Education

Help! I’m Having a Hardcore Case of Imposter Syndrome

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m having a case of hardcore imposter syndrome going into this year. Even though I am a well-prepared teacher, I feel a lot of self-doubt. I second guess my decisions around teaching all the time. I feel indecisive about how to handle challenging issues. It would be good to connect with other teachers, but I feel nervous talking about my imposter syndrome. I don’t want other educators to feel like I’m not doing a good job. Any tips or advice? —Not a Real Teacher

Dear N.A.R.T.,

Educators with all levels of experience have self-doubt. You definitely are not the only one struggling with imposter syndrome! You might have some inner chatter saying things like, “I don’t deserve this job. I’m not good enough. I have no idea how to teach reading. I make so many mistakes.” Imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy flare up even more when we compare ourselves to others. We ALL have had days that are bumpy. We ALL have made mistakes in the classroom. And we ALL are in the process of getting better at teaching and learning.

No one expects you to know EVERYTHING! Cultivating a classroom culture that embraces a growth mindset is important for your students, and it’s important for you, too. A growth mindset is based on the idea that our brains are malleable and we are not born with fixed and limited abilities. Learners who take on a growth mindset embrace challenges more readily and persist when they experience failures. Here are a couple of things that can help you let go of your imposter syndrome and build your confidence:

  1. Learn from your own mistakes and be open to feedback. Reframe mistakes as lessons and opportunities for growth. Mistakes show that you are stretching and challenging yourself to grow. If you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over, try different strategies to get different results. Effort and persistence are important, and so is tweaking the strategies you try.
  2. Be a reflective teacher. Build your confidence with strong student progress monitoring skills. When we gather evidence of student learning, our confidence as teachers skyrockets, and so does our students’ empowerment. Collect student work and analyze for strengths and areas of growth. Notice which students are showing understanding and who is approximating. Celebrate the successes and strategically plan to be responsive to the areas that need growth.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m a first-year teacher in second grade this upcoming year, and I have a horrible fear of vomit. I know that that it’s pretty safe to say that most people don’t “like” vomit, but for me, it’s more extreme. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had major fear and anxiety about vomiting or being around anyone else throwing up. It almost kept me from making teaching my career. I really want to be a teacher ,and I love working with kids, and I also know that I’m going to have to work through my fears. I’m feeling super anxious about how to handle this! —Puke Averse

Dear P.A.,

It’s brave of you to bring up your fear. Rest assured that there are others who share your intense fear of vomiting. It’s possible you may have a phobia called emetophobia, which describes a severe fear of vomiting, thinking about vomit, or being around it. If this fear is impacting the quality of your life, it’s a good idea to consider talking to a therapist who can provide some treatment options to help you reflect on your thoughts and learn how to confront this challenge.

The truth is kids vomit at school sometimes. And there are things you can do to be prepared.

  1. Become more informed. Learning the difference between phobias, or irrational fears, and normal fears can help you start feeling a greater sense of control and self-efficacy in your life. Your fear will lose power when you become more mindful and self-compassionate.
  2. Be proactive. Let your custodian and office support staff know that you are anxious about being around students who are sick and may vomit. This way, when it happens, you can call someone who will likely be more empathetic and provide immediate help to clean up the mess. When students say they don’t feel well, let them go to the bathroom and also ask the nurse or office staff to check on them. Being proactive will help avoid a vomiting situation in your classroom.
  3. Cultivate a sense of calm. There are some basic things you can do to face your fears. Begin with paying close attention to how your body feels when anxiety and panic start seeping in. Is your heart racing? Does your stomach feel nauseous? Are your breaths rapid and short?  Be extra gentle to yourself. Take a long DEEP breath in and out. Allow your feelings to be expressed. Get curious about why you feel the way you do. Think about what may have triggered these intense feelings and reactions.

Because you are the leader in the classroom and students respond to your energy, it’s important to find ways to manage and cope when you feel triggered by this fear. We all have unhelpful thought patterns, and you are off to a great beginning by recognizing your fear!

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m dreading the start of the school year. I have 14 years of experience, and I can’t stop shaking, knowing that classes start soon. This past year was so challenging with COVID, and I worked long hours, handled difficult situations, and just feel tired from it all. Break has been nice, but I’m not feeling motivated or recharged. I have been sleeping most of the summer because I’ve been feeling so exhausted. I love my kids, but I’m feeling awful! How can I shake this sense of dread? —Beyond Back to School Jitters

Dear B.B.T.S.J.,

After teaching for such an extended time during a global pandemic, most teachers are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted like you. There are so many COVID-19 protocols to keep track of, as well and fears of getting sick. We’ve been trouble-shooting technology, supporting the emotional health of our students and families, planning for remote, hybrid, and face-to-face learning experiences, and struggling to engage learners with the COVID constraints and impact. Need I say more?

So it’s no surprise that you feel exhausted. However, if your exhaustion and dread are taking over your life, it’s helpful to get professional help to address possible anxiety and depression.

Burnout is an “occupational phenomenon,” according to the World Health Organization. The following information can help you self-assess if you are suffering from this very real syndrome. “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.”

For those of us suffering from teacher burnout, here are some evidence-based things we can do to help us heal. Emily and Amelia Nagoski, authors of the book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, describe ways to manage burnout. Some ideas include:

  • Regulating stress responses with deep and slow breathing signal our bodies that we are OK.
  • Resisting the urge to isolate yourself and engage in some form of social interaction.
  • Remembering that affection, laughter, and crying can bring a sense of relief from feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.

Creative expression helps to bring more energy and enthusiasm into your life. Take good care of yourself, so you can keep adding value in the classroom and beyond.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
A fellow teacher’s wife offered to donate supplies to my classroom. I spend so much money on my classroom, so I immediately felt excited to connect. I called during school, and she was too busy to talk. Over two weeks passed, and I never heard back from my friend’s wife. I found out she already got rid of the supplies after she offered them to me. She never attempted to get back with me! I feel cheated by someone that promised something then took it away. How should I handle this when school starts? —Disappointed by Empty Promises

Dear D.B.E.P.,

It sounds like you are a person that values following through on your word. So you might find it extra hard to find grace for people who don’t follow through on what they say. It’s understandable that you felt disappointed by the empty words. Life can feel like a roller coaster of emotions! You were brimming with excitement one day with the promise of supplies for your classroom and now feel let down and discouraged.

I have to admit that there have been times in my life where there was a miscommunication, and I hurt other people without realizing it. We don’t really know what was communicated between the couple, and maybe the teacher’s wife isn’t aware of how she frustrated and hurt you.

So, let’s think through some options for moving forward.

  1. Reflect on why you felt such a strong reaction to this situation. How have empty promises played a role in your life?
  2. Communicate how you felt about the opportunity. You might consider saying something like, “I felt so excited about the possibility of supplies for my classroom. If you are ever in a position to donate more in the future, keep me in mind.”
  3. Consider forgiveness. Some keys to forgiveness include extending and giving others mercy even though you felt wronged. There are many psychological benefits to forgiving, including decreasing anxiety and anger.
  4. Let it go. Holding onto negative thoughts about not getting the supplies can hurt you more in the end. It might help to reflect on the situation and hold on to what you learned from your experience instead of the way the person disappointed you. This can help you move forward.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected].

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I am struggling to keep between work and home life—mentally, physically and financially. Our school requires us to change our classroom theme every two years, which is not only expensive but very time-consuming. My teammates are going above and beyond with decorations, class rewards, and more. Although I really enjoy my team as people, I do not want to spend so much of my own money on my classroom, going in early and on weekends, or staying late to do extra things to make my classroom Instagram worthy. I love teaching, AND I also love my family. How do I find balance?


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