Imposter Syndrome

At one of Guy Claxton’s breakouts at ICOT he mentioned something which has caused me a lot of thought over the past few weeks, Imposter Syndrome or that feeling that you have gotten somewhere that you do not deserve to be and that any moment you are about to be discovered and outed with a carefully worded question or observation that you do not have the answer for.

It was something that resonated with me and I feel that I have been a long time sufferer. This does not mean that I am unqualified and have little idea of what I need to be doing in the classroom, but that there has been a lack of confidence professionally and the idea that no matter how hard or long I work there is still more to do, so I must be doing it wrong.

I thought back to a presentation by James Nottingham a few years ago where he talked of the ‘Learning Pit’ and the differences between boys and girls with regards to critique. He also asked..

How can we find the excellence that is within us all?

James posed the idea that through our childhood many boys got up to mischief and were told ‘Don’t do that’ and thus got used to criticism where as girls would aim to please more and thus hear ‘Oh how lovely, what a good girl” and never experience criticism (edit: after post read by JN, he clarified “girls do receive criticism, but boys experience 8x more criticism than girls” & James Nottingham was quoting Dweck). Now I am not sexist and believe that boys are mischievous and girls like to keep people happy, as I have two girls and one is in the pleasing category and the other one likes to test boundaries a bit more, but I am hypothesizing that if we get too used to criticism do we also begin to feel that we could also always be wrong and thus beginning the cycle of Imposter Syndrome?


James Nottingham
James Nottingham

Now taking the idea that you are always second guessing yourself and in a profession where there are a lot of strong personalities and very experienced colleagues do we find that we are instantly thrown deep into the Pit of Learning? I know that I was and I think that for the first 10 years of my teaching every time that I would claw my way to the edge I would find myself sliding straight back to the bottom. Again I do not know if this is just me or a common experience for all teachers or male teachers or slightly insecure to begin with teachers but I know that there is a way out and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The way that I have removed my self from the pit is by actually looking at myself as a teacher very closely and seeing what I do and how I do it or in Pit terms: construct a meaning from the conflict within my teaching (Concept) to find clarity (Out of Pit). By doing this I have actually discovered that I do know what I am doing and that I am doing the right thing. I am not an imposter and I have come to cherish those questions that might expose me as I am able to either clearly construct and articulate, with references, an answer or recognise that if I can not answer a question it will be my next focus as a learner to find that answer.

It has taken me 10 years to become a confident teacher and to see the excellence within, but the struggle to get there has made me a better teacher, person, collaborator and member of my community. Although I have not enjoyed every experience within the Pit and know that I will fall back in from time to time there is not a lot that I would change from the journey.


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