Tips for Introverted Teachers

Tips for Introverted Teachers

How did an introverted person like me end up teaching?

I love working with kids, but teaching involves SO…MUCH…TALKING!!  Nothing prepared me for how tired I felt at the end of every day.  If you’re an introvert like me, I’d like to share some things you can do before, during, and after school to help you have a bit more energy at the end of every day.

This started when I took a few personality tests after my 5th year of teaching.  (Click here to take a free personality test.)  For one of the tests, I scored off the charts for the degree to which I am introverted.  I always knew I wasn’t much of a talker, but I didn’t realize that talking all day drained me to such a high degree.  So I started thinking of ways I could lessen the amount of energy I used at school.

(Before I go on, I’d like to clarify that EVERY teacher is tired EVERY day.  Teaching is exhausting work for everyone.  However, introverted people need to do some things differently to recover after a tough day.  Going out with a group of friends after school is a great way for some teachers to recharge.  For me, that would be the WORST thing I could do!)

Here are some things that I did before, during, and after school that benefitted my students and my energy level.  I was still tired at the end of every day.  However, I was not 100% drained when I got home.  If you’re an introverted teacher like me, I hope some of these ideas can be helpful.  For more information on each of these tips, please continue reading below.

Tips for Introverted Teachers

Before You Arrive At School

Make Time for Peace and Quiet at Home Before You Leave

Waking up earlier gave me extra time that I could sit alone in peace and quiet before I left home.  It was not fun setting my alarm earlier, but I loved having about 20 minutes of complete silence before I left for school.

Arrive at School Early

I arrived at school about 90 minutes before kids came into my room.  It was not fun waking up early enough to do this, but it was fun being one of the few teachers in the building.  I could go straight to my room and begin working in complete silence.  There wasn’t anyone stopping me for a conversation.  I could usually get a solid 30 minutes of work done in complete silence before teachers, parents, administrators, or students needed to talk to me.

I understand this can be challenging if you have kids in daycare or other family commitments, but I hope you can get some quiet time in the morning before kids arrive in your room.

At School

I started viewing myself as a facilitator of knowledge instead of the direct source of knowledge in my classroom.  My goal was to design learning activities that allowed students to discover new concepts on their own instead of me directly telling them what they need to know.

This meant students were going to make mistakes and I would have to help them learn from those mistakes.  It’s difficult to explain, but I felt like this attitude adjustment took a tremendous amount of the spotlight off me, which helped me use less energy at school.  There were some lessons that required me teaching in front of the whole class, but I tried to keep those to a minimum.

Here are a few ways I put this into action.

Talk Less.  Smile More.

(Sorry, I couldn’t help using a line from Hamilton!)

After I realized I was extremely introverted, one of the first things I noticed was how often I talked to my entire class.  Lecturing 25 elementary students was not good for the kids.  Being “on” in front of 25 kids for extended periods of time was not good for me either.

So I planned more collaborative activities for my students.  If I noticed I was speaking to the class too long, I gave the students a few minutes to discuss what we were learning about or how they felt about it.  If I needed a few moments of silence, I asked my students to take five minutes and write a response to the concepts we were learning.  When your administrators walk in, they WANT to see your students collaborating and reflecting on what they’re learning!  Use this to your advantage.  I still talked to kids while they worked in groups, but helping students in a small-group setting was much less exhausting than doing so in front of the whole class.

STEM Activities

The room could get a bit noisy as students worked in groups to complete STEM activities.  However, students learn on a much deeper level when they experience the concepts as opposed to me talking about them.  Since I’m an introvert, I used this to my advantage.  It can take a while to prepare resources, but it was so rewarding to see kids learn science concepts without me having to say much.  After the activity, I had kids make a t-chart with “CLAIMS” on one side and “EVIDENCE” on the other based on the activity they just completed.   Then the groups presented their charts and discussed important ideas.  My main job was to keep everyone on task, teach groups how to work together, and clarify any misconceptions.  After class, I skimmed exit slips to gauge my students’ understanding to see what degree of reteaching they needed.

Use Technology

I loved using short videos during my lesson.  It helped reinforce the concepts I was teaching, plus it gave me a few minutes of down time.  I was lucky to have access to Brainpop and Discovery Education most of the years I taught.

Independent Reading Time

I also gave kids time to read.  I got marked down on informal observations every time an administrator walked in my room during this, but there were times when I needed 10-15 minutes of silence.  I refused to teach in fear of my principal walking into my room and marking me down.  I’m also not one of those teachers who thinks reading independently is a waste of time.

After School

Sit in Your Car Alone

The atmosphere of a school after dismissal is not kind to an introvert who needs silence to recharge.  There were always parent conferences or things I needed to discuss with other teachers.  I never felt like I could get much work done immediately after school, especially since I was so tired.  So I usually left school about 30 minutes after dismissal.

Once I left school, it helped me to be alone for around 30-45 minutes before I got home.  Sometimes I bought a coffee then drank it in my car in the parking lot.  Sometimes I just pulled over and sat in my car in complete silence for 15 minutes.  Some days I took a longer way home, which gave me some extra time alone.  At first, I felt guilty getting home to my family a little later.  However, those extra minutes of being alone helped me regain a bit more energy before I got home.

If you have to rush home immediately after school, I hope you can block off an extended amount of time every evening to be alone.

Be Honest with Your Family

Since I left school soon after dismissal, I often took work home with me.  (I understand that’s not ideal and I hope you are able to avoid it.)

I tried my best to clearly communicate with my wife about how much work I needed to accomplish at home.  I recommend texting your spouse something like this before you get home: “I have 30 minutes of work that I need to get done tonight.  When would be the best time for me to do that?”  I realize taking work home is not ideal, but I was much more productive working at home as opposed to staying after school.   I think it would have taken me an hour after school to accomplish what I could do during 20 minutes at home because that alone time after school was so good for me.

If you’re an introverted teacher, I hope you can find ways to get time alone after every school day.  If you have a family at home, tell them that it’s important that you get a few minutes to yourself in the evening.  It takes tremendous energy to teach every day.  Please do a few things to recharge yourself so you can better help your students and take care of your health.

That’s how an introverted person can continue teaching.

5 Reasons Why You Should Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

5 Reasons Why You Should Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

My motivation to teach was at an all-time low after my 11th year of teaching.  Few of my lessons were motivating kids to learn.  I was mortified when a paraprofessional walked in my room, shook her head, and said, “These kids are not working hard for you.”  I felt like I was teaching all of my 5th-grade subjects decently, but the standards and tests were always changing and I couldn’t keep up.  I also felt like my kids got restless throughout the day.  I tried to get them out of our tiny portable as often as possible, but doing anything outside in Florida’s humidity is not exactly ideal for learning.  I tried several things to rekindle my desire to teach, but nothing worked.  I felt like I was letting my kids down every day.

Thankfully, during the summer before my 12th year of teaching, someone asked the 5th-grade teachers if we’d be interested in departmentalizing.  At first, it sounded like one more thing being added to my never-ending list of things that change each year.  Then as I thought about it, I realized it could have major benefits for teachers and students.  It would be good for the kids to have a change of atmosphere throughout the day.  It would be a great way for me to master teaching one subject.  I could get to know half of the 5th graders instead of only a fraction of them.  For the first time in a long time, I was excited for the new school year.

We departmentalized for two years and I loved it.  Our fifth-grade team had six teachers.  Students rotated each day among three of them for ELA/SS, math, and science.  I got to teach science!  Each class period was 90 minutes.  This was at a Title I school in central Florida with a large population of ESL kids.

Here’s how it worked with our team of six teachers:

Teacher 1 taught ELA/SS.   Teacher 2 taught math.   Teacher 3 taught science.  Half of the fifth graders rotated among teachers 1-3 each day.

Teacher 4 taught ELA/SS.   Teacher 5 taught Math.  Teacher 6 taught science.  The other half of the fifth-grade students rotated among teachers 4-6 each day.

This is what our master schedule looked like.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

We used the nicknames of the three closest major colleges as names for each of the groups of students we saw.  We also had early-release on Wednesday, which is why you see different times for that day.

Teachers who taught the same subjects planned together.  Our principal was very nice in allowing us to ONLY attend meetings that pertained to our subject area!!

I’m not saying it was easy.  It took a ton of communication, teamwork, and organization.  We certainly did not do this perfectly, which I discuss in a separate blog post (the link is at the end).  I also think it depends on a school’s teachers and students.  I’m sure there are schools where departmentalizing would be a detriment to student learning.

However, in my experience, I feel like my fifth-grade students benefitted tremendously from having three teachers each day.   If you’re thinking about departmentalizing, here are five reasons why you should go for it.

Reason #1:  Kids have more teachers who know them and care about them

One of the teachers on my team did not want to departmentalize at first.  She thought she would not connect as well with her students since she would be seeing them for a shorter amount of time each day.  As the year progressed, she realized this was not the case.  Instead of getting to know 25 students really well, we got to know 75 students really well.   Even though you’re seeing students for less time, you will still build amazing bonds with every student you teach.

Fifth graders act like they are too cool for adults, but in reality, they are still at an age where they crave adult attention.  Departmentalizing was great because each student saw more teachers every day.  Students knew they were going to see three classroom teachers who cared about them every day instead of just one.  I also feel like it reduced the number of behavior problems.  Kids knew that if they misbehaved in one class, their other teachers were going to hear about it.

Reason #2:  You aren’t alone

When a student is struggling, you have other teachers you can talk to who know the student just as well as you.  This was a massive game-changer for me.  I realize that not all students feel 100% comfortable talking to me.  I realize there are times when they may feel more comfortable talking to a female teacher.  So when I saw a student struggling in my class, I could always talk to this student’s other two teachers about how to help him/her.  Usually, one of us had an insight as to why this student was struggling.  Or one of us had a great idea about how to get that student back on track.  It was interesting to see the students who responded to other teachers better than they did for me.  I was so thankful they didn’t have to sit in my class all day for 180 days because something the other teachers did really clicked for them.  Likewise, some students from other teachers did much better for me than their homeroom teacher.

I’ll always remember one student who loved drawing comics under the answers to his bellwork in my science class.  They always involved two characters discussing the bellwork question in a funny way.  He drew this every day on his bellwork!  When I showed his drawings to his ELA and math teachers, they loved it and encouraged him to do the same in their classes as well.  His work below is in response to a bellwork question about characteristics of certain body organs.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize

Reason #3:  Master teaching your subject(s)

I loved teaching three classes of science every day.  I felt like I was finally teaching at a level my students deserved because science was the only subject I had to focus on.  I got to know the standards and test-item specs extremely well.  I found myself looking for science workshops to attend, which was something I never did before departmentalizing.

I was able to help our campus get cool science supplies.  I had the time to research a program called Lego WeDo.  Those involve kids building things with Legos, then writing computer code to program them to move in certain ways.  I was able to do a ton of research on this and persuade my principal to order it for us.  I also learned enough about them so when they arrived, I knew how to help the kids use them effectively.  There’s no way I could have put in the amount of time necessary if I taught all subjects.

I also enjoyed teaching similar lessons three times each day.  In my lesson plans, I included ideas to differentiate the lessons a bit based on the needs of the three groups of kids I saw each day.  If a part of a lesson went poorly during my first class, I loved being able to tweak it so the lessons for my final two classes went better.  It was challenging during science experiments and STEM activities because I had to organize supplies for 75 students instead of just 25.  I definitely had to arrive at school earlier on days when we did experiments with lots of materials.  That required way more prep time.  But remember, I didn’t have to worry about attending meetings for math or ELA.  I didn’t have to come up with materials for reading centers or study the story problems I was teaching in math.  I actually had the time to prepare lessons with depth.

Finally, it was powerful for students to compare notes with the other classes.  I loved making anchor charts like this after we did experiments because it helped the kids talk through the learning that just occurred.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize

Then when we completed the chart, I sometimes showed charts from the other two classes.  We had some amazing discussions about, “Why do you suppose Class A said ______________ while you all said __________________?”

Reason #4:  Prepare students for middle school

In our district, fifth grade was the final year of elementary.  It’s a big adjustment for kids to go from having one classroom teacher every day in fifth grade to having several each day in sixth grade.  Departmentalizing is an outstanding way to help kids feel more comfortable with having more than one classroom teacher each day.  It helps kids learn how to keep track of assignments for multiple teachers.  We spent a lot of time helping our fifth graders learn how to organize their homework agenda so they could easily keep track of their assignments for each class.

At the end of the year, I asked students to reflect on what they liked and did not like about fifth grade.  A couple of kids said having more than one teacher was a bit overwhelming.  But the majority of students said they enjoyed it.  Here are a few kids who said they enjoyed their first year of having more than one classroom teacher.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

Reason #5:  Test scores went up

For people who need to see data to justify departmentalizing, I had a 19% increase in the number of students who passed the science test the first year I departmentalized compared to the year before when I taught all subjects.  I also saw a dramatic increase in the number of students who scored at the highest level possible.  Reading and math teachers also saw better test scores than the year before.  Although my scores dipped slightly in year two, results were still way better than when I taught all subjects.

If you feel like departmentalizing could work for your students and your school, I hope this blog post has given you some motivation to get the ball rolling on doing so.  However, there are some challenges that you’ll need to be prepared for.  I’ve outlined a few of them in Part Two of this blog post, titled 4 Challenges to Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary.

Unfortunately, research about whether or not departmentalizing increases student achievement is limited, as discussed in this Harvard Education Letter from 2009.  I spent quite a while looking up research before we departmentalized and couldn’t find much.  I also tried to find some research to include in this blog post and again, I couldn’t find any solid data.

With the lack of research, I’ll use my personal experience to say that I strongly believe in the benefits of departmentalization.  During the two years we departmentalized, it helped the teachers as much as the kids at my school.  Please feel free to email me at kgeswein@gmail.com if you have questions or would like to hear more about my experience.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the expertise to advise how exactly you should organize departmentalization at your school, since I don’t know your students or teachers.  But if you have some general questions, I’d love to hear them.  If you have stories of how departmentalization worked for your school, good or bad, feel free to email me too.   Regardless of whether or not departmentalizing would work for you, I want to thank you for all that you do for your students every day!

Resources to Differentiate Reading Centers

I had a love-hate relationship with reading centers when I taught fifth grade.  I loved working with small groups of students.  I loved holding my students accountable for independently completing a list of expected assignments each week.  I hated the expectation from my district that students were supposed to work at centers every day (including the day before breaks) with NO EXCEPTIONS.  I was also told that each center activity needed to be differentiated depending on the reading level of the kids in each group.

I have listened to administrators give endless research about the benefits of kids working at reading centers.  I’ve known plenty of teachers who are so awesome they have center rotations for every subject they teach!  I have no issues with being told to teach centers.

Unfortunately, many teachers are not given the appropriate resources to accomplish this.  Sometimes they aren’t given anything at all.

I was so thankful when my grade departmentalized for two years.  One reason I loved it was because I taught science, so I didn’t have to worry about finding resources for all these differentiated reading centers every week…then having what I did find scrutinized when people walked through the room on a weekly basis.

I know I’m preaching to the choir.  Here’s how I’d like to help.

One of my go-to centers involved kids reading and responding to nonfiction passages.  I imagine many other teachers have a similar center.  So I have written free nonfiction paired texts about famous athletes on a variety of reading levels (grades 1-6) that include quizzes and writing prompts.  This will allow you to provide nonfiction reading materials on the students’ level.  All you have to do is put the passages in different colored folders, depending on the reading level of the kids in that group.   Then tell each group which folder to pull passages from.  This is just one of many ways to facilitate that.

I’ve tried my best to create these passages to look similar, so it won’t be obvious which passages are written on a lower reading level.  I try to avoid giving reading material that looked like it was straight out of a first-grade classroom to my struggling fifth-grade readers.

Middle-school teachers — I’ve also heard from teachers in grades 6-8 who said these were helpful for students who are reading below grade level, but need high-interest reading material that doesn’t look “babyish.”

Each set of paired texts comes with a quiz and writing prompt.  Each set of paired passages compares two famous athletes.  For example, the passages pictured above compare famous NBA players LeBron James and Steph Curry.

If you feel like your kids need a break from answering quiz questions, there are several other ways they could respond to these passages:

–Write a paragraph/essay comparing and contrasting these two athletes.  Compare and contrast how they became famous, what their childhood was like, what they’ve accomplished in their pro career, etc.

–Write a paragraph/essay giving your opinion as to which athlete is better.  Use text evidence to support your opinion.

–You could have also students verbally debate which athlete they think is better.  They could spend their time at the nonfiction reading center writing out facts to support their argument.  Then your entire class, regardless of which group students are in for centers, can debate which athlete they think is better.

–What are some things these two athletes did to become incredible players in their sport?  What did you learn about the importance of working hard from reading about their stories?  (I try to include examples of these athletes working hard in all of my passages!)

Click the images below to download a free set of differentiated passages.  I hope they help make planning for centers a bit easier.

If you need more, I also have differentiated paired texts about athletes in other sports like soccer, gymnastics, swimming, baseball, and more.  Click any of the images below for more information.  These products include three times the number of paired texts as the free products above.

I hope these resources will help you provide reading material that kids love on a reading level that won’t frustrate or bore them.  Thousands of teachers have used my paired texts.  Many have said how much their students love them.

I recently volunteered at a school to help with standardized testing.  I brought a few of my passages for the 3rd graders to read during breaks in testing.  One boy, who said on the first day that he hated reading, literally started dancing in his seat when I gave him reading passages about Ronaldo, who is a famous soccer player.  I’m confident you have students in your class who will feel the same level of excitement if they get to read about famous athletes during reading class.