Why I Nearly Quit Teaching: Imposter Syndrome

About Dave Robb

Dave Robb is a father, husband and teacher from Auckland, New Zealand. He has taught Year 5 and 6 (Grade 4 and 5) for ten years, and is passionate about literacy, behavior management, mentoring new teachers, and growing the confidence of all students. He writes about who he is, what he has experienced, what he is learning right now, and his hopes and dreams for the future. When not teaching, or creating new educational resources, he is attempting to bake, get fit, or spending time with this family! He blogs at www.topteachingtasks.com

Will This Article Ever Get Written? 

After finding inspiration to write an article, I usually do a quick Google search to see what is already available on the topic. I quickly realized that I was not the first person to broach the topic of Imposter Syndrome within Education. This got me thinking: “Why should I bother writing about something that has already been written about so much? What could I possibly have to add? Why do I think I know enough to share advice anyway? I am no expert!”

Well that kind of thinking goes straight to the heart of Imposter Syndrome. With that in mind, instead of coming up with a bunch of reasons why I should just hit the delete button and move right along, I am going to put on my big boy pants and write this blog post anyway!

I won’t, however, be writing a “172 tips for overcoming imposter syndrome” article. There is a perfectly good blog post for that right here, and here, (and here and here and here). I want to share my story of how I overcame/continue to overcome imposter syndrome. I may not be an expert, but I do have a story.

I want to share my story of how I overcame/continue to overcome imposter syndrome. Click To Tweet

My Story

As a beginning teacher some ten years ago, I came into the classroom with a range of previous experiences working with children. My classroom looked bright and attractive, and my students were, for the most part, well behaved. Engaging class displays and classroom management happen to be two passions of mine. My mentor teacher noticed these outward positives of my burgeoning teaching career and noticeably backed off with her support. I think perhaps she thought, “Oh he is doing well, he doesn’t need my help.” Maybe she thought, “I am very busy and important. He looks fine. I will leave him to it.” Because I appeared to have it all together, I received less support, advice and guidance than others.

The problem for me was… I DID need help! I was a new teacher, I was learning the ropes of teaching, and I certainly did not have it all together.  What began to develop in me was a sense of being a fraud, and of hoping that I wouldn’t be caught out – this is the basic essence of Imposter Syndrome. I remember thinking, “Everyone thinks I am doing so well. Wait until they find out how clueless I really am!” Then I thought, “They can NEVER find out!” In my first year of teaching, I was even asked to speak at my local University to the graduates about my experiences as a “talented first year teacher.”

I would get opportunities like this, and praise for the externally obvious aspects of my teaching: “Oh your classroom looks great,” “Isn’t little Jimmy behaving well,” “What a great assembly you ran.” Every compliment just reinforced to me that people were seeing a version of myself that didn’t feel real. Yes, thank you, my assembly was wonderful, I am glad little Jimmy is behaving, and yes, that display is bright and engaging, BUT, how the heck do you teach MATH!??!?! What is a tessellation!? How am I meant to fit twelve different writing genres into one year?

HELP!

Why didn’t I just ask for help? It seems like such an obvious question to me now. But really, who can admit to actually enjoying asking for help? There are three main reasons I think I didn’t ask for help.

1 – I was not on a permanent contract – I was essentially competing with the other beginning teachers for a future permanent position. I thought, “Who is more likely to be employed – the needy teacher who is always asking for help, or the teacher who has it all together?” Hindsight has shown me that employers look at a full picture, and actually respect those who ask for help. At the time however, I felt like asking too many questions would limit my chances of being reemployed.

2 – My sense of identity was being built by the positive encouragement I was getting for “what a wonderful teacher” I was. If I admitted to my insecurities and lack of knowledge, I would be found out.

3 – To ask for help is to admit you need it. That takes a humility that I didn’t have at that point.

So the spiral continued, and so too did the pressure I lumped on myself. Whenever I would feel the pangs of imposter syndrome – the feeling of being a fraud – I would create a new display, or put on another class event or play, or whatever it was that was getting encouragement at that point. By the end of my first year, I was a walking-talking-people-pleasing-Faker-Mc-Fake-A-Lot. I knew that I couldn’t continue this way. Feeling like a performing monkey and constantly seeking external approval was not working for me. I knew I needed to shake the doubts I felt about my abilities. I needed to cut myself some slack. Otherwise, this imposter syndrome was going to rob me of my teaching joy and I would end up running out of the building screaming one day and never coming back.

So what did I do?

By the end of my first year, I was a walking-talking-people-pleasing-Faker-Mc-Fake-A-Lot. Click To Tweet

I Worked On My Perfectionism

I needed to check myself before I wrecked myself! Nearer the end of my first year teaching, my principal directed each teacher to spend one day observing in other teachers classrooms. It was then that my internal beliefs were challenged by my actual reality. My internal belief was that I was a terrible Math teacher. I also thought that students reading levels were improving because of luck. During those observations, I watched six experienced teachers go about their teaching business – Math, Writing, Reading, PE – and I began to notice something. Their planning and routines were similar to mine, and the way we taught was basically the same. I was then able to begin reminding myself, when these doubts came along, that what I was feeling wasn’t truth, it was baloney.

I Asked For Help

My Math confidence didn’t automatically improve, but I realized I could learn from those who were. I decided to be proactive: to ask, to read, to research. Instead of looking at me as if I was a needy freakazoid, I gained respect from being open with my teaching peers. It actually opened up conversations where they could also say, “Hey, I feel like my Spelling program could be improved. What is yours like?” Even now, Math is not my teaching specialty, but I buy many great Math TPT products to supplement my knowledge and improve my teaching practice. Then I return the favor by creating ELA products to help people who may have gaps in that area.

I Became Transparent

Darren Rowse explains, “People can only call you a fraud or fake if you are trying to be something that you are not.” This relates well to blogging, where I still battle with the urge to feel full imposter at times! Prouse also mentions attending a talk by Cliff Ravenscraft about imposter syndrome. His suggestion was to always be honest when writing content by revealing:

  • This is who I am
  • This is what I have experienced to this point and what I’m learning
  • These are my hopes, dreams and goals for the future

That is how I am viewing blogging now. No I don’t have a certificate that says, “Expert in All Things.” But I do have experience. I do know what is going on in MY classroom, and there is power in sharing that.

I Learned To Celebrate

Lastly, I learned to celebrate my achievements. In New Zealand, we have something called the “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”  New Zealanders tend to cut down those who are showing any sense of pride. We don’t celebrate our success well. People with imposter syndrome will explain away any success as luck, or a result of something outside of their actions. I did that frequently, and still catch myself doing it now. By allowing myself the chance to celebrate little “wins” along the way, I remind myself, “Hey, you are meant to be here!” “You were BORN for this!” “YOU AIN’T NO FRAUD, DAVE ROBB” – that last one was me giving myself a pep talk in my mind haha.

So that is my journey, which, by the way, I am still on. I don’t know if imposter syndrome ever really goes away. At least now I have the tools to smash it in the face if it ever tries to ruin me. If you struggle with this issue yourself, maybe some of my strategies will work for you.

What about you?

Have you struggled with Imposter Syndrome before – either in your blogging, TPT or teaching journeys – or all three? If so, what has worked for you? I am all ears!

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By | 2016-11-01T13:45:01+00:00 September 9th, 2016|Back to School, Educator Professionalism, Featured, Opinion|1 Comment

About the Author:

Dave Robb is a father, husband and teacher from Auckland, New Zealand. He has taught Year 5 and 6 (Grade 4 and 5) for ten years, and is passionate about literacy, behavior management, mentoring new teachers, and growing the confidence of all students. He writes about who he is, what he has experienced, what he is learning right now, and his hopes and dreams for the future. When not teaching, or creating new educational resources, he is attempting to bake, get fit, or spending time with this family! He blogs at www.topteachingtasks.com

One Comment

  1. Sarah October 29, 2016 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Thanks Dave!!!

    This helped loads – exactly what im currently going through, so its great to hear someone else who also is.

    I too am receiving praise, but weirdly it knocks my confidence – I think because of what you have explained there, and also when i DONT get it I think i’ve done something wrong!!

    Thanks so much again 🙂 Glad to hear its getting better for you! x

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