Education is a tough field for introverts, and not necessarily for the reasons people might assume. The “public speaking” aspect, for example, is not that big of a deal for many people in a classroom setting. In fact, public speaking in general may be easier for introverts because they can tell everyone everything at the same time and won’t have to have lots of separate, smaller conversations.
In addition, introverts think deeply about many things before they ever speak about them to anyone else, so when introverts do speak publicly, they are usually well-prepared. This often makes them excellent public speakers (or teachers).
Like many aspects of education, it’s not addressing the students that is the most taxing - it’s all the ‘other stuff’ that educators are expected to do that chip away the life force of the introvert.
For many introverts, the bigger issues are constant meetings, the absence of time or space for quiet reflection, and the inability to get a moment alone - even while having lunch (break rooms are the worst).
If you have your own office or classroom, it’s a little more manageable than if you are a “homeless” teacher, wandering from class to class to teach. However, for true introverts, being in a highly social job like teaching can be exhausting.
It’s just as rewarding as a vocation for introverts as it is for extroverts, but it presents a slightly different set of challenges.
What Exactly Is An “Introvert”?
Most studies show that introverts make up to 25% to 40% of the general population, yet many people simply don’t understand what the term means.
Obviously, everyone is different, but here are some common traits that might be found among introverts. These aren’t “rules” or “qualifications”. They are just a few fairly common tendencies to clarify who we’re talking about here.
- often do their best work, planning, and thinking alone - they can support extroverts, who need to think in groups, but they aren’t usually able to get the same benefits from the time spent working as a group as an extrovert would
- prefer to think before they speak about many topics - rather than sharing what they think or feel about something, they’d prefer time to mull things over; if they are ready to talk about something, that’s usually a sign they’ve already been thinking about it for a while
- usually aren’t big fans of small talk
- aren’t as worried about social conventions (like eye contact, or listening politely to stories of a colleague’s great-niece’s cousin’s dog) or outside opinions of propriety or social and conversational norms - they know how to use them when they have to, but in normal, relaxed conversations they may not be so attentive to those things as an extrovert would
- tend to have a small, close group of friends to whom they are incredibly loyal - sometimes they’ll have all acquaintances and just one friend, and they are perfectly happy with that
- regularly require quiet downtime to recharge
There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts, as well, and because the nature of most introverts causes them to skip unnecessary discussion, other people may just go along believing their misconceptions … well, forever without any introvert feeling that they must address it.
Introverts Aren’t Necessarily:
- afraid of groups
- overly analytical
- sad, depressed, anxious, or lonely
- ever magically going to become extroverts
- poor leaders
- weird, broken, or unusual
- always alone
- lacking self-confidence
The Hard Truth
Education is really set up for the care and keeping of extroverts. The “hive mind” is seen as the only way to make things work in schools, so everything is done in groups - planning, looking at data, strategizing what works best for every individual student, general decision-making for important things like what color paper to use for newsletters, and so on. Even eating as a group is “encouraged” strongly.
It’s time for educators to learn how to diversify and become more inclusive of a variety of different personalities. Strengthening the diversity among administrators, staff, and faculty by making room for introverts is good for everyone.
Our students need to see introverts thriving and being respected on the same level as extroverts. They definitely notice if diversity and inclusion are not happening among adults. Students should never feel “unacceptable” for their personality differences.
Here are some survival tips for those of us in the field.
Skill 1: Understand Yourself
Not everyone fits neatly into two categories. Rather, the space between introvert and extrovert is really a spectrum. There are people at the extreme ends of both, but most people are somewhere between the two.
There are also people who could be classified as one or the other only in certain circumstances.
Chances are fairly good that none of these ideas are new concepts for you, and you know where you fit in, but it’s not a bad idea to do some reflection. What things are really part of who you are, and which things have you adopted because of the pressure of the culture around you? It’s okay to be true to who you really are.
What are your personal priorities? How would you like to be treated?
You may be perfectly happy with the way things are, but if you aren’t, consider being genuine with your colleagues. You can’t really fully access your own strengths unless you are able to be genuine about who you are.
Skill Two: Make a Plan
If you’ve ever felt like you’re on the outside looking in or misunderstood because you prefer being on the outside looking in (it’s nothing personal, extroverts! We’re just happier outside!), decide how you can convey what you need from your colleagues.
Keep in mind, your extrovert colleagues don’t know there is another way or that the way they do things doesn’t work magic for absolutely everyone. There are people who actually enjoy staff meetings, for example, and don’t see why anyone would longingly ache for a mild stomach bug to rescue them from the torture (oops!) get-together.
They may think that your desire to not have a fifth team meeting that week means you don’t like them.
We don’t understand it either, but it happens.
So make a plan to educate the people around you. They truly may not understand that people are not all the same. One of our writers actually had some exuberant colleagues telling them that hanging out with the team would “fix” them - more than once! (Response: “No thank you. I’ve got a book to read.”)
Express that although you understand they need to talk for hours about their children, or their plants, or their students, or … well, anything in order to get their needs met and fill their creative planning and processing “buckets”, your brain just doesn’t work that way. You need quiet to function.
And not that we’re speaking from our own experiences here, but it really is best for an introvert to think of the best way to convey these things before the situation arises. Otherwise, things can get said that no one really means to say out loud, and then it’s … it’s a mess (or so we’re told).
While you’re at it, identify the communication that isn’t necessary for the entire group to be involved in and share that although you are a “team player” and motivated to communicate pertinent items, you really do need some cave time alone to be able to process.
You’ll give them the time they need, but in exchange, the team has to be willing to allow you to have your time alone.
Skill Three: Do What Makes You Happy
Life is short and unpredictable. No one has time to be miserable.
Once you’ve identified what you need to be living your best teacher-life, you’ve made a plan, and you know what you need to say to explain what you need, stick to it.
In other words, this is your official permission to eat your lunch completely alone in the sanctuary of your classroom with only noises and sounds of your own choosing (two words: ear. buds.)
One teacher we know worked in an early childhood setting, and although they knew it was developmentally appropriate for young children to spend a lot of time talking and making noise, it really bothered the teacher. So, during center time, indoor recess, and other naturally noisy times, they wore discreet earplugs that didn’t block all sound, merely muffled louder noises.
No one was the wiser, and everyone was happy.
Another teacher made a habit of turning the lights off and sitting in a corner of the room where no one could see them for just five minutes during the day while everyone was out of the room. That five minutes of intentional silence gave them the energy they needed to “people” until it was time to go home.
You may need an hour at home after school to recharge every day, and that’s okay! It’s particularly difficult if you’re a single parent of young children, but early bedtimes can save your sanity.
There is a way to find time to gain the solitude you need daily. Plan for it, then make it a priority. You’ll be glad you did.
Skill Four: Find Allies
There are those on the introvert/extrovert spectrum who are not truly introverts but can relate enough because of situational introversion and sympathize. They are the people you need to speak with and ask for help. They’re the best people to have on your team, especially if you work with several extroverts. They may be able to run interference when you need five minutes of quiet, or express more accurately to an outgoing teammate that you don’t dislike them, you just need a minute to think.
They may even be willing and able to give you a run-down of what happened in the break room over lunch. Ask! Don’t be afraid to communicate with compassionate teammates. It will make your bond with them stronger, which will make the team stronger.