Introverts in the classroom: supporting the “quiet kids” (and possibly yourself!)

I’ve insisted on having some quiet time built into my day for as long as I can remember. I’d drop the class off at P.E. and retreat to my classroom, breathing a deep sigh and reveling in the silence. I always built down-time into our daily schedule, following up an intense period of direct instruction with silent reading, independent work, or other student-directed activities, gratefully taking a few minutes to regroup.

It didn’t occur to me until recently that I wasn’t seeking quiet, but alone time to recharge. I am an introvert.

Viral articles like 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert and 27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand (NSFW warning on that one) ring completely true for me. And looking back, this explains so much about aspects of teaching that I enjoy the most. Being introverted is the reason why I’d rather plan lessons than teach them, create materials than implement them, design the Open House presentation for parents than give it, talk one-on-one with my students than address the whole group. For me, being in the spotlight is draining. I can only enjoy it if I have an equal or greater amount of time to be off-stage and retreat a bit into my inner world.

understanding introverts

The idea of a teacher introvert sounds really strange, perhaps even paradoxical. But being introverted does NOT mean you don’t like people or enjoy their company. Put simply, introverts need time alone so they can enjoy being around people. Extroverts need time with people so they can enjoy being alone.

I wish I’d understood more about introversion and extroversion when I was still in the classroom. Not only would I have been able to take care of my own needs better, I would have been much more thoughtful about the way I interacted with the “quiet kids.” How quick we are to label children as shy, when often they’re just introverts!

Here’s the best advice I’ve found for caring for the introverted students in your classroom. The image was created by Becky, and is based on an article by Linda Kreger Silverman:

caring for introverts

How do you meet the needs of introverted kids in your classroom? If you are an introverted teacher, would you share your experience (struggles or successes) with us? How do you balance your own need for solitude with the demands of running a classroom? 

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heidi February 10, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I am an introvert teacher. One college professor called me an adaptive introvert. I like and my core is introversion, but I can be an extrovert if needed. I don’t know if that is what has helped me in my various jobs with the general public or not, but it helps me understand myself.
As a teacher, I build quiet time in my day too! My sanity wouldn’t survive without it!
When my classes are at specialty or recess, I close my door so I can enjoy the peace. Sometimes I turn on my music with headphones so I can work and get into my zone.
I close and lock my door at lunch too. Sometimes I eat alone when I need it and my students know lunch and recess is MY TIME and I am a better teacher when they don’t bug me during those times.
After school, if I don’t have meetings and I need to recharge before starting to prep, I roll out a yoga mat that I keep at school and do yoga or listen to the ocean sounds and close my eyes. I always feel less stressed and energized after that.
I hope that helps other introvert teachers like me!

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2 Angela Watson February 10, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Great tips, Heidi! Thank you for sharing! I have not heard the term “adaptive introvert”, that’s wonderful.

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3 Sally February 10, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Count me in with the introverts! I absolutely love people, but I need my “alone” time. I’m much more pleasant to be around if I have a little quiet time. I have students every year that fit into this category, and they definitely have needs that are different from the others!

We have two lunchrooms in my school. In one lunchroom, all the teachers are talking at once, it’s loud and very busy. The other lunchroom is quiet, only one person talks at a time, and it’s very relaxed. Guess where I eat!

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4 Angela Watson February 10, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Two lunchrooms–that’s very cool!

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5 Terri February 10, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I’m an introvert too, and my children are as well. It gives me a sensitive heart for those that are too often left out, because they have difficulty speaking out in groups. Unfortunately, those who have never been in that situation have difficulty understanding. I make it one of my goals to try to educate others. Thankfully more information is coming out about introverts. After reading some articles, my oldest daughter said she was so glad that there wasn’t something wrong with her and she finally understood why being in crowds drained her.

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6 Angela Watson February 10, 2014 at 9:51 pm

I never had a problem speaking out in groups, which is part of the reason why it took me so long to figure out that I was an introvert. I didn’t make the connection that my need to be alone always followed those periods of being actively involved in a group. That’s definitely something to keep in mind when interacting with students. I have noticed many kids who are sometimes quite talkative and other times withdrawn from the group, and I always tried to figure out why (was it the conversation topic, had something happened to upset the child, etc.) Now I’m starting to consider whether the child is an introvert who has already participated enough for the day and now needs time to be quiet.

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7 Crystal February 10, 2014 at 10:29 pm

I teach drama and as a librarian, I am VERY dramatic when I read stories to my classes. I’m often called a “drama queen” at work. As a kid, I was very quiet at school. I liked spending time with my family, but I also liked my time alone. I hate parties. When I go, I find people I know and stick close to them. I’m goofy and funny and likely to say anything though, once I warm up. No one these days would ever think I’m shy. I’ve mastered the art of conversation. I can talk to a brick wall, but I love the world of the internet because I can write what I want to say instead of speaking before I think. I still hate answering the phone. It’s like an intrusion into my little world. I LOVE being at home where I can just relax and not have to put on a show, but I talk to my dogs when no one else is around. I think it puts me in an interesting situation with my students. I see some of them that are shy and introverted and I remember how much I HATED to speak in front of my class when I was their age, and yet, I want to see them try because I know how hard the world can be for an introvert. My life became so much easier when I finally learned that I wouldn’t die if I had to speak in front of people. 😉 Of course, that doesn’t mean I like it. I still cringe at the thought of speaking in front of adults. Boy… I wrote a book, didn’t I? So what do you guys think? Am I an introvert, or an extrovert?

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8 Angela Watson February 13, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I feel like I could written this myself, Crystal! No one would ever think I was shy, either. And I’m not–I can talk to anyone about anything. I just prefer to be alone in my own head space most of the time. It sounds like you an introvert, too, since you get your energy from your alone time.

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9 Sue Dunlop February 11, 2014 at 11:19 am

Great post! Like you, I recognized the need for alone time as a teacher, but I have really been thinking about being an introvert lately. Reading Quiet by Susan Cain has helped fuel that. How do we make sure that all personality types and preferences are honoured in classrooms and that we offer opportunities for everyone to shine and build on their strengths? A tall order. For me, it comes down to really knowing your students (and staff as a leader), what drives them, and their strengths and needs.

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10 Angela Watson February 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for the book recommendation–I see the Kindle version is only $2.99 . Reading that this week!

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11 Linda Kardamis February 11, 2014 at 1:54 pm

I love this! I never really thought of this before, but I would definitely say I’m an introvert teacher & I know lots of kids are introverts, too. This is definitely something to pay more attention to!

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12 Angela Watson February 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm

I feel the same way, Linda–I definitely want to pay more attention to introverts/extroverts in the classroom!

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13 Nicole February 11, 2014 at 8:19 pm

I just started using Google Drive to have my students type essays. I can read and comment on their work as they type, pulling up their documents but not invading their space. Individually they can type questions in the margins using comments, or I can do the same. I’ve found my introverts thriving in the silence and asking questions in comments which they might never ask out loud in class. I’ve found my vocal extroverts loving one on one comment conversations (which now no longer distract others since they are only in text). Google drive has transformed my writing instruction.

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14 Angela Watson February 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm

What a powerful reflection, Nicole! And that makes perfect sense–as an introvert myself, I would rather get and send feedback in Google Docs than in face-to-face conversations. I love how you mention Docs works for your extroverts, too, since they can chat.

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15 Karen February 12, 2014 at 5:09 am

Hello from another introverted. I read some interesting material on personality traits in the classroom, and this helped me understand why some colleagues and parents struggle with me, and why I struggle with them. It’s not just the introversion/extroversion thing. There’s a lot more to it. Meanwhile I love the end of the day when everyone goes home and I have my classroom to myself. The cleaner comes in, but she knows I speak very little Khmer so she just does her job and leaves me in peace. I know some of my colleagues find it hard to understand that I’d rather spend a quiet evening at home with a good book than go out partying! It’s how I gain my energy. School drains me. I love it, but it does take most of my energy. I think that’s why I love my community choir practice too. I get to be with, and sing with other people, but with little interaction required.

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16 Angela Watson February 13, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Interesting observation about why being in the choir works for you–that makes total sense! Reading about personality traits must be very enlightening–you’re right that there’s much more to this than just introversion/extroversion.

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17 Susan February 13, 2014 at 5:57 pm

I have never really thought about it before, but I guess I am an introvert. Which is really odd for a substitute teacher. I change my classroom every day. seeing this article and acting on it should make me a better teacher. And that’s what it is really all about

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18 Angela Watson February 13, 2014 at 9:15 pm

So great to hear that, Susan! :) Subbing is such hard work. My hat’s off to you!

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