“Hi Liz. This is Victoria. I’m calling to offer you the position of New Teacher Developer for next year if you’d still be interested.” My whoop of joy may have blown out her ear drum as I stammered out a ‘yes, yes I would!’ This was my dream job mentoring first year teachers for my school system. It was an elite role I had coveted after more than twenty years of teaching. My credentials, experience, resume’ and recommendations vouched that I was well-qualified for this job. But that old nagging self-doubt crept in once again.. was I?… was I really?
I’ve learned this self-doubt now has a name: Imposter Syndrome. A quick definition describes it as a ‘psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.’ Yup. Describes me to a T.
As a teacher I know I tried my hardest to plan lessons, to guide, to know my subject material and to grow in my practice. So why, when I observed my colleagues teach did I often leave their classroom feeling defeated and less-than? I consistently got Proficient and Exemplary evaluations.. why did I always feel they missed seeing through me…that I’d fooled them once again?
This self-imposed Imposter Syndrome didn’t leave me in my new role as a mentor. When my new teacher and I would debrief a lesson I still left often feeling I didn’t work hard enough, didn’t communicate well enough, didn’t listen closely enough and gave poor advice and guidance.
I have 2 adult children, a boy and a girl who graduated from college, got advanced degrees and certifications and are thriving in their careers. Yet I sometimes think this was a fluke, that they are successful not BECAUSE of but IN SPITE of my parenting. My husband was much calmer and more nurturing while I tend to remember more vividly the times I fought with them, the times I yelled, the guilt I felt that I sucked at parenting. At the time, other parents seemed to do this so much better than I did. Yet here my kids are, grown, flown and happy. Maybe I did do something right?
But I’ll always feel guilty about Jermaine. He was a tough kid to teach and sometimes a tough kid to love. He’s the one I always feel I let down, I should have done better with. I defaulted to anger too often with him. He’s almost forty now and last week he reached out to me: “I know you were hard on me sometimes and I resented you because of that. But you made me the man I am today.” So, okay, Jermaine. Although I wish I could have a do-over with you, at times I was good enough and sometimes good enough is enough.
So recently, and without meaning to, I’ve started to view this Imposter Syndrome with a different lens. Maybe it keeps me on my toes. Maybe it keeps me sharp, keeps me striving to get better at things that I enjoy even though they may feel like an obligation? Take this essay, for example. It’s been looming over my head for two, maybe three weeks. It’s six-hundred words give or take dammit, it shouldn’t be such an albatross around my neck. Yet less than twenty-four hours before it’s due I’ve finally plunked my butt down to write. And I’ve enjoyed it, enjoyed finding the right word, the right phrasing, the right way to express that maybe… maybe?- I’ve found a balance between being content with my accomplishments yet still wanting to achieve, to get better, to improve on who I was yesterday. Maybe it’s my ‘I’m Still Working on Me Syndrome.’