Introverts, Teaching, and the Right To/Too

Recently, I was trying to teach my students the difference between “to,” and “too.” I told them about how even adults get it wrong, especially on social media.

“You know what I imagine when someone uses the wrong ‘to/too’?” I asked.

My students just raised their eyebrows expectantly.

“If someone writes, ‘that’s to funny,'” I said, “I imagine someone all decked out in armor, getting on some magnificent steed and proclaiming, ‘Alas! I am off to the far-off land of Funny! To Funny!'” I then pretended to mount an invisible, albeit magnificent steed, and galloped across the classroom, my students laughing all around me.

When I galloped back to the front of the classroom, one of my students proclaimed, “And you say you’re an introvert!”

But the crazy thing is that I am an introvert. A pretty big introvert, actually. If you were to ask me what my favorite thing to do is, my response  will probably have the words “book,” “wine,” and “alone.” If I’m feeling extra social, I may mention doing something with my mom.

My colleagues who watch me teach also have a hard time believing I am an introvert outside of the classroom. One teacher invited me to her Christmas party, positive that everyone would just looooove me. She was aghast to find me in the corner, making friends with only the cat.

“I thought I’d find you in the middle of the crowd,” she’d said the following Monday. “Instead, you were like, hiding.”

“I don’t really enjoy big crowds of people I don’t know,” I said, trying to downplay it. What she didn’t know is that I’d spend most of the rest of the weekend trying to recharge my emotional batteries because I’d found those three hours around strangers extraordinarily draining.

Being introverted is not just being shy, or being antisocial. It simply boils down the the fact that being around people for too long drains me, both emotionally . I do have a good time; but I also feel like I’ve been on stage with an extra bright spotlight on me the entire time. I just don’t relax. In fact, I feel like I’m being forced to be “on.” That is, forced to be my best self 100% of the time and not make any mistakes. I feel like I’m being interviewed. Add to that the knowledge that a lot of people I encounter already have some sort of preconceived idea of who or how I should be given my skin color, and you can start to understand why I avoid being around strangers as much as humanly possible.

Extroverts are the exact opposite. Actually, the Christmas party colleague is one. She gains energy from being around people. The longer, the better. Parties to her are like a bubble-bath with some Michael Buble and candles to me.

So how does this work in the classroom? You’d think that having 32 pairs of eyes staring at me every day, five times a day would send me into some sort of frenzy. But it doesn’t. Here’s why: my students aren’t strangers to me. I know them pretty darn well, and because of that, I don’t feel the heat of that spotlight quite so much. I don’t have to be “on,” for them. I just get to be me.

There’s an almost self-serving reason I push so hard for community building exercises and activities at the beginning of the year. I want my students to feel like family, because being around family doesn’t sap me of all of my energy.

I have no qualms galloping across the room for them, because I know them, and I know that family doesn’t stop loving you, even when you act like a fool.

If someone were to ask me to gallop across the room during a staff meeting, I would tell them that there is not enough money or alcohol in the world to convince me to do that. Then, I would tell them that staff meetings in general are a waste of time.

The biggest issue with being an introvert educator isn’t teaching while being an introvert. It’s all the other minutiae that comes with it. The staff meetings, the stupid small talk you have to make over the coffee carafes and mini-muffins. The parent conferences or those damned “networking” conferences in general where you’re expected to be bright and cheery and make the right jokes.

That’s when I feel the most “on.” It’s like being forced to wear an itchy sweater that you know fits you well, but that is so uncomfortable that even when people compliment you on your amazing sweater, all you can think of is going home and putting on your favorite sweatshirt.

There are two ways that I’ve learned to survive those other aspects of education.

  1.   Fake it until you make it. Especially as a teacher of color, I need to force myself to speak up, even with the itchy sweater digging a trench into the back of my neck. I can’t afford any excuse to not have my voice heard. So, at staff meetings, I channel whatever extrovert friend of mine that I can think of and raise my hand. At conferences, I ignore the urge to run to the bathroom just so I can breathe. Instead, I extend my hand and introduce myself, the glaring spotlight so close I’m afraid my curly baby hairs will catch fire.
  2. Once I’ve faked it sufficiently, I go home and I stay there. I take off that stupid itchy sweater, throw it into the corner, and forget about it for as long as I can. I bask in my ratty old sweatshirt and devour that book I’ve been saving for this very moment. I pour myself an absurdly large glass of wine, and I look up vacation rentals. I recharge the batteries.

And maybe that evening is enough time to recharge. Maybe it takes two days. Maybe Monday rolls around and it still doesn’t feel right. Now that I’ve been teaching for five years, if I need an extra day, I’ll take it. Because faking it is tough. But not allowing myself the time to build back my energy and starting the week completely burnt out and exhausted is even tougher. My students don’t deserve to see that side of me. That side has zero patience, zero energy, and zero fun.

I want to be fun. I want to be patient. I want to gallop across the room so that my students remember to use the right to/too. And to do that, I need to listen to myself and take the time to recharge. And if you’re an introvert educator, you do too (not “to”).

 

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