I keep finding my weeks slowly, yet more quickly, getting away from me. Busy with my new job, frustrated by my new job, and this week coming to the realization that I need an accommodation like so many of my students. I don’t know that I came to this realization on my own, but, when you look at it, that’s what it is.
Let’s rewind a couple of weeks. The private school where I am employed is brand new. It’s a “start up”. I mean just this semester they started taking grades, requiring class attendance, etc. The program has been around for a couple of years but more as an after school program where self proclaimed “nerds” could get together and code, create robots, play chess, etc. When the pandemic hit, they decided to become an online school for said nerds; a college for kids they call it. In the fall of 2020, they purchased an old church for the campus, and all classes are taught remotely to students all over the world. It’s been a pretty big hit. But here’s the kicker. The founders are not educators. This is a problem.
Students can attend online classes on campus or they can stay home. The campus is very open concept grouping kids by age and ability rather than specific grade levels. When I interviewed I specifically asked if I would have an office, my own space. “Sure, sure, there’s plenty of room for you to have your own space”. Once I arrived on campus, I was given permission to “claim a room, make it your own, do whatever you want”. Great! So I did. I moved my books and resources into this blank room. Set up a little desk and carved out a space where I can work and concentrate. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and all of sudden, I notice the higher ups moving furniture and cleaning out. I ask if I need to move out of my room. “No, no you’re fine. Stay where you are”. Good I thought. I need my space. On Friday, they moved another desk into my room with me, but no one ever came in and sat down or moved anything else into my space. Sunday night around 9 pm, I received a text message announcing that the teachers now have a new workspace that we will all be sharing. “Excited for you to see it!”. Oh no.
I walk into our new space on Monday morning, and they have essentially created a teacher’s lounge for all of us to work in. There’s six of us. In order to teach, we have to gather up our belongings and find another room that we can livestream in. There’s not enough rooms for all of us to do that. Sometimes we have to teach in our work area while others are working and trying to plan lessons. We were all upset, but for me it was probably the worst.
I cannot work in a room with talking, laughing or others around me. I need quiet so that I can concentrate and no one else to talk to. This is the worst possible set up for me. I made it through the first week and got nothing done. We chatted and visited and I was never more relieved when the clock finally struck 4 pm and I could go home. The constant chatter and socializing and just people around, on top of entertaining and educating kids, was draining the energy out of me. I came home completely exhausted every day. To top it off, I also started not sleeping through the night, and I’m a good sleeper. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my mind racing dreading going back to work to a stressful, loud environment where I was going to get behind in my planning.
This week after waking up at 3:30 am and not able to fall back to sleep, I knew something needed to be done. I emailed my direct supervisor and I explained to her how I felt. I’m an introvert, I said. I need space and quiet to get work completed and to re-energize myself. Working in a space with 5 other people doesn’t work for me. I asked her to please consider allowing to move to a remote position. We are an online school after all. She responded back saying that she would discuss this with HR to see if they could make an accommodation for me. That’s when I realized, I’m no different than the students that I teach, and it also made me feel like being an introvert was a disadvantage. That I cannot be successful in this environment the way that it is, so I need something different from everyone else. It made me uncomfortable, and then I felt kind of ridiculous for even asking. But it’s true. I cannot be productive or successful in the environment that I’m currently in unless something changes.
I like being an introvert. I like time alone, to be up in my head, lost in my thoughts. I enjoy the peace and serenity while I’m reading and writing lesson plans, and I enjoy not being around a lot of people for long periods of time. I prefer one on one for a short period of time and then I need a break to re-energize and have quiet. After a full day at school, I am mentally and physically drained. I need at least 30 minutes of quiet alone time when I get home in order to be ready to interact with my own kids. So call it an accommodation. I’m ok with that. That’s what it is. But I know it’s not a weakness or a disadvantage. Some of our most successful and brilliant minds have been introverts. They reflect. They take their time making decisions. They reflect on their actions and are introspective. They are comfortable in their own skin. These are all good things, and if what I(we) need is an accommodation in order to be successful, then bring on the accommodations. I’m ready!