Truth be told, I am not one for placing labels on people. When someone attempts to apply one to me, I instinctively pull back in horror. However, there is one label that applies to me without a doubt. I take this label and wrap up in it like a giant cozy blanket. That is how perfect it feels to me.
I am an introvert. A clearer description of me would be an ‘extreme introvert.’ Seriously, friends. I love people and all; but can they just stay away from me for a really, really, really, long time? I am talking a few months of complete solitude each year would be divine.
This job I have of writing about teaching ballet often forces me to consider all aspects of teaching ballet. More specifically, my personal journey as a ballet teacher. There is no question that dealing with my introverted ways has been difficult for me (and, likely, others). I know I am not the only introverted teacher on the planet, so I figured I would write a little piece to encourage my comrades with whom I share this personality trait.
Of course much has been written and researched about what introversion really is. Bottom line: If you are an introvert, then you know what it is and you don’t need—or want—anyone telling you what it is. You just want to be left alone already.
No worries. I am not here to define what it means to be an introvert. I am here to share with you how I deal with being around people all day—smiling at them, interacting with them, engaging with them, etc—and not lose my mind. (Well, I do lose my mind at times. But don’t we all?)
Plan Out My Day
The more hours I teach the more alone time I need. Yes, this makes it difficult when hours are added to my schedule, but I will go out of my way for that alone time. I will stay up late, wake up early, put my headphones on and shove a hat far down my head when out in public just to push out the buzz. It is that important for my mental well being.
My general rule is that half the hours I teach, I try to get alone. Example: If I teach four hours I try to get 2 hours of alone time. I prefer that to be all at once, but I will take it however I can get it. I can function alright without this alone time for a while; but if I go too many days without it my teaching suffers, my own kids suffer, and of course I suffer.
Prepare My Mind
I absolutely must prepare my mind for what it will be enduring while I teach. I know this makes it sound as though I dislike teaching. That could not be further from the truth. I love teaching so much that the passion I have for it far outweighs the challenges it presents for this one aspect of my personality.
Being around people is draining for me in all the ways. To combat that fatigue, I mentally prepare by taking a few moments in my car (or some other quiet place) to focus in on what I am feeling and get centered. I put aside all my thoughts about the class or rehearsal I am about to lead and just ponder myself. Basically, I do some inner-work before I allow myself to go be around people.
I arrive early (as much as 30 minutes early) to class. This gives me ample time to address any issues without feeling rushed or pulled from one person to the next. I also try to finish class five minutes early for the same reasons.
Nothing will get me craving the silent haven of my bedroom like one person after the next needing something from me. I recognize the chaos in a dance studio is sometimes unavoidable, but I can remain peaceful in that chaos by creating enough time to take care of all these people while still being able to breathe myself. In the event I can’t arrive early, or I am somehow sucked into the vortex of people, I remind myself it is only momentary and it will soon subside. (And when it does, there is chocolate waiting for me. Yes, I bribe myself with chocolate.)
I have written about boundaries before. I believe personal boundary setting is one of the most overlooked issues in the performing arts education world. I once had a director explain to me that teachers are never paid for all their work and I should simply accept that. Well, I don’t accept that. Decide for yourself what your boundaries are. Each teacher should create personal and professional boundaries in order to maximize their performance and minimize undue stress.
Because this is not how I do my best work. I can be on a team. I can be great on a team! But if you insist I play a group game, I will not want to be on your team, I will hate every moment of that game, and I will not look forward to working with you. If you require my ocean of ideas to be whittled down to the size of a few sticky notes (and you give me 90 seconds to get this done) I have nothing for you, and I will not wish to share any of my ideas (some of which are probably brilliant) with you.
I need space. I need time. My ideas need oxygen. My creativity does not require your timer. My ability to give my best skills to my team does require your games. Let me be the individual and the artist you supposedly hired.
Yes, this is a soapbox of mine.
After it is all said and done, I must decompress from the day. Ideally, I must do this before I see other people (my kids, friends, etc). If I am unable to fit this in, I carry the tension and it goes right to bed with me. I wake up the next day with it steeped in my bones making it that much harder to release. I discovered a while ago the trick was the car ride home. Drive for a few minutes of absolute silence. Then turn on music that brings me those peaceful feelings of “alone”. I actually have a playlist so it takes the guesswork out entirely. I plug in and drive. It is beautiful.
Being an introverted teacher has its challenges for obvious reasons. This doesn’t mean we have to grin and bear it though. There are tactics we can integrate into our routines and work that can alleviate some of the pressure for us. It does require some upfront focus/trial and error to figure out what will work for you and it does require ongoing commitment to prioritize your needs. But once you have it worked out, you are set! Ready to take on the world! And then proceed to go directly home and collapse into the sweet embrace of being left alone . . . finally.