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.