How to Survive (and Thrive) as an Introverted Teacher

an introverted teacher thrives at school

Whether you teach the same 30 or so elementary school students all day, or you have 175 teenagers walk in and out of your classroom, being an introverted school teacher can be challenging.

As an introverted teacher and instructional coach, I’ve noticed that the breaks built into the school day do not really offer us the downtime we need. We might have yard duty at recess or a meeting with students at lunch. Prep periods are when we battle the aging photocopy machine or get a lab set up for the next day. Most days, we barely have enough time to run to the bathroom and grab a quick snack before the bell rings and we are back in front of our students.

But, with a few minor adjustments, we can provide quality instruction for our students while still honoring our wiring as introverts. Here are six things introverted teachers can do to survive (and thrive) this school year.

How to Thrive as an Introverted Teacher

1. Give students assignments throughout the day that give you a break.

When I was in the classroom, I remember how overwhelmed I would be by the end of the day. Teaching requires one to be “on” for so many hours in front of students. I ended each day either exhausted or with my body buzzing with a jittery energy that would take hours to come down from.

Eventually, I learned that it’s okay for my students to sit quietly for a bit each period and work by themselves. I taught them the routines and expectations for a pair-share or journal-write, and then sat at my desk and took a moment for myself.

As an instructional coach, I’ve had to assure many introverted teachers their students will be fine without their teacher up at the front of the classroom leading them all day. In fact, students might even benefit from the opportunity to take the reins and guide their own learning.

2. Seek out a role on campus outside the classroom.

I stumbled upon the role of staff development coordinator at my high school and found it not less work, just different than teaching. After three periods of teaching English in the morning, I had two release periods at the end of the day to plan in-services, support new teachers, attend leadership meetings, etc.

The work was quietly done in an office, either on my own or with a couple of adults. Because I wasn’t up in front of students all day, this adjustment to my schedule made me less worn out at the end of the day and better able to manage the grind of the school year. If such opportunities are available at your school, let your principal know that you’re interested.

3. Take a walk by yourself or with like-minded colleagues during recess or lunch.

There were a couple of years where I walked to a coffee shop across the street from campus during my prep period with a group of fellow teachers. We didn’t all purchase coffee — it was just an opportunity to unwind and be somewhere other than the classroom during the day. Sometimes we talked about our students or caught up on the latest gossip on campus, but just as often, we talked about a book we were reading or our plans for the weekend.

I felt lucky to have found these like-minded people to hang out with for a little bit every day. The years I was able to cultivate relationships with colleagues that allowed me unwind are ones I look back on as some of the best of my career. It might take some time, but it can be worthwhile to find some adults on campus who share your interests and temperament.

4. Leave campus early at least once a week.

Early doesn’t mean before the bell rings. It just means that you leave at a reasonable hour to give yourself a weekly opportunity to unwind from the expectations of the job. And you don’t have to take school work with you. Or if you do, find a bench at your favorite park, grab a table at a quiet coffee shop, or just curl up on your couch to open up that folder of student work.

Staying on campus often means colleagues, parents, and students are stopping by our classroom, requiring us to stay in “teacher mode” to address their various requests. It might be just the break we introverts need to find one day each week to walk off campus guilt-free.

5. Take a staycation a few times a year.

October is the month I notice teachers and students seem to be the most overwhelmed. We can no longer feel the residual calm of summer and the school year is officially in its unending grind. This is the month we get sick and some of us never really feel better until after the winter break.

If your district’s calendar does not give you time off this month, take it anyways. Give yourself a three or four day weekend. Do a lot of nothing during that time. You’ll be in such a better place to take on your students and the holiday requirements if you give yourself a break beforehand.

6. Say no to requests for additional work.

Most of us are required to sign up to do some additional work on campus, but we don’t have to say yes to every request from our principal or colleagues. Schools and students will always need more from us, but as introverts, we won’t have the energy for our primary work as a teacher if we overextend ourselves with a packed after-school calendar.

If you feel the pressure from colleagues, then be particular about what you say yes to. Sign up for the tasks that allow you to work quietly from home or during a part of the year where campus is a bit quieter. Students and staff will really be okay, even if you aren’t there as a timer at the track meet or a chaperone at the school dance.

After my first year of teaching, I remember sitting comatose on the couch in front of the television for the entire first week of summer. I was so drained from all that was required of me and had no idea how to put myself back together.

Over the years, I’ve seen introverted colleagues walk away each June the exact same way. But there are some simple ways to preserve ourselves each week so that we can be excellent for our students in the classroom — and for ourselves outside of it.

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Susan McDonald is a veteran high school English teacher and instructional coach in the Silicon Valley. She also has her own life coach business. You can reach her at susanmcdonaldcoaching.com.