Last week a colleague sent me a fascinating article: “Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out.” It struck home with me.
I am very much an introvert and understand my own needs for quiet and alone time to re-charge. Yet, for some reason, I had never connected that with my job as a teacher. I didn’t realize that the utter exhaustion I felt at the end of the day may be more acute, or different, than what my extroverted teacher friends felt. Of course, teaching is a hard and tiring job for anyone, but this article completely resonated with me that much of my “burn-out” was due to my introversion. I am using burn-out in several ways here: sometimes you feel it on a Wednesday and can’t believe you have to come back to work the next two days, sometimes it hits in February and you honestly aren’t sure if you will make it until June, and sometimes it results in leaving the profession altogether. The novel idea that teaching is harder on an introvert never occurred to me until reading this article. For those of you who are interested, a simple Google search of “introvert teacher” brought up a plethora of blog posts and tips from introverted teachers on how to survive.
Let me take you through a run-down of a typical day in the life of a teacher:
- Early morning you walk into the building. You may try to get there early to get some time alone to set up but if there are family obligations or a bad commute you may only have 15-20 minutes before your first class walks in. In that time you need to straighten the desks, write the objective, agenda, and homework on the board, make copies if needed, put your lunch away, get out your attendance and worksheets, and any other tasks that may pop up.
- Students walk into first period and will often be talking a mile a minute and yelling and joking with their friends. It’s amazing how much energy they can have early in the morning. There will be a constant barrage of questions around last night’s homework, what we will learn in class today, what tonight’s homework will be (yes, this is all written on the board as I reminded them every day when they asked), and some begging to have no homework or no test.
- The class period will be filled with activity. Sometimes the teacher will be talking and sometimes students will be working in pairs or groups. There is constant noise. You have to pay attention to every student and read body language to see what is happening around the room. You will need to walk around and check in with every group as they work and at the same time keep one ear and eye on all the other groups to make sure they stay on task.
- When the period ends, you have roughly four minutes between classes to straighten out the room, prepare for the next bunch to come in and do it all over again. Keep in mind that it may take two minutes for the whole class to actually leave the room and many students from the next class will walk in two minutes early so there is no time alone or quiet in between.
- At some point the teacher will have a period off. You may think this is a good time to re-charge with some quiet time. However, due to space constraints in schools, your classroom will almost always be scheduled for another class and you will get kicked out to the faculty lounge. The faculty lounge will be filled with all the other teachers that have been kicked out of their regular classrooms for the period. Sometimes it is quiet, but often teachers are talking to each other. Or, you have a meeting. There is an endless number of meetings: IEPs, grade level, subject level, evaluations, RTI, etc. Sometimes those meetings take place in the faculty lounge because there is no other space available. So, even if you aren’t in a meeting, there is a good chance you’re listening to a meeting happening a few feet away.
- Lunch doesn’t bring any relief. It is usually 20-30 minutes and often we have made plans with students to eat their lunch with us so we can get some one-on-one time to go over an issue or re-teach a concept they are confused about. Eating always happens while doing something else.
- In the afternoon there are more sections of students like were already described.
- After school brings students that need help or have questions. Or, more meetings.
It’s no wonder I was exhausted at the end of the day and often drove home in complete silence- no radio. There were very few moments in the whole day where I wasn’t talking to someone. Friday nights I could absolutely not handle any plans. I was basically comatose by then and needed the whole night on the couch to get my head to stop spinning.
The article makes a great point that the world is moving towards increasing “social” or group learning. We want our students to work in groups and we expect our teachers to learn in groups. Professional development generally asks teachers to talk in groups about new practices. Grade and subject level meetings have teachers review student data and lesson plans in groups. This is exhausting to introverts who prefer to have time to reflect on their own rather than working out problems verbally.
The article cites lack of awareness, among teachers and administrators, as a problem. I was certainly unaware and I was an introvert myself! It was interesting to look at this issue from an administrative standpoint. If leadership considered the impact of teacher personalities and learning styles there may be ways of making the day more manageable. Lack of space may not be fixed but keeping the need for quiet space in mind may be helpful. Also, professional development could be delivered in many different ways. Introverts may prefer to be part of a book group or have reading assigned to reflect on with their supervisor rather than participating in a group activity. This may not be possible, but it was interesting to consider.
A Forbes article suggested that one-third to half of all people may be introverts. This doesn’t tell us what population of the teaching force are introverts but I would venture there are quite a few. Many people, including teachers-in-training, believe that teaching means they will have their own classroom to be in all day (whether students are there or not). They will be the rulers of this space and when the students aren’t there they have time to reflect on lessons and do their grading. The reality is very different.
It may be important to consider how introversion versus extroversion impacts teachers and students during the day. Teacher retention is a trending topic and is extremely important to maintain effective and veteran teachers. If burnout among introverts is making the profession lose great teachers it is worth looking into. Luckily, as I discovered, there is a wealth of information and resources available online that address this issue.