Monday, May 31, 2010

Solitude, Solitare

I've been reflecting on the solitary nature of teaching. For most of the day, teachers exist in a vacuum void of social interaction. Sure, there are the live bodies of the students, but it's very different than working right next to another person in an office environment. Life in a cubicle farm involves hearing people on the phone, chatting with them while they walk by and crossing paths in the breakroom, and perhaps even tossing nerf balls over cube dividers in moments of stress-relief. In the old days, I'd often get so sick of co-workers and their constant presence that I'd sit in my car in the parking lot at lunchtime with a book, just so that I didn't have to interact with people for one hour out of the day.

Life as a teacher involves a morning greeting in the lounge, and if you don't have recess duty, perhaps sitting down with a co-worker for ten minutes, often while waiting for the one "adult" bathroom on campus to be free. Then there is lunchtime. I've heard stories of principals who require the staff to eat together in the lounge. I've also been in some schools where the teachers tend to chat over lunch. By and large, though, there is so much to do that most of the staff spends their 40 or 45 minute lunch in their own classroom, prepping or grading work.

The solitude is enhanced as a substitute teacher. I don't know the staff, and I'm horrible at starting conversations with strangers. If someone engages me in conversation, I'm happy to answer questions and make my own polite inquiries. I'm not completely inept in social situations, but I'm definitely not a gifted conversationalist and probably more on the "introverted" end of the spectrum than the "extroverted" side. This is something that I've always felt guilty about. I would love to be more outgoing. I'd love to be the person in the group that everyone is drawn to, but I'm just not that person. As much as I value being with my friends and attending parties and going out in the world, I also need my time alone to decompress.

So, I'm torn about this aspect of the World of the Teacher. Social interaction with children alone leaves a lot to be desired, and I miss having coworkers and friends at work. At the same time, I appreciate not being involved in the politics and drama of the workplace. Once I have a regular position, I'm sure I'll be as drawn in as anyone else in the event planning and gossip sessions that seem to be present where any group of people get together. I'll be glad to have a sense of community again. And for better or worse, I'll be subject to both the help and the criticism of peers.

I'm both looking forward to that day and dreading the loss of my autonomy.


  1. I always feel bad for the substitutes that come to our school and make an effort to get to know them.

    At my old school, we had open classrooms, meaning no walls. I hated it EXCEPT for the fact that I saw my coworkers all day long.

  2. I agree! I am introverted as well, and I think that's really debilitating when it comes to networking at schools. It's very frustrating, but I'm trying to improve.