A teacher confident in her leadership abilities
Leadership Insights

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Embracing Classroom Leadership

By Ashley Watters June 25, 2019

Many people express anxiety about public speaking or performing for a crowd. Although it’s a largely overlooked part of education, that’s exactly what teachers do almost every day! Every teacher is a leader with the unique opportunity to set the tone and expectations in the learning setting. While many teachers embrace these challenges, others struggle. The persistent demand to lead and stand up in front of a classroom every day can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, but it can be of particular difficulty if you suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a condition that was originally identified by Pauline Clance, PhD and Suzanne Imes, PhD. The two identified a trend of anxiety among successful women, which they coined as the “imposter phenomenon.” Those experiencing the imposter phenomenon doubt their intellectual abilities, attributing their success to luck or oversight, therefore believing themselves to be imposters in their own field. These individuals often describe themselves as being a fraud, expressing fear at being discovered to be a sham. These feelings emerge despite multiple accolades and professional successes.

As a leader in the educational community, you may occasionally be plagued with feelings of self-doubt, wondering if you are qualified to help mold the generations of tomorrow. Not to worry, if you have a genuine love for your job and a concern for your students, you are likely in the right place.

The struggle for a #PinterestPerfect classroom

Imposter syndrome has been linked to feelings of inadequacy and self-esteem issues. In fact, Valerie Young writes about five different types of “imposters.” These imposters often sabotage their efforts or find ways to melt into the crowd to keep from drawing attention to themselves because they feel unworthy of the attention.

One of the imposter models described by Young includes “the Perfectionist.” Teachers often embody the role of the Perfectionist, envisioning personal failure when they see the #PinterestPerfect classroom. Teachers often see examples of perfectly organized classrooms or inspiring lesson plans and find themselves lacking by comparison. Looking around, you may find yourself questioning why your classroom isn’t more worthy of being pinned. While a beautifully crafted, Harry Potter-themed classroom is admirable, and even enviable, it isn’t necessary for real, deep learning to take place.

Being a great teacher is not about a picture-perfect classroom. It’s about engaging students in meaningful learning even if your classroom seems chaotic.

Embracing your leadership role: Overcoming imposter syndrome

When left unchecked, imposter syndrome can not only cause you to doubt your teaching ability, but it can foster anxiety and hinder your ability to own the leadership role. Use these tips to battle imposter syndrome in the classroom:

  • Celebrate your individual accomplishments: As noted previously. the drive for perfection is a common trait found in those with imposter syndrome. By focusing on your small wins, such as better student engagement, it’s easier not to become overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy.
  • Focus on the positive. Imposter syndrome takes hold when people are unable to feel worthy of their accomplishments. Remember to identify the positive aspects of a situation and take it as a win. For example, if a lesson seems unsuccessful, identify a way to modify the concept for better understanding and get excited about the change!
  • Talk it out: Great teachers know learning from others is essential. Find a mentor, friend, or colleague who you can lean on to discuss your concerns. Likely, you’ll find they have plenty of praise to offer.
  • Define your success through your own lens: Instead of comparing yourself to others, identify personal goals and judge your growth based on those. Remember, #PinterestPerfect classrooms are not common or necessary for a great learning experience.
  • Make it about your students: Ultimately, exceptional teachers adapt their approach to accommodate students. Look outward and evaluate your success based on student growth and achievement.
  • Find value in your growth: Successful teachers are constantly growing and learning. Rather than seeing one mistake or lesson as indicative of your value as a teacher, set your sights on how much you grow.

Repeat after me: Five daily affirmations to ward against imposter syndrome

Here are some things you should remind yourself to keep imposter syndrome from creeping up on you. Think of them as your daily affirmations for facing your classroom.

1.) No one is perfect and I don’t need to be either. No matter how you define success, not a single one of us is perfect.

2.)    I am respected for what I have to offer. Imposter syndrome often presents itself when successful individuals think their position is the result of a fluke or mistake. Remember that others respect you for what you do — not the title you have.

3.)    My success was earned, not given. You are a leader in education because you actively chose your profession and made deliberate choices to succeed.

4.)    I am a leader. While imposter syndrome can have negative consequences, it derives from a desire to do well. Remember that you are someone who wants to be a better teacher and actively takes action to achieve that goal.

5.)    I can be a better teacher. Even the most successful person on the planet has room for improvement, so focus on being a better teacher without being critical of the learning process.

Recognize that you can be a leader and have the ability to effect real change in your classroom. Embrace it!

Ashley gained a passion for all things writing by spending years teaching a high school English class. She founded Contenthusiast so that she could spend her days hovering over a keyboard. When she isn’t writing, you can find her traveling with family or buried in a book.

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