What is your workday like? How do you spend your time at school?
Ask the average non-teacher how a K-12 teacher spends their time each day at work, and they will likely picture that teacher in a classroom, lecturing or reading aloud to students sitting quietly in rows of desks, or sitting at their desk grading, or eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge, quietly reading a book or writing notes.
They would likely not describe teachers immersed in the noise of multiple small groups of working students, continually managing the personality dynamics within each group. They would not imagine teachers trying to grab five minutes of prep time after school in which to transition to any number of meetings: PD workshops, meetings with administrators, LMS tutorials, or team-building adventures. The general public would not picture teachers leaving school early in the evening or late at night on a regular basis, having put in a full day of interconnected, collaborative, public group work.
But that’s the new reality for most teachers. Group work is not just for students anymore. Teachers are also encouraged—or forced, depending on their point of view—to work in teams, get input on their teaching or their group work from multiple teams of colleagues or administrators, work collaboratively to create lesson plans and learning paths, and generally be available to anyone and everyone who has a stake in the teaching enterprise.
All of these activities are supposed to support teachers, and often they do. But for the introverted teacher, the ever-increasing social load can be very difficult to endure.
In his article “Why Introverted Teachers are Burning Out,” Michael Godsey puts it this way:
…41 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years of entering it. Teacher attrition among first-year teachers has increased about 40 percent in the past two decades—a trend that’s coincided in part with the growing emphasis in classrooms on cooperative and student-driven learning and on “collaborative overload” in general.
…I remember, as a new teacher, the overwhelming number of interactions that were ostensibly designed to help me—support classes, beginning teacher programs, department meetings, union mixers, “Back to School Night,” constant public introductions, and administrative observations. I remember desperately yearning to just quietly study Hamlet and read my new students’ papers.
What does it mean to be introverted?
Introversion is different from shyness: generally, shy people want social interaction but are too afraid of being rejected to attempt it; introverted people want less social interaction than the average person. Introverts don’t hate company; they just want it in small doses that they control. Most people are not complete introverts or complete extroverts: we all fall somewhere on a continuum. But as a rule of thumb, introverts need time alone to recharge and are exhausted by constant company, while extroverts are energized by social interaction and unmoored by too much time alone.
Introverted teachers, as Godsey puts it, are “drained by the insistent emphasis on collaboration and group work” that characterizes modern teaching. This collaborative overload means that introverted teachers do not get the time alone they need to recover from the workday, and therefore become exhausted and burned out faster than non-introverted teachers.
Collaborative overload is not restricted to the teaching profession, of course, but it has tended to attract quiet people who prize teaching for its opportunities to work one-on-one with students, read and speak thoughtfully, and spend time focused on internal tasks like grading papers.
Why isn’t this introverted teaching style honored? If, as teacher Abigail Walthausen says, different student learning styles are supposed to be valued, why aren’t different teaching styles given the same respect? Why can’t a teacher’s preferred zone of social interaction be acknowledged, if not always honored? Why must all teachers be extroverts?
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, puts it this way:
Most schools are designed for extroverts. So if you picture the typical classroom nowadays: when I was going to school, we sat in rows. We sat in rows of desks like this, and we did most of our work pretty autonomously. But nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks—four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other. And kids are working in countless group assignments. …and teachers have to be extroverted like that, too, going from group to group for group talk instead of one on one.
…Solitude is crucial to creativity. Solitude matters.
Because the push for extroversion comes from so many directions, it can be hard to figure out a solution to the problem. The demands on teachers come from administrators at the local, district, state, and federal level. Content providers push certain types of classroom interaction, and therefore teacher performance by offering more options for group activities than solo assignments. Teacher’s unions and parent associations add to the mix.
If you’re an introverted teacher, how do you make it through each hyper-social day, and how do you recharge?
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