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How New Teachers Can Beat Imposter Syndrome

A man in a white button-up scratches his head nervously.

Imposter syndrome is normal, and it's OK—and here's how new teachers can beat it.

Almost every year, at least one undergraduate teaching candidate I teach bursts into tears. They feel as though they don't know enough to be an effective teacher—and that they never will. They feel as though they're a fraud.

They're experiencing imposter syndrome, a situation in which people feel like frauds despite all evidence to the contrary, according to the American Psychological Association. The phenomenon is often characterized by self-doubt, anxiety, second-guessing, self-sabotaging, and fear.

Imposter syndrome is common among new teachers. I went through it myself 27 years ago when I first became a teacher. It's normal, and it's OK.

Further Reading: How to Cope with Teaching Anxiety

Here are some research- and experience-based strategies to help you combat imposter syndrome and be the best teacher you can be.

1. Be Inspired—Not Intimidated—by Other Teachers

Every teacher started out as a new teacher with fears and doubts. Comparing yourself to others is a frustrating and futile practice. Look to exemplary teachers as role models and as inspirations, and set your own goals. Remind yourself that you've mastered four years of college, student teaching, and several pre-practicums. You have tools in your kit. You're ready!

 

2. Focus on Your Strengths

When I started teaching high school English language arts, I was terrified. I hadn't read every classic and I wasn't familiar with some important contemporary literature. I knew, though, that my instructional techniques were strong, and I had a knack for building relationships, especially with difficult students. I focused on those strengths.

Examine your own powers, then tap into them. Maybe your forte is in engagement or constructing interesting and effective lesson plans. Maybe it's a great sense of humor or strong time management or organizational skills. Knowing your strengths will help you feel stronger, more confident, and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

3. Talk to a Mentor

Most schools provide mentors to new teachers. If your school doesn't, ask for one—it's worth it. Your mentor can help bring you back down to Earth when your fears begin to spiral out of control. Observing your mentor in class can also help you learn instructional strategies and techniques, as well as confidence in your own practice.

4. Use Problem-Solving Techniques

Chances are that another teacher has experienced the same problem you're experiencing in your classroom, whether it's to do with parent conferences, classroom management, or a lack of resources. Talking to your fellow teachers can help you learn the politics of your building, the chain of command, and specific strategies for dealing with the challenges you're facing. Asking questions isn't just necessary—it's expected (and welcomed) by veteran teachers and administrators.

Websites dedicated to teaching can be a wealth of information, too, and can help you hurdle any problem you have.

5. Visualize Success …

The New York Times suggests visualizing success as a way to overcoming imposter syndrome. Run through that lesson you want to teach in your head and anticipate any problems that might pop up. Visualize yourself motivating that reluctant student so that they achieve. Role-play that meeting with a parent and imagine yourself working through potential issues. Visualize how that presentation in your professional learning group will go down.

Focusing on a positive outcome can be powerful. And when you accomplish a goal, celebrate it!

6. … But Embrace Failure

Things don't always go the way you plan—especially in teaching. Lesson plans get derailed. Technology goes wonky. Interruptions seem endless.

Use failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. When a lesson plan fails and you understand why, you can ensure that future lessons succeed. When a technology challenge arises, you'll learn how to handle it next time it happens—and your practice will be that much stronger.

7. Understand That You'll Build a Strong Repertoire

Every time you teach a concept, you'll get better at it. Every time you share a new book with your students, you'll understand it better. Over time, you'll become more comfortable in the classroom, and you'll begin building a repertoire of tools, strategies, knowledge, and skills that you can draw on.

Further Reading: The Biggest Challenges Millennial Teachers Face

Imposter syndrome is very common among new teachers. The keys to overcoming it are to ask questions, reframe failure, challenge negative self-talk, and counteract it with knowledge and practice. You've got this!