Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 04 2014

Impostor Syndrome (or, what almost destroyed my first year of teaching)

I haven’t written on here in a while. That’s been on purpose. To be honest, I’ve been struggling. Not instruction-wise or evaluation-wise; more on that later. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and self-esteem issues. I’ve been struggling to believe I am actually good at this. And despite the fact that I’m on track to skip a year of the scale teachers are graded on at my school, at my core, I do not believe I’m a good teacher.

My full observation (when I am videotape/heavily evaluated) is this Thursday. For about three and a half weeks now, I’ve been having full-blown panic attacks. Like…waking up at 1:30 AM in a cold sweat, heart racing, completely panicked about I-don’t-even-know-what. Or being unable to take a deep breath at school. Or going out to my car to cry during my planning period except that crying doesn’t make it any better.

I’ve been in a rut and I don’t know how to get out.

On paper, it should look like I’m doing just fine. My evaluations are strong. My students’ test scores are right on par with the district average. I’ve been able to have somewhat of a life outside of school. But on the inside, I feel like an impostor. A giant fraud. A Wizard-of-Oz girl just waiting for the curtain to be pulled back, exposing my fake competence as the incompetence as it is. I am completely 100% aware that these feelings are extraordinarily irrational. And highly self-centered. I hate that. But you feel what you feel, and though I wish I could feel anything but this, I suppose this is where I’m at right now.

It’s been getting in the way. I feel nauseous when I sit down to lesson plan at night, so my poetry unit’s been rough. I feel sick at the idea of really looking at my student data and so I haven’t been as purposeful as I could be. I’m trying to become okay with not being perfect but for some reason it’s just difficult. And it’s strange, because I was never a perfectionist in college; I was never one of those people who neurotically obsessed over GPA or a test curve or landing the perfect extracurriculars. I actually kind of looked down on those people. and now, weirdly enough, I feel like I’m becoming one of them.

Wikipedia says the anxiety I feel comes from the fear of not living up to what other people think I am. I’m subconsciously worried that my true “not a good teacher” insides will be revealed to outsiders. This, as twisted and bizarre as it sounds, is exactly what I feel. I am quick to chalk up my strong evaluations to luck or timing or the stars aligning or whatever. I am quick to judge myself harshly. I am quick to be convinced that, with every chance of a new evaluation, comes a new chance to be revealed as a fake.


I know I sound so annoying right now. I apologize for that. I’m sharing this in the hopes that if any of you out there – particularly women, who this phenomenon appears to most affect – are experiencing this, it is real, it is a thing, it is something I have dealt with too. I think it is exacerbated by the high-pressure no-excuses never-good-enough churn-and-burn situation I’m in right now, but it was always there all along, and now is when I’m forced to deal with it.


It is absolutely exhausting to live so far inside your own head. I wouldn’t recommend it. In trying to get myself out of this weird headspace I’m trying to purposely be social, to purposely help others, to purposely get myself to just stop thinking about myself. I am extraordinarily lucky to have an incredible cohort of friends both at school and outside of school. I ┬áhave an amazing roommate who supports me in immeasurable ways. I have an instructional coach and an MTLD who show their love for me with words and in actions. And I have a rich inner life that reminds me even if I’m awful on an evaluation…at least I’m a good person, at least I care about the world, at least I try to do the right thing and leave the world a little more beautiful than I found it.

And that’s a start.

7 Responses

  1. YES. I think most/all of us (us vaguely meaning millions of things: women, teachers, TFA teachers) go through a season of this (at least). My first year teaching I went through one homeopathic remedy after another, eventually settling on running and journaling as much as possible until the anxiety was put to rest.

    I am so caught. I am in my fourth year teaching in my placement school, very in the TFA network but not on staff, trying to be aware of “the movement” and the counter-movement, and the reality of all first year teachers everywhere.

    I think many people would be quick to pin you into a category of why TFA is toxic, and maybe this is an example of that. But rather than run away or dodge it I am so interested in what you’re doing: figuring it out, fighting it, preventing it. I DO think TFA is likely to induce anxiety in the most stable of people, but I also think moving far from home, starting a job you’re not trained in, and graduating college IN GENERAL will induce anxiety in anyone.

    The key is what you do with it, like Ms. L said (and I’m Ms. L too!!) I think what’s most important is what you do now. I have a group of friends that pass around a therapist like a good novel, sharing her number and making appointments on the search of an unbiased person to help sort them through their heads. I have a number of friends who left TFA (early or after the 2 years) cussing under their breath, living out the criticisms of the program, and I have a growing handful of friends who, like me, worked through it by whatever means available: social circles, great books, yoga, extra curriculars…

    I think you’re right and wrong that it’s irrational. It’s totally rational. Look at what you are doing and what you have done and how you have got here. You have an enormous amount of pressure on your back from yourself, your school, TFA, and the expectations of those around you. Then you have the reality of your kids to see every day. It is totally rational. Again, what is irrational is living through it without working toward something more positive.

    Thank you for sharing this. So many of us feel this and can find solidarity in those willing to admit it. I hope you find what calms you, and continue to do the things you love.

  2. Dam

    Think about how you got into this. Probably you really enjoy helping young people. If you no longer love that (and really only if you no longer do), hang it up. Otherwise, and this is hard to hear, you might actually be stronger for going through this.

  3. Dsm

    Focus on why you got into this. Presably because helping young people makes you feel good. If that is no longer true (and only if this is not true) then hang it up. On the other hand, if you come through this slowly more able to enjoy life … then I suspect you will actually be better for having persevered.

  4. Meghank

    You don’t sound annoying. I think what you are feeling is a consequence of the toxic culture created by the corporate “reform” movement against teachers.

  5. y

    I used to feel this way too, when I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. Once I faced and embraced my true feelings, it was like breathing for the first time.

  6. Ms. L

    It’s okay to feel like this, but it’s NOT OKAY to keep feeling like this. I would really advice that you seek help-if you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of your students. Best of wishes!

  7. Megan

    That’s one heck of a fire to be refined in. For what it’s worth, the honesty of your blog this entire year is helping me with my own fears as I head into teaching.

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