Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 19 2014

Impostor Syndrome revisited: did I find a potential solution?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Impostor Syndrome that received lots of great comments and feedback (yes – I read every comment and really do think about what you all have to say). You asked solid questions and nudged me in just the right ways. Thank you all.

I wanted to revisit this issue now that I’ve had some time/distance/perspective (thank you, Spring Break) and my full observation is complete. Here were the most helpful comments I received, my responses to them, and then to wrap it up, my theory on the root cause of – and solution to – all of this.

1. “Your blog is honest.” I try to keep it that way :) As I said, before I applied to the Corps I read through dozens of these types of blogs. just trying to keep it real here.

2. “It’s okay to feel this way. It’s not okay to keep feeling this way.” This has really pushed me to think through the specific, concrete steps that MUST be taken for me to find a way out. Thank you for your candor. More on my potential solution in a little bit!

3. “You feel this way because you’re trying to be someone you’re not.” (paraphrased). This is an interesting point. I think, to some degree, it’s correct. I’m trying to be someone I’m not yet. But is that the same as trying to be someone I can never become? Don’t we all feel this way a little bit, even when undertaking productive and challenging risks that are what we’re meant to be doing, just because we are outside of our comfort zones? Just some things I am thinking through.

4. “This is a product of toxic culture.” (again, paraphrased). I agree halfway. I think my school and district could, certainly, do specific things to reverse the trend of stress-inducing, anxiety-provoking evaluation. Part of this problem is caused by them and part could be fixed by them. But on the flip side, I don’t believe my school (or ed reform) is trying to work against teachers. I think that at least the administration at my school is genuinely trying to make me a better teacher by caring enough to provide observation and feedback. They are trying to shorten and de-mystify the feedback loop. The error, as I said, is in the execution of this very noble goal.

5. “Focus on why you got into this.” Yes. I teach for students, not for adults. I try to remind myself of this every day.

6. “What matters most is not that this is happening  per se, but how you choose to move forward.” Shoutout to Caroline for, as always, providing solid perspective. More on my “moving forward” below.

 

So now that I’ve drilled down my problem to what seems to make sense on paper at least, I’m trying to push myself to think through a solution. In doing so I’m uncovering some rather nasty truths about my college experience, TFA, and my grit (or lack thereof).

 

My school is an ardent believer in the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck. We talk about it all the time with our students and even had the privilege of grit/mindset researcher Angela Duckworth come to Houston for a visit. I’d always sort of casually dismissed it but in rethinking that, I’m realizing that the entire reason why I feel like an impostor is because my fixed mindset has propelled me through high school & college but is now drowning me.

Quick refresher from the book:
1. People with a fixed mindset (me, until this experience) believe that intelligence/talent/ability is relatively fixed. Tests and performances are an evaluation of ability and a good score indicates you are getting closer to your goal of perfection. Negative feedback or experiences should be shied away from. Others who are successful in the same arena are a threat. You are good at what you’re good at, and if you’re not good at something, persistence alone won’t make you better.

2. People with a growth mindset (who I need to become) believe that intelligence/talent/ability is malleable. Tests and performances are an in-the-moment evaluation of in-the-moment performance and are a useful tool for determining the path forward. Negative feedback or experiences, and challenges in general, should be embraced as growth-inducing. Others who are successful in the same arena are inspirational mentors. You are good at some things and others take more work, but persistence alone can make you better.

This is my problem. My fixed mindset got me through college but will take me no farther. I’m too out-of-my-league for that mindset. Playing with the big dogs, or whatever the saying is. In college I was bad at chemistry so I stopped being a premed. I was scared of public speaking so I didn’t take a Debate class. I thought about trying out for a play, then decided to spend time on things I was already good at (leading an Alternative Spring Break trip, for example). I put out lots of feelers and the second I sensed other people were “naturally” better at something than I was, I backed away and then pivoted to something else. I had a fixed mindset.

It doesn’t work anymore. Of course I’m not at as good at teaching at second, third, and fourth-year teachers are. Of course my non-fiction unit in September didn’t go smoothly – I’d been a teacher for a month. Of course my first attempt at poetry is rough – it’s my first attempt. But with a fixed mindset, I view these experiences as marks on my character, and I view evaluation as a stressful gauntlet that will ultimately prove I’m not a “naturally” good teacher.

Even typing it, I realize how absurd it is. But it’s my instinct. Here’s what my life as a teacher, with a growth mindset, without Impostor Syndrome, would look:

1. I am okay with poor evaluations because I know I will receive genuinely good feedback about how to be a better teacher.
2. I am okay when other teachers are better than I am, because it means I’m surrounded by people from whom I can learn.
3. I am okay when my carefully-planned lesson bombs, because now I can adjust my planning and avoid doing two more of those lessons later in the day.
4. I am okay when I’m asked to move beyond my comfort zone or step up on my grade level team, because only by doing so can I experience failure and ultimately get to success.

 

Easier said than done. But I think, I hope, I pray that I have found a way out of the crazy.  I’ll keep you posted.

2 Responses

  1. Meghank

    I’m glad you’re feeling better, but I think you would feel still better if you would put the blame where the blame lies. While your school and district may not be working against teachers (and I’ll take your word for it, but getting rid of the library or expecting teachers to run it was not a good sign), the ed “reform” movement certainly is working against teachers.

    Speaking of fixed versus growth mindset: the Ed reform movement is encouraging the public to have a fixed mindset towards teachers (fire them after one year of poor test scores, etc). There’s another thing to think about.

    Sorry for the negativity, but if there is a war on (and there is one, against public education), it helps no one, least of all you as a teacher, to be in denial about that fact.

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Journeys, challenges, & writings of a first-year teacher.

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Houston
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Middle School

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