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How Teachers Can Overcome Imposter Syndrome

May 26, 2021

New teachers face many challenges, from establishing successful classroom management strategies to learning school policies and local teaching standards. These and other challenges can become all the more daunting when nagging thoughts of self-doubt creep in to teachers’ minds. Sometimes, new teachers confront worries about their capabilities despite their in-depth training and knowledge. Or, they might not believe fellow teachers who tell them they’re doing a great job. This type of negative thinking, often referred to as teacher imposter syndrome, can prove paralyzing for some educators.

Learning how to overcome imposter syndrome is instrumental to building a successful career as an educator.

What Is Teacher Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can affect professionals in any industry. People who experience it feel like frauds, worried that others will soon discover they don’t deserve their positions. Imposter syndrome afflicts individuals despite their credentials and proven success. Sometimes, those experiencing imposter syndrome dismiss their successes as mere luck, ignoring their own talent and the value of their contributions.

On back-to-school night, teachers who are experiencing imposter syndrome may imagine that parents will realize their children had a better teacher the prior year. Or, they may panic, because they think that during their next classroom observation their principal will realize they can’t teach.

Though anyone can experience imposter syndrome, the phenomenon more frequently affects historically marginalized groups, such as women and people of color. Systemic oppression, which has devalued marginalized groups and communicated to them that they do not deserve success, makes it more likely for these individuals to doubt the validity of their accomplishments.

Impacts of Teacher Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can have several consequences. Undercutting one’s own abilities and not internalizing one’s accomplishments puts a person at a disadvantage, both personally and professionally.

First, constant self-doubt harms teachers’ emotional well-being. It interferes with their ability to enjoy their work and feel fulfilled. Recent research published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that people experiencing imposter syndrome also often experience depression and anxiety. Additionally, the research found that imposter syndrome impairs a person’s work performance and can ultimately lead to burnout.

A lack of self-confidence can hold back teachers from seeking leadership positions that could advance their careers. This has financial consequences as well.

Tips on How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Teachers can learn how to overcome imposter syndrome by putting into practice some useful strategies. Whether a novice or veteran educator, the following tips help manage the symptoms of imposter syndrome when they arise.

Acknowledge and Reframe Your Thoughts

To overcome imposter syndrome, teachers should start by acknowledging their thoughts. This gives them an opportunity to reframe them. When thoughts of imposter syndrome present themselves, teachers can observe them and then analyze and question them critically.

For instance, a teacher might contemplate if a thought is helpful or harmful. Then they might say to themselves, “I may be feeling like a fraud, but that doesn’t mean I actually am one or that I should take such thoughts seriously.”

Whenever thoughts of inadequacy arise, teachers can counter them with affirming statements such as:

  • I am doing enough.
  • My time and energy are limited, so I choose to focus on doing the best I can.
  • I don’t have to be perfect to be an effective, successful teacher.
  • I am learning and continue to grow all the time.
  • I am making a real impact on my students.

Find Your Teaching Personality

It can take time to find a teaching personality. Some educators naturally use humor in their teaching. Others use a nurturing approach that focuses on social emotional learning. Still other teachers might feel most comfortable using a strict, disciplined style.

However, not all teachers instantaneously know their teaching personality. Sometimes, before teachers have figured out what suits them best, they may not feel authentic in the classroom. This can provoke imposter syndrome feelings.

Such situations give teachers the perfect opportunity to try out different teaching styles until they find their own classroom personality. Once teachers discover who they are in the classroom, they are less likely to feel like imposters.

Admit What You Don’t Know

No teacher can know everything. However, they often feel like they should, so they fake it, which can make them feel like frauds. Students can often tell when teachers are trying to fake it, and they tend not to have qualms about displaying distrust or doubt in their teacher by misbehaving or letting their negative comments be known. This can further exacerbate imposter syndrome feelings in teachers.

Rather than trying to hide what they don’t know or what is new to them, teachers should readily admit it. Students appreciate honesty, and it makes them more forgiving when a lesson may not go as smoothly as possible.

Before trying out an unfamiliar instructional approach, teachers might tell their students they have a new lesson idea they think will be fun. They can then ask students to try it out, explaining that after the activity they will have a chance to discuss how it went, if they’d like to do it again, and how it can be improved.

This not only makes approaching new material less intimidating, it also gives students agency in the learning process and makes them view their teachers as genuine and transparent. This kind of relationship between teachers and students can do a lot to alleviate imposter syndrome feelings.

Share Your Feelings with a Trusted Colleague and Get Support

Teachers who are experiencing imposter syndrome need confidants who understand them and can offer them support. Holding in feelings of unjustified inadequacy often allows those feelings to grow unchecked. By telling a trusted colleague, teachers can hear valuable feedback that helps them reconsider the validity of their thoughts.

Additionally, trusted colleagues can share information and support one another to increase feelings of competence. For instance, if a teacher feels plagued by feelings of imposter syndrome before a scheduled classroom observation, they can tell their colleagues and get pointers and advice about their lesson beforehand. This can help build confidence and minimize self-doubt.

Learn More About Becoming a Confident Educator

Even the most talented teachers can experience imposter syndrome at some time or another. However, with the right tools and support they can reframe their thoughts, internalize their successes, and thrive.

Discover American University’s online Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Education in Educational Policy and Leadership programs. Learn how the program equips educators with strategies on how to overcome imposter syndrome and build rewarding teaching careers.