7 Survival Strategies for the Introverted Teacher21 March 2016 / By Jessica Honard Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 21, 2016
While all educators are susceptible to burnout, the introverted teacher is fighting a unique battle. They are willingly immersing themselves in an environment designed to exhaust themselves.
As an introverted teacher, I quickly realized I was in over my head. It wasn’t the teaching itself that really got to me; it was the constant external stimulation that accompanies the world of education. Between busy hallways, loud noises, and bright lights I would, inevitably, be left utterly exhausted by mid-week.
It took me until my fourth year of teaching before I regained some sense of self. Up until that point I was working on autopilot, merely trying to survive. As I grew into the profession, I learned that I needed to protect myself. To properly serve my students, I needed to properly take care of myself.
Over time, I’ve learned that certain actions need to be taken in order to prevent a total loss of sanity.
1. Set boundaries
The quickest way to reclaim your energy is by setting clear, consistent boundaries. This may seem easier said than done however. Education is one of those fields where you’re “on call” constantly, and the moment you sit down you’re forced to jump up again. It is possible, though, if you start small.
Boundaries can take many forms. You may want to block out time before school when no one is allowed in your room. Or perhaps you need to establish firm classroom procedures that incorporate more quiet, independent time.
Whichever boundaries work for you, once you establish them try to be consistent.
2. Know when to say 'no'
When I was a first year teacher I really wanted to give my all. I started young, and felt as though I had to work twice as hard as everyone else to be acknowledged or respected. One way I tried to gain this respect was by participating in literally everything that was available.
Sponsor a club? Sure thing. Volunteering to administer a Saturday exam? Absolutely. Participating in another teacher’s PhD study? Why not.
Even student-centered activities, like tutorial sessions, became overwhelming. I taught an Advanced Placement course and students wanted to show up before school, during lunch, and after school.
My intense need to please everyone left me floundering. My teaching suffered and so did my sanity.
It’s okay to say no and to limit your activities to the ones that resonate with you. This can be hard, especially if it involves saying no to a student, but sometimes it’s necessary.
3. Find a confidante
One of my saving graces was the instructor across the hall from me. She knew me well, and when I was feeling overwhelmed I could always count on her to help me. We would work together, watching one another’s classes, co-teaching, and providing a listening ear. I knew that no matter how burnt out I felt, I had someone to confide in.
It can seem counterintuitive for an introvert to find solace through more socializing, but what’s important here is the quality of the interaction. A good confidante is someone who understands you on a deeper level. It’s someone you can sit with in comfortable silence or trust to cover for you while you’re hiding in the bathroom.
4. Set small, attainable goals
It’s hard to do it all, and it’s easy to feel as though you are being spread out too thin. When approaching your workday, set small goals for yourself. Perhaps you want to arrive five minutes early. Maybe you’d like to try incorporating independent reflection time into your classroom. Or perhaps you want to teach your students about introversion so that they can take better care of themselves.
Whatever your goal, make it attainable. Work by taking baby steps, and if you start to feel overwhelmed tone it back.
5. Schedule time to recharge
You cannot fill someone else’s cup if yours is empty. You cannot be an effective teacher if you’re burning the candle at both ends.
Take time for yourself. Whether it’s before school, in the middle of the day, or when you get home. Set aside a time and place where you can sit quietly and reflect. This may seem impossible, especially if you have children of your own at home, but even five minutes alone can make a big difference.
In my book, Introversion in the Classroom, I talk about creating a personal sanctuary. This can be anything from a corner of your classroom to your car. Find a place that serves as your retreat; somewhere no one can bother you.
6. Celebrate your successes
Did you make it through another week? Whether your week was full of assemblies, field trips, or just regular classroom duties, make sure you take some time to celebrate. Find time to reflect and congratulate yourself for taking part in such an important field, even if it’s difficult.
Maintaining a positive outlook and remembering to acknowledge your successes is an important part of avoiding burnout.
7. Remember: Your introversion is a gift
While I’m no longer in the classroom myself, I believe wholeheartedly in the need for introverted educators. That’s why I created a safe community where introverted teachers can meet and collaborate.
In every classroom, introverted students are faced with a culture of collaboration. They face their own burnout, and often are left feeling ostracized or exhausted.
As an introverted teacher you have the opportunity to be a role model for your introverted students. You can show them that it is possible to survive and flourish, even in highly social environments. This is why we need introverted teachers: To champion and advocate for introverted students everywhere.
So take a deep breath and know that being an introverted educator is a gift. You can do this.
Cool article. I'm thinking of becoming a teacher, so as an INTJ; I can say that this was very helpful.
Ade (not verified) says...
As an INTJ, please do not under any circumstance dream of becoming a teacher. It's suicidal. I studied Industrial Chemistry (major), Physics (Minor). I did a post graduate in education due to a massive recession at the time, and have regretted it ever since. I have worked in software development, artificial intelligence, etc; and I can tell you that anything is better than teaching of which I did a fair amount, including biting your own head off ...
Guest (not verified) says...
This is so helpful. I'm an intp and I genuinely like being with children and I want to inspire them to learn, be creative and appreciate the world around them. But I am terrified of burning out and not being capable of managing a whole group of loud excitable kids!
LauraT (not verified) says...
As an intj teacher, I second many of the points brought up in this article. During my second year of teaching, I rearranged my teacher desk to form a blocked off space in the back of the classroom and declared the territory off limits to students. I found myself savoring this space during stressful times. It became a bolt hole of sorts. My varsity debate students eventually gained access to this hallowed ground, but they knew how to read the signs of an over-stressed intj and steer clear on certain days.
Be aware that time to sit quietly and reflect may include a change of venue. If I desperately need to put my head down and work through something in my isolated intj way, I frequently spend my prep hour hidden in the library so administrators and other teachers can't drop in on me. My little librarian ally is a fellow introvert and graciously offered her spacious stacks as a hiding place for grading and prepping.
I will say, though, that recharge time for the introvert need not necessarily be alone time. My room is open to students during lunch, and there are now several introverted students who bring their lunch upstairs to eat in my room. It's usually very quiet, and when we aren't eating, we're often reading, working on projects, online, etc. It's become a retreat from the busy cafeteria and crowded halls, and I find myself enjoying these lunch gatherings quite a bit. We're all there in the same over-stimulating school environment and we've found a quiet refuge together.
Jennifer CDS (not verified) says...
I'm a teacher of foreign language and INTJ. I am exausted sometimes, but I try to teach my students the power of thinking about things in a different perspective and to talk calmly.
It works, and teachers are always wondering how I do it in this field of knowledge.
I'm curious, so I teach and learn all the time. For me, it's better to work with teenagers.
Teachers are the base for the society.
Greta (not verified) says...
The prepositional sense is already included in the word ‘advocate’, because ‘ad’ means ‘to’, so it can be transitive only. One can advocate something for someone, but not ‘advocate (nothing) for’ someone.