Bring clarity to the chaos and protect your energy in the classroom

For years I felt guilty about how much I secretly enjoyed silent reading time, writer’s workshop, and district benchmark testing. It didn’t have anything to do with the data or staying up late reading essays. But when I read Quiet by Susan Cain, I realized it had everything to do with being an introverted teacher.

Cain identifies introverts as people who “…have a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment. Introverts tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk, and think before they speak…”

The more I read about introverts, the more I realized how much public education emphasizes being an extrovert. Not only are students graded on their ability to work with others, but teachers are also evaluated and praised on their ability to be engaging presenters. We shame teachers who frequently ask students to work quietly, and we label them as strict, old-school, and boring. 

In short, education can be exhausting for introverts!

When I realized how much teaching was emotionally exhausting me, I started to notice how I was emotionally exhausting students, too. 

My extroverted students were thriving with cooperative learning strategies and interactive projects while my introverts were withdrawing. I would see amazing thoughtful responses on independent assignments and hear crickets when it seemed to matter most! Was it me? Were they annoyed with their group, or were they bored with my class?

My mind raced to find answers, and I constantly questioned myself. I poured even more hours into trying to be something that I wasn’t: an extroverted teacher.

When I finally realized what worked for me in my classroom and stopped comparing myself to others, I noticed how much more students enjoyed class. They would pop in during passing periods and lunch. They would send emails and drop by with hand-written cards.

And there was always a common thread – “I miss being in your class! It was always so calm and relaxing.”

Their comments and connections helped me to realize that what I was doing was working!

So what did I do to create a classroom environment that allowed both time and space for introverts (including myself) to concentrate, think, and recharge?

Here are my top ten takeaways that you can implement tomorrow.

  1. Play acoustic instrumental music during student work time. The key is to pick music that is between 60-80 bpm and play it low enough that they must be quiet to hear it. Pandora has great instrumental playlists (classical, piano, guitar, coffeehouse, spa), and Spotify does as well. Just be cautious of the ads in free versions.
  2. Allow students to spread out. If students can work around the room (i.e. facing the wall, lying on the floor), they are more likely to focus quietly on their work than if they are sitting side by side.
  3. Implement stations. Allowing students to progress independently through the lesson will require more work ahead of time but will conserve your energy as you facilitate rather than lead the learning.
  4. Provide quiet time daily for students to read and write. For elementary teachers, find time in every subject. Record a read-aloud of the assignment/text ahead of time, and have your students who need support plug in to listen. 
  5. Read and write with your class. Students love seeing you as a reader, writer, thinker, and learner. Set aside time to model the tasks you ask students to do. When they read, you should read. When they write, you should write. Balance the time you spend modeling with the time you spend working with students.
  6. Disperse groups for discussions/projects. The noise from group discussions and group work can be overstimulating, so send your trustworthy students into the hall or the library to work. An added benefit is that groups may take away more from the assignment because they were better able to focus without competing for attention.
  7. Take advantage of silent discussions. Some student favorites are Chalk Talk, Sticky Note Slap, and the use of online discussion forums.
  8. Eat lunch with yourself, not by yourself. Don’t feel obligated to socialize in the staff lounge over lunch. Set aside one day each week to eat with your team if you must, but try to recharge during your lunch break. Speaking of recharging…
  9. Go for a walk. Keep a pair of walking shoes under your desk. After eating lunch, plug in an audiobook, or walk device-free. Whether you’ve got 5, 10, or 15 minutes, make the best of it.
  10. Reserve a moment for mindfulness. Whether you’re using a guided meditation app, listening to your favorite album, or spending time writing in your journal, try to start and end your day with a moment that is uniquely yours.

Are you an introverted teacher? I’d love to hear some of the ways you protect your energy in the classroom and recharge throughout the day. Please share your thoughts in the comments.