Monday, 6 April 2015

Dear Reader,

Is it possible to be an introvert and a teacher, and not burn out early or sacrifice your personal life? There seem to be so many elements of teaching - constant and frequent human interactions, intense noise and light and smell, a requirement to 'perform' confidently and authoritatively - that seem incompatible with being an introvert. Adi Bloom writes beautifully about some of these issues here, exploring some case studies where teachers have found ways to manage their classroom to meet their own needs for quiet, and find time in the day for 'restorative niches' of calm in order to recharge.

Controlling the classroom environment to enable quiet or silence often feels punitive to me, particularly with young children. Yet I sympathise with John Spencer, quoted in the above article as saying the noisy chaos of his classroom would sometimes make him feel 'tired and worn out and almost unsafe'. There is very little that makes me lose my professional persona in the classroom, but the combined effects of a slightly too-warm room, constant human demands of children (most of whom just want my love and attention) and, most importantly, high noise levels seem to trigger a physical response of frustration and anger in me that, I'm sure, make me less effective and more difficult to be around.

Making the difficult decision that a default condition of silence or whispering during the work phase of the lesson is the best thing for us all as a classroom community entails the assumption that I'm the most important person in it, which makes me intensely uncomfortable. Herein lies the dilemma: defy the principle that all needs are equal in the classroom, or be the teacher I wish I wasn't, who snaps and snipes and sulks and blackens the mood for everyone.

I'm sure, as with so many things, that balance is the key. I am able to be the charismatic performer for so long, but must rest and read silently with the children to recuperate. I love playing board games with my pupils, but I need them to respect my break times and leave me alone. I am happy to have pair discussions and group work, but this must be tempered with periods of silent individual graft. I console myself with two things: one, that there are without doubt individuals in the class who feel the same as I do, that relish and delight in the calm interludes that I provide for them. The second is that, no matter how we package it, group work and collaboration isn't unequivocally the best way to learn. As Susan Cain explains in an interview: "Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude." Whilst I can't provide a physical space for children to be alone, I can at times give them the mental space to pursue their own ideas and explore their own minds, free from unnecessary distraction - and what a gift this is for an introvert. I truly can't imagine a better one.

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