Every year I make a point of going to one of the biggest ELT conferences, IATEFL. I absolutely love it, but last year was the first year in several years that I didn’t come home and spend the following week (or two weeks) ill in bed.
I did present, but, unlike the previous years, I wasn’t there in an official capacity. This meant that I could make choices about when to go to sessions or stay in my hotel room and have a rest, or go for a walk, and it obviously made all the difference.
I think this was partly because I was simply able to rest more. Probably as a result of pushing myself too hard when I was younger, I now have issues with my adrenals (and thyroid). I need to be careful about getting enough sleep, eating decently and so on. So, rest is important.
But, increasingly I am thinking that there is another factor at play. I know lots of people at IATEFL these days, and it’s amazing to catch up with them. I also really enjoy presenting. However, while I love interacting with other people, I also find it completely exhausting.
You might be surprised to hear this, but I think I’m actually pretty introverted- or maybe an ambivert. After I’ve spent time with lots of people, I need to withdraw into myself and decompress to recover. The number of commitments I had at IATEFL as a SIG Coordinator just made this impossible.
And then I started thinking about when I was regularly classroom teaching. (I haven’t for about four years now). I loved it- and I have every intention of going back- but I also, guess what, found it completely exhausting. I would end up really over-stimulated and unable to switch off and get to sleep- especially when teaching or teacher training in the evenings.
And I think there are probably a lot of teachers who feel the same way.
Is teaching only for extroverts?
So, does this mean that teaching is not for non-extroverts? I don’t think so at all. I think there are lots of different ways of being a good teacher, and students need models of different ways of being.
What is important is that we all find a way of working which plays to our strengths and suits us, rather than feeling that we ‘should’ behave a particular way.
That might mean making sure that breaks and lunchtimes are not spent talking to students (that might be a good idea for all teachers actually) and going for a walk solo, to get some fresh air and be in nature instead. It might mean allowing more time in class for individual quiet work, rather than every single activity having to be spoken group work- this could also be good for more introverted students. It might mean giving ourselves a break from the need to work in teams with colleagues all the time, or the need to be always ‘on’ while in public areas of the school (I actually once worked somewhere where the management told us we had to smile at all times when in the corridors). It might mean teaching part time and doing something else, such as materials writing the rest of the week.
Trying to be something you’re not.
Over time, trying to be something you’re not can, I believe, be a key factor in creating burnout. We need to know ourselves and know that who and what we are is good enough, and that it is OK to be that way. Then, obviously in a balanced way and also taking other people’s needs into account- though not letting them become more important than our own- we can find a way of working which really works for us, and which doesn’t gradually wear us down.