If You’re Not the Life-of-the Party Teacher

“I’m staying in bed,” Charlie Brown says to Snoopy one day. “It’s too peopley out there.”

And scoring 95 percent introverted on most personality tests, I’ve known how Charlie Brown feels. There were times I doubted the wisdom of working in a profession packed with people.

Most teachers I knew were extroverts. I admired these free-and-easy teachers, but I spent far too much energy yearning to be like them. I came to see that I also brought good things to students, not in spite of being an introvert, but because of it. Here are a few gifts I began to offer:

  • Quiet Spaces: In a place bombarded with social interaction, I could provide quiet spaces—noise-cancelling headphones, reading corners, journal time, writing opinions before class discussions, soft classical music for reading.
  • A Thoughtful Voice: The ability to speak as you think is valuable in a middle school, where teachers never know what will happen next. I learned to do this as I watched my extroverted colleagues. But life-of-the-party teachers can also learn from introverts—to think before they speak. During faculty meetings, one teacher on my team was quiet, until she wasn’t. But when she did speak, her voice was novel and discussions often turned on a dime.
  • Modeling: I tried to show students that you don’t have to be a stand-up comic to teach a class or to lead a group. You may not be the first one to speak, but you can be valued for thinking through tough problems, working independently, and planning in advance. The largely extroverted world needs the rich inner lives of the introspective.
  • An Off -Stage Presence: —Be the guide-on-the-side kind of teacher, my college instructors urged me, not the sage-on-the-stage. The measure of learning, after all, is not what comes out of a teacher’s mouth; it’s what students say and show and write.

There were plenty of school mornings when the day ahead seemed too “peopley.” But I’m glad I climbed out of bed. My introverted students needed me for company. And the extroverts? They needed me, too!

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