I am an introvert in an extroverted profession. It has created some misunderstandings between me and administrators who observe me. I believe a classroom should be a routine of order with periods of quiet. Sometimes long periods of quiet as we do things such as read or write silently. I even instituted an “activity” called “A think” where I put a question on the board and set a timer (usually for five minutes) and ask students just to think about the question and their possible answer. But most of the time when I am observed, the administrator wants bells and whistles, movement, activity after activity. I’m sure you have all heard “teach bell to bell.” Students have very little time to process and it is the processing that the introvert thrives.
I pretty much know which students of mine are doing just fine right now, maybe even thriving. They are the kids that hate the over boisterous cafeteria. They hate the crowded hallways. They spend their high school years searching out quiet places in the school. It used to be you could find them in the library (that is where I spent most of my high school years) but now that libraries have turned into technology centers and have comfy chairs and couches that encourage socializing, it is hard to find them there either. They aren’t the ones zipping their hands up when you ask a question because they like a little time to think before they answer. If you are doing live or zoom classrooms right now, they are there but their behavior is just like it was in a live classroom—trying to remain invisible among the noise.
Here is something that some extroverted teachers don’t realize: you can have a deep and meaningful relationship with those students through their work. I am one of those rare teachers who very rarely inquire about my students’ personal lives. I rarely tell them about mine. We communicate and build relationships primarily through their work. Besides being a high school teacher, I am also a facilitator for a prison education program. They have extremely strict anonymity guidelines. I know my students’ first names and they know mine and that is ALL we know about each other—except the work. I have been very deep and meaningful relationships with people I know nothing about—except their work. A prisoner Jacob wrote to me that I made him feel hope for the first time in a long time. I did this all through focusing in Jacob’s work. I had a high school student write me a wonderful letter this past Christmas about how much I inspired her. The child, never once, had volunteered to speak in class. She is deeply shy and most of communication has happened through her work.
It may come as a surprise that all three of my college degrees were done via distance learning. I do not thrive in a real-life classroom environment. My first two distance education degrees was done prior to the internet. We mailed packets back and forth through the mail. I feel my education was extensive, in-depth and very personal. I remember those professors in the way they inspired me to reach higher and stretch farther than I have ever done in my entire life. They made me work well outside my comfort zone. Yet, I would struggle to tell you much about their personal lives. We built solid academic relationship through the work.
During this pandemic (and in the future), give your introverted students something where they can make discoveries on their own. I remember my middle school science teacher giving us projects where we learned to identify trees, flowers and insects. I spent hours in the woods doing these projects amazed at my discoveries. Spring is a great time to learn about birds or the stars. I’m an English teacher and I plan to give my introverts some science fiction that makes us think about our world. “Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin is a good story in these times or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. But there is so much good literature that students can read and think about. Now is a great time for students to journal. I encourage focused journaling, where I give prompts, but some students might need a more diary approach to process what is going on in their lives. Remember, introverts are about process. Let them process.
Three of my most introverted students have already contacted me via email. All three of them said much more in an email than they ever said in class. The emails gave me opportunity to respond to them in a very focused way. It was clear they reached out, through the work, to know I was still there for them.
And me, the introverted teacher? I love teaching this way. I am getting more done in a few hours than I ever got done in a noisy, interrupting, tiring school day. I get much more time to think about my lessons, my students and my distance engagement with them. I, too, get the time I need to process.
We are all anxious about this pandemic. Trying to engage our introverted students the same way we would engage or extroverted students in this time can only lead to further anxiety and further alienate them from the world of education. The same goes for our introverted teachers. Administrators trying to engage and control every minute of their time only further leads them to their own professional frustration. What appears to be “down time” might really be processing time for both students and teachers.
I get a sneaky feeling that some extroverts are afraid of distance and online education because they feel that teachers won’t somehow be “needed” after this pandemic is over. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Introverted students need teachers just as much as our extroverted students. They just need them in a quieter, more reflective way. When this pandemic is done, I hope we can embrace distance education as a way to reach and engage students who we are not able to do in a traditional way.
Stay well. Stay Safe. Social Distance. Wear a face mask in public. Wash your hands.