Contrary to how I feel, I am not a bad teacher, and my methods are not completely garbage, and when I receive praise from people from outside my current school, it is not a matter of luck or just good timing.
A thing was said to me by someone who should have known better, a thing that was hurtful, and something that this person should never have said to me because of the nature of our relationship. It was a thing that he said while angry and cleaning up someone else’s mess. What he said was that I and the other people with a similar relationship to him were all spoiled rotten and completely useless… In relating the story to the Boy, he asked if I truly believed that.
And I laughed!
“Well, I do have that whole low self-esteem thing…” I told him.
Turns out that whole “low self-esteem thing” has a name: Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is a belief that you are undeserving of the praise you receive at work. You know how sometimes when you go in for a review or an observation or a presentation, and everything goes just a little too smoothly and people are just a little too excited? That feeling like it wasn’t your hard work that made the review/observation/presentation go well, but just that luck or fate intervened and made it seem better than it actually was? When that feeling happens more often than not, that’s Impostor Syndrome.
I had intended for this post to go into details about what Impostor Syndrome was, but you can find it explained rather well (albeit for college students) here. I’d much rather use this as a post to explain how I am overcoming this, and where it began… at least for me.
But let’s start with the basics.
The basic three ways Impostor Syndrome manifests are 1) feeling like a fake (or an impostor…see what I did there?); 2) believing that one’s success is a matter of luck; and 3) discounting success, belittling one’s own accomplishments.
I think I’m mostly guilty of 1 and 3, but every now and then I use number 2 as an excuse to do number 3.
If you’ve read even a handful of my teacher-y posts, you know that I am plagued by the feeling that when I get a good review, it’s a fluke. I discussed it with Mr. West Coast (which ended badly), and I’ve discussed it with the Boy a time or three. And every time it comes up, they (and others) tell me that they know I’m a good teacher, yet I still doubt it… mostly because, well, how would they know?
The more people tell me I’m obviously a good teacher, the more I feel like it’s not really true. I display this Impostor Syndrome by assuming that people see the positive during a particular observation solely because I was particularly effective at faking it that day, or that it was just a lucky day…maybe the kids were just especially well behaved on that day or something. Then when I get a bad review, or even the slightest negative comment, I believe that to be the truth of my abilities.
But what causes me to believe the negative and not the positive?
Part of it, I think, is that women are taught to be humble (Wikipedia tells me mostly women suffer from this). We are taught that if we receive a compliment, it is best to make light of it, lest we are seen as arrogant or too proud.
- Someone likes your outfit, “What? This old thing?”
- If someone says you’re pretty, “I’m not, but thank you.” (I’m especially guilty of this one… but I still like to hear it)
- If someone praises your work, “It’s just part of the job…”
And that’s where it starts. Maybe it’s just that my parents acted more like 1950’s style parents than most, thus instilling in me an overdeveloped sense of humility in certain areas, but it is really difficult for me to take a compliment. Yet I crave them! I occasionally need to hear that I am doing a good job, or that I’m pretty. Every once in a while, a girl just needs to feel like she’s wanted, for whatever reason.
But that doesn’t make me weak.
Contrary to the opinion of Mr. West Coast (who refuses to leave well enough alone, but rather continues to berate me with condescending, demeaning comments about how wrong I was to not listen to his wisdom), I am not so weak as to need people to simply tell me what I want to hear or agree with me just to agree.
But I do occasionally need a kind word.
When I have coworkers obviously gossiping about me behind my back (and to students no less), and I’ve dated a handful of men who have said things like they like my brain and my tits, but don’t find me worthy of dating for anything serious, it takes a toll on me, especially when it’s been pretty consistent for going on…well, longer than I care to admit to.
I’ve discussed ad nauseum how there is a large disparity between the comments from the people who observe me regularly and those who come from state or regional agencies, but I’ll recap briefly: Those from outside (state or regional agencies) see the value in my style and often comment about how they see so many good things in what I do, particularly as pertains to the way I communicate with the students and help them to bridge those gaps in their knowledge; meanwhile those who see me on a regular basis focus on the lack of a traditional setting in my classrooms, and thus a lack of classroom management. Through my discussions and research I have begun to accept that I am a good teacher, and that it is not a fault in me but a lack of imagination on the parts of the people who continually disapprove of my more liberal/creative methods.
I’d like to take a moment to point out (since Mr. West Coast feels compelled to take credit for my accomplishments in this area) that the above mentioned discussions were primarily with the Boy, as I do very much value his opinion (hence I was able to accept it when he told me I was wrong).
But I can give Mr. West Coast a very small amount of credit for explaining to me the Pareto principle, which helped me to recognize that my ideas may just be ahead of the curve. This helps to explain why the people from outside are so thrilled to see what I do, while the others, those regularly around me, see only the lack of orthodoxy in my methods. I’d already given him credit for it when this was fresh, and I really hate to give him any further credit as he has insulted me by accusing me of “whining like an old lady,” along with several various other completely inappropriate comments of late, but that Pareto thing was particularly insightful and gave me a perspective I needed.
My love life is similarly complicated.
The men whom actually take the initiative to ask me out tend to do so based on either my intellect or my looks, but rarely both. The Artist’s comment about liking my tits and my brain is a rarity, but he, too, told me he didn’t find me attractive… other than my tits.
The ones who like me for my appearance tend to be dismayed when they find out that I have a brain, and the ones who like my brain tend to not find my appearance to be appealing. Either way, the constant dismissal by potential lovers, which have always been so rare (I’ve been told I’m intimidating because I am so out-spoken), has also taken it’s toll on me.
It’s been a rough couple of years to say the least. And every time I think I’m coming out of it, I’m faced with something that makes me feel like even more of an Impostor: a bad review at work, walking in on some gossips who shut up as soon as I enter the room, an inappropriate comment from a misogynist who thinks he is supremely correct in his assessment of who I am, a rejection from the Boy…
Even an unkind word from someone who is supposed to be a source of comfort, someone who is meant to protect me from the ills and hates of the world.
But I am stronger than this. I have been the sole impetus that has kept myself moving for a very long time, and while I needed a break, I hopefully have gotten it and can move forward as the strong, alpha female I’ve always been. While it took me a while to see exactly what it was that was causing my doubt, and the opinions and support of many people who care about me (plus information from one misguided misogynist), I’ve come out the other side with a plan.
Even Atlas took the opportunity to shrug at least once. And his strength wasn’t questioned when he did so. Why should I be made to feel like an Impostor for having an off year or two?