through the day (which requires so much extroversion that it’s frightening to me, sometimes) and have my planning hour last, and by that time all I can do is stare at the wall and let my brain rearrange itself. I am rarely ‘productive’ during this time in that no heavy lifting gets done—I am not in the place to jump into thinking about tomorrow yet, or looking at student work. I need a break, most likely because I haven’t had one since I ate my breakfast at 6:30 a.m. Many times during the planning time I have, I have other meetings to attend with parents and students or other staff members. And that’s where the introverted me wants to scream out, “leave me alone!” But I can’t just not go to meetings and I definitely don’t want to ‘check out’ and not engage in them.

Consequentially, I feel as if I’m not a person when I go home. I don’t want to do life things. Going to the grocery after a day of work gives me actual anxiety. One time I sat in the car and felt my heart rate increase just looking at all the cars in the parking lot, and was frozen. I couldn’t move. Eventually, I decided to drive home without shopping. Interacting with any people after work doesn’t happen, normally. I avoid it. And feel trapped by it.

“What’s Wrong With Me?”

In a quest for understanding myself, (driven by a lot of negative thoughts running through my head that sounded like “Am I just lazy?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I hack this?” “I’m a bad teacher because of this.”) I decided to retake the Myers-Briggs personality test. You can read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

After taking a few different ones, I settled on INFJ, with a little T and a little P. Here’s an informative video about the personality type:

Apparently INFJ is the least common personality type, which might explain my feeling  isolated in this dilemma. If you watched that video, you saw, however, that working in education is definitely a fit. When I was researching this, I got a little frustrated. I wanted to hear that the reason why I was struggling was because I’m in the wrong profession. In my pros and cons list, a lot of my cons center around two things—feeling incredibly drained and feeling a loss of hope because of crazy stressful demands from politicians, administrators, parents, and basically everyone else. I fantasize sitting by myself all day, working, and not having to interact with these problems. But then the “Feeling” part of me knows I’ll be missing out on everything that authentically drives me, and the “Judging” part hates the uncertainty. I’m afraid that I’d lose meaning in what I do and regret leaving. I am lying to myself if I say that I don’t care about improving lives of people through education. So how do I make this work? How do I get from “survive” to “thrive?” I have to at least try to solve these problems before making a move.

“In some ways, today’s teachers are simply struggling with what the Harvard Business Review recently termed “collaborative overload” in the workplace. According to its own data, “over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.” The difference for teachers in many cases is that they don’t get any down time; they finish various meetings with various adults and go straight to the classroom, where they feel increasing pressure to facilitate social learning activities and promote the current trend of collaborative education.”

-Michael Godsey, from The Atlantic’s Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out

Here is what I am committed to trying to do:

  1. Be even more stingy with quiet time at work. This week I locked myself in my office for fifteen minutes for lunch and ate in silence. Then a student found me to tell me something that could have definitely waited fifteen minutes. I need to improve my communication with students about this need of mine, so they don’t think that I’m being rude or unhelpful or grouchy. Same goes to colleagues.

  2. Try to get to work earlier. I am the antithesis of a ‘morning person.’ When I can be alone, I actually like mornings. When I have to make words come out of my mouth coherently, not so much. So, if I can get myself to work earlier—even a half hour—I think I could be productive at that time instead of the afternoon.

  3. Talk with my classes about this. I know I have a lot of introverted students. I think I could use this aspect of my personality to help them with what they could be struggling with in their lives right now.

  4. Seek ways to incorporate introvert-friendly strategies into my teaching. Last session I started every day with what I call “Read or Write for 10” and students loved it. They could read or write anything they wanted for ten minutes with no strings attached. They didn’t have to talk about it or even write about it until the end of the session when I gave them a survey. Often, I tried to participate in this myself.

  5. Let myself explore other potential passions. I’m not married to teaching. It would be cool to even try something else that uses my INFJ strengths too. I love podcasts, writing, techy things. Music. I can’t forget that those loves can be jobs too.

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share with you some other writing about the topic that is helpful. Check out:

7 Strategies for Surviving as an Introverted Teacher, from Quiet Revolution (Susan Cain’s website)

Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out, From The Atlantic

How to Survive as an Introverted Teacher, from What I Have Learned

As School Becomes More Collaborative, How Do Introverted Teachers Cope? from Mind/Shift

Lastly, I want to know for real: Where are my fellow introverted teachers? What are your thoughts and strategies? Any other INFJ teachers out there? PLEASE comment below, I would love to hear from those in the introvert tribe, and even those weirdo extroverts ;P

UPDATE: Read this post to see how you can make introverted students feel at home in a collaborative environment.

-S

(Feature image from theage.com.au)

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16 comments

  1. Great write up.

    I can assure you there are many introverted teachers out there, facing a number of the problems you covered. I’m an INTJ myself, and taught for five years before burning out. I still work with educators, though, discussing this exact phenomenon. It’s really been fascinating. When I give workshops about introversion in the classroom, all of the introverts suddenly appear out of the woodwork.

    We’re all here, we simply are coping in our own ways, and this is a topic that has yet to be widely addressed across the field of education. It’s problematic at best.

    As an introverted teacher, you’re in a special position (especially as an INFJ!). You have the opportunity to serve as a role model to introverted students who are receiving the unintended, subconscious message that they are wrong. That’s huge, and I’m so glad talking to your students is one of the priorities you’ve set.

    This isn’t meant to be a plug, as I think you’ll find the information genuinely useful, but I run a Facebook group called Adaptive Introvert, and it’s specifically for introverted educators and entrepreneurs. The vast majority of the group consists of teachers, and many of them are INFJs. My e-mail is attached to this comment and if you’d like to be a part of the group, you’re more than welcome (as are any other introverted educators who come across this comment and want a place to commiserate).

  2. I’m an introvert too – though I think I am an INFP. For me, taking that “me time” is key to being able to give back to my students on a daily basis. I try to find time to be in my own head every day, whether it is part of my routine before I go to bed or by putting music on during my prep and telling students to pretend that “I’m not here”.

    My husband has noticed that, if I don’t get that alone time, I am a bear to live with. So he tries to honor that need. I also notice that I lose patience with my students (which makes all of us more grouchy) more easily if I don’t recharge my batteries.

    I guess I’m writing to say that it is in EVERYONE’S best interest for you to recharge your batteries and take time for yourself. And I personally give you permission to do it without guilt!

    1. Hi Cyndi! Yes–sometimes I feel guilty taking time for myself, as I’m sure a lot of others do. At this point, I can’t afford to feel guilty if it makes me want to leave teaching!

  3. I’m a recently-discovered INFJ who has taught on and off for 18 years. My reactions to teaching make so much sense now! I love the kids and mentoring colleagues and parents, but I was comatose by about 6:00 every Friday night. I have 3 children (14, 12, 8) who want to have play dates, sleepovers, and do ‘fun stuff’. I didn’t like that I had nothing left for them.

    I recently asked my principal about the possibility of doing a job-share for next year. I would be teaching the afternoons and my colleague (who is having a baby) will teach the mornings.

    At first it was so hard to swallow my pride and say that I couldn’t do it all! I still worry about what others will think of me. But I have such joy knowing that I can take of myself, my family, and my students with the new arrangement.

    I’m planning to start developing resources for TPT in some of my spare time. It really excites me to try something new….and be able to eat breakfast in my house, instead of my car:).

    1. Heather, I don’t have children but have always wondered how my energy levels would be if I did. It sounds like your experience is probably what it would look like! I hope your principal honors your job-share! That sounds amazing. Thanks for reading and best of luck!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this article! I broke down in tears as I read it, thinking….YES! That is what I am going through. I especially feel this since taking on department chair this year. I have had this love/hate relationship with my career for 28 years now. In fact, looking back I know that I was not the partner or parent I should have been for my family in part due to how draining my job is to me. I have 3 years to retirement. I want the last 3 to be good but I know that means setting boundaries on my expectations for myself (infj are so self-critical).

  5. Where has this post been all of my life?! This is only my first year teaching, but I have the same feelings and anxieties. I often feel like a “bad teacher” as well, especially on those days where simply getting out of bed feels like a victory. You have shed light on something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, and it helps. Thank you.

    1. I’m glad! First year is so hard. I’d like to say that it gets better, but I don’t think it does, honestly! You can, however, get better at handling it. I’m saying this when I’m two days away from summer, so there’s that. lol. Thanks for reading. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading! It is hard to fight the rigidity of most teaching schedules. I’ve found some success this year with being able to move my planning period to the first period of the day, which helps because I’m definitely not a morning person and it helps to be alone for the first hour or so at school. Good luck!

  6. This post was so awesome! I’m a preservice teacher in a student teaching placement right now as part of a quick-fire one year master’s program in education. Some days, I go straight from my all-day student teaching placement to class with the 40 other people in my program, and it’s enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and not interact with another human being for at least three days. It’s good to hear from a professional educator that it’s okay to address my own personal needs in this way. We talk a lot about setting boundaries in my classes about teaching, but it seems overwhelmingly true that teachers generally don’t get to have too many personal boundaries throughout the school year. I know my mentor teacher pretty much never stops responding to emails from her department or from students’ parents. There seems to be a really delicate balance between self-care and caring for students and the profession, and this post was really insightful in addressing those topics. Thank you for your candor! This really helped me out 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes, doing professional development like classes on top of teaching is a lot to handle. I think my saving grace is when I can have full evenings with my dog and Netflix. Once I get home, I don’t leave. 🙂 Good luck!

  7. Thanks.

    I’m an ISTJ teaching secondary school music. I am finishing up my 11th year.

    I know I am late to the party, but I feel sometimes like I just want to swap my teaching job for a cubicle desk job. Making phone calls home to parents gives me actual anxiety… shakes, cold sweat, heart rate increase, blurry vision. But it is expected. I always try email first, and phone ONLY of necessary.

    Group collaborations super bother me, especially when it seems like my coworkers just want to dwell on problems instead of solutions.

    I am so glad I am not the only one who feels line this. Thanks again for the post and the resources. I will be reading them!

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