Early on in my teaching career, I learnt that I had to readjust how I function in school or face complete burnout.
You see, I am an introvert. And I gladly admit to embodying every cliché that comes with it: I am happier at home with a good book than out socialising; I am bordering on invisible in staff meetings and I find myself severely lacking in conversation skills after a day in the interpersonally demanding environment of a school – something that can be rather challenging to explain to my extroverted wife.
All of these traits can make this profession challenging, but there is no doubt in my mind that introverts have the capacity to be wonderful, compassionate and dedicated teachers; the key is to take steps to ensure balance. Here are some suggestions for how to do this.
Introverts are often perceived to be aloof or anti-social, but this is not the case. While we still value conversation and relationships, our energy comes from the inner world. This might mean that, at lunchtime, we want to close our classroom doors and recharge, rather than eating with others.
Being open and honest with colleagues about these individual preferences is important in forming positive relationships. There is also real value in sharing these preferences with our students: it normalises emotions and feelings that a number of them may also be feeling.
Plan for meetings
Group situations, such as staff meetings, can often prove to be overwhelming for those with introverted tendencies. However, it is still vital that we make our reflections heard. One way to do this is to plan in advance for meetings. Another option is to offer our thoughts in considered writing.
Incidentally, this why introverts can often make excellent leaders: they bring a depth of thought and planning to the workplace.
Adapt your classroom practice
When it comes to classroom practice, the important thing is to find an approach that is authentic and manageable for you as an individual. In my experience, quiet teachers tend to build excellent relationships that manifest in quiet classrooms. Building in moments of reflection and time for quiet individual work is vital both for us and our students, so don’t be afraid to allow for this in your planning.
Prioritise restorative time
This is where selfishness has to come in. The amount of "downtime" you need to find balance is completely unique for the individual, but finding what works to help us re-charge is vital. For more introverted teachers, this often requires a period of quiet.
Diary writing can be helpful to find clarity, while meditation and mindfulness practices can help to press pause. I personally also find that exercise is a good way to escape from the demands of the day and do lots and lots of running.
Focus on the positives
Introverts have lots to offer the busy world of schools. Our preference for listening rather than talking can be hugely supportive, not just for our students but also for our colleagues; our ability to focus and think deeply means we are often immersed in our subjects and teaching. Sharing these positives with others, in whatever way works for you, can have a significant impact in your school.
Jamie Thom is an English teacher at Cramlington Learning Village. His book A Quiet Education will be published in November 2019. He tweets @teachgratitude1