Teaching As An Introvert

The world inside my head is a rockin’ frat party.  A crazy, beer-slinging, friend-mooning, furniture-breaking kind of good time.  It’s loud.  It’s unedited.  It’s frequently rude and obnoxious and, naturally, it’s a total freaking blast.

But that’s all just in my head.

All the outside observer would see more often than not is, well, nothing.

Because if I have my way, there will be no outside observer.

I have a hard time with outside observers.  Much like I have a hard time with cashiers at the grocery store, people in the seat next to me on the airplane, and my smiling beautician menacingly holding a pair of scissors above my head as she prepares to cut my hair.  All of these folks, every last one of them…

They talk too damn much.

Hi.  My name is Teach and I…(deep breath)

I’m an introvert.

A few of you who read this and actually know me just spit your adult beverage across the table.  (And I know you, because I know you’re drinking an adult beverage.)  But you should feel honored.  If you didn’t know that I was an introvert it means I’ve invited you into the kickin’ frat party that is my train of thought.  But you all are among the (un?)lucky few who get to see the true insanity of my inner workings.

Most folks, all they get is a socially awkward recluse.

Any non-necessary conversation feels stilted to me.  Doesn’t matter how benign the topic.  Take a casual social gathering, for example.  On the outside what the extroverted people hear is me introducing myself.

“Hi!  I don’t believe we’ve met!  I’m Teach.  How do you know (insert host’s name)?  What do you do for a living?”

On the inside, I feel like I’m shoving my elbow into your eyeball.  And because I hate shoving my elbow in people’s eyeballs it has taken me approximately ten minutes to work up the courage to do so.  It’s not that I’m shy.   It’s just quite simply that I wouldn’t want someone to shove their elbow into my eyeball.   Yet, everyone else at this hypothetical social gathering seems to be playing the game, so I take a deep breath and…blam!

A direct small-talking elbow hit to the face.

And you, you wacko extroverts,  you seem to enjoy it.  You respond with a chatty punch to the nose.  Me, I don’t have a clue how to respond.

“Let’s see here,”  I think to myself.   “She enjoyed me sticking my elbow in her eyeball.  How weird.  So…just what does one do after the elbow?  She just punched me in the nose, so…I…uh…I should…”

Then the frat boys in my head chime in.

“The nuts!” They shout.  “Kick him in the nuts!”  Because that’s what frat boys do.  They bring everything back to their private parts.

“I’m talking to a girl!”  I shout back at the frat boys.

My conversational partner stares at me politely, trying to figure out why it’s taking me so long to respond.

“Boobs!”  shout the frat boys.  “Tig ol’ bitties!”

“Knock it off!”  I shout back.

My conversational partner stares.

“Um…” I say, lamely.  “Nice get-together, isn’t it?”

Then I run away.

And those are just my interactions with extroverts who, presumably, are adept at carrying on conversation with others.  Put me in a room with another introvert and it’s just one big awkwardfest.

Yet the problem is not that I am afraid of social interactions.  I’m not. I just happen to find small talk about as enjoyable as having my nostril hairs pulled by a rabid weasel holding a pair of tweezers.

When duty calls, however, I’m a sweet-talking social goddess.

I handle 170 students high school students plus their sometimes-batshit parents on a daily basis. Fear schmear.  I’ve got 200 ways to tell you your student is a douchebag while all the time you’re thinking I’m just telling you he’s not doing his homework. I keep the attention of a class full of adolescents locked in an academic setting against their will.  I sing songs (even though I can’t sing), I draw explanations of vocab (even though I can’t draw), I mimic my students, shout whatever pops into my head, and employ sarcasm as a key teaching tool.

Teeeeeach…why do we have to take a test today?  I don’t want to take a test today!  I wanna…”

“Bobby?”

“What?”

“You see this?”

“See what?”

“My face?  You see my face?”

“Yeah?”

“This is my face caring. Now get out your pencil.”

Put me in front of a room full of teenagers and I am a silver-tongued fox.  I have an answer for everything.  I’m loud, unedited and occasionally obnoxious.  I’m…

Holy shit.  The frat party in my brain is teaching my class.

It makes so much sense!  I’ve always wondered why, after a glass of wine or two, I can suddenly carry on a small-talk conversation.

“Oh!  So you worked with so-and-so at whats-it school last year!  I’ve been to that school before.  It’s really an interesting place…”  A couple drinks in, I smoothly respond to my extroverted partner’s nose punch with a swift wet-willy.  (Even after a couple of glasses of wine, I ignore the frat boys’ advice to go for the boobs.)  Put a couple of glasses of wine in me and I begin to think that maybe small talk isn’t all that bad. Tipsy me is pretty much the same thing as teaching me.  Which I can totally understand now, if the college boys are running my head.

I mean, think about it.  I’m stuck in a room of teenagers.  All. Day.  Every.  Day.  Do you have any idea what the decibel factor in that equation is?  The whine factor?  The seriously-dude-did-you-just-say-that-out-loud factor?  A couple of adult beverages would make my day so much easier.

Drinking and teaching.  Pretty highly frowned upon.

But thanks to my frat boys, I’m full of drunken cleverness by osmosis.  Or at least I’m more game for the insanely asinine conversations that would make even the most extroverted of extroverts crazy after the first three years in the classroom.

“So, Teach, can we watch Joe and Eric’s project video from last year?”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.  But maybe after the test tomorrow.”

“So…today.”

“No.”

“So…now.”

“No.”

“So…”

“Are you always this annoying?”

Shit-eating grin.

“Are we there yet?”

If that was your daily interaction with humanity, you’d want to avoid small talk, too.

Except that if I’m honest, it’s not the teenagers that really make me the introvert.

It’s the introvert the makes me good with teenagers.

Truth be told, I can’t carry on a conversation with you at a party, because I’m too busy observing.  I get my information by watching.  I notice that Sherry didn’t touch her husband all evening, not even a brush of the hand.  I notice that Barb isn’t drinking and her shirt is awfully loose.  Could she be pregnant?  I notice the joke that falls flat and the obliviousness of the joke-teller in his boisterous overeagerness to please.

When someone tries to talk to me, I have to split my attention.  Half of my brain is still trying to take in my surroundings.  But now I also have to talk and pretend that I’m interested when really, I could be learning so much more by just observing.

Because sometimes it’s just the slightest bat of an eye that tells me a student is scared.  An odd tone to a comment that makes me realize someone in class is being bullied.  An unconscious something that makes me turn and catch an interaction before it comes heated.  Nothing I could explain to you if you asked and nothing I would catch if I were distractedly thinking of a way to fill the space with pointless conversation…

Hang on a second.  You’ll have to excuse me…

“Bobby!

“What?”

“Did you just give Johnny a wedgie?”

“How’d you know?  You weren’t even looking!”

And in my head, the frat boys cheer a toast to my teaching genius.

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19 Responses to Teaching As An Introvert

  1. I’m an introvert and I share your sheer hatred of small talk, and the awkwardness of talking to people at parties. Like you say, I’m not shy, just an introvert. Can I just party in my head without other people interrupting with real people words? That is why I like blogging. My thoughts without getting interrupted by others small talk.

  2. ♡eM says:

    Observing and listening have taught me to be the wondrous woman I am. Thanks for writing your story of how your own introverted ways work for you, and others.

  3. Danielle says:

    You just blew my frat party away! This IS me!

  4. ymartblog says:

    Well, I’m an extroverted introvert. Don’t like small talk but will try to engage in conversation about the state of the world, sexism politics, anything that is real! Of course much to the horror of many people! If you don’t like small talk you should try listening to the same mom over and over again talking about the size of her 8 year old boys feet! Yawn…….but start discussing John Wood’s “Room to Read” program and I’m ready to roll! I think the problem with small talk is people’s fear of offending others or causing a conflict. Or just plain boredom!

    • singingpigs says:

      Ah! Heard of the book Quiet about introverts? Talks about how they will engage in conversation about things that really matter, but avoid the small talk. Yeah…foot size…that’s one of the few topics that’s never come up for me. What is the correct response to that anyway? Because I’d be tempted to respond with “You know what they say about boys with big feet…” 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for your blog–it’s my go-to after a bad day in the classroom and a great ice breaker with other teachers. I’d love to see the list of the 200 ways to tell a parent something that is something else since I’m one of those extroverts who fails at parent-diplomacy.

    • singingpigs says:

      Oh! That’s a great idea for a blog post! I’ll have to work on that. I was just using hyperbole in my obnoxious way as usual, but I bet I could come up with a few toned down euphemisms. Thanks for the idea! I’m SO touched that I can be your go-to for a bad day and/or start conversation among teachers. My secret hope of hopes is to one day be published because the response I get from folks who say something along the lines of “friggin’ finally” indicates that perhaps a tad more honesty regarding the teaching profession is needed. Thank you so, so much for reading! And please…pas me on. 🙂

  6. Erika S. says:

    thanks for validating my behavior. I sat trough an entire dinner not long ago like a dumb mute perfectly content just observing.

  7. David Hazen says:

    You are right; I would have never guessed you were an introvert. I still always love engaging with you; never lose the sense of humor! It always helped having KS as the story teller in our lunchtime discussions.

    • singingpigs says:

      See, even my big mouth has secrets. I don’t mind talking to folks I know about topics I like. Strangers, however…not my gig. You’re among the lucky few!

  8. Anonymous says:

    have the same problem my end- my hubby who had no professional problem being a motivational speaker for years infront of thousands around the world on stage rarely comes out of our apartment, there are a handful of people from work who have met him and he likes to keep it that way! the less that know him the better- now me on the other hand , I’m going out for icecream!!!

    • singingpigs says:

      Oh, I’d totally join you for ice cream. I’m not one to hide…it’s just the small talk that kills me. But it’s odd how many folks in the “speaking” profession (in which category I absolutely include teaching) are actually quite reserved personally. I get it!

  9. Mike says:

    I just completed my first year of teaching as a major introvert. I don’t think I can do a second. The only way I can do it is to constantly be in the hyper state you are referring to, and because teaching requires you to be in that state from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, it means I have absolutely nothing left at the end of the day. Even on the weekend, I don’t want to go out to anywhere that has any kind of volume or require any kind of small-talk, because it’s all gone trying to verbally joust and entertain kids all day with the timing of a comedian and the discipline of a drill sergeant..

    It’s kind of sad, because it was an amazing school and I like teaching and helping people grow and learn, but a class of 25-30 kids all day every day is just too much. Not only that, but you are expected to have lunch with other staff, and in your office the staff are always chatting, there’s absolutely no downtime until you leave. How do you handle it?

    Also, props, because that’s one of the best descriptions of the internal workings of an introvert’s mind that I’ve ever read! Granted, I haven’t read many, but you nailed it!

    • singingpigs says:

      I hear you. I have spent many (many!) and afternoon on my couch just staring at the wall. Can’t stand the sound of tv or radio even, because my days are so noisy. I have yet to discover any athletic activity as exhausting as a day of teaching. You may be even more of introvert than me…I’ve found I don’t mind staff lunches because it’s a chance for adult conversation (I rarely have to tell my colleagues to bring a pencil, put their phone away, don’t touch my desk!!) And my time to recuperate is, like you say on the evenings and weekends. In the end – I love teenagers. I do. And when you put me in front of a group of them I turn “on”, which is not to say I’m not exhausted, but I always enjoy it.

      It’s always a shame to lose a good teacher from the profession – but it’s a tough profession. You have to decide if you can handle it, and at what cost to your personal life. However, should you choose to leave, I would imagine you could find other professions or niches that allow you to help people grow and learn but don’t require quite the dog-and-pony show of public education.

      I’ll be interested to hear what you pursue…

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