As a teacher, I know all too well how easy it is to fall into a trap of low self-esteem from a lack of appreciation and support. This type of negative thinking can lead to impostor syndrome and may make it hard for you to have the courage or confidence in yourself to leave teaching. Impostor syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance, Ph.D., and Suzanne A. Imes, Ph.D.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is essentially the self-belief that you don’t have the skills or accomplishments to belong or that you are some kind of fraud. Let me be the first to tell you that a lot of people suffer from this syndrome and you can overcome it.
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome in Teachers
First, let’s identify the five different patterns or archetypes associated with impostor syndrome:
Supermen or Superwomen with Impostor Syndrome
Supermen or Superwomen are convinced that everyone else is doing a better job than them. As a result, they overwork themselves to try to “catch up” with others. These people will often stay at the office later than normal because they feel it is needed to do a good job. Teacher guilt can often leave us staying in the classroom much longer than is healthy.
A Perfectionist will set unrealistic goals for themselves and then feel like a complete failure when they do not meet those goals. This is a definite sign of impostor syndrome. Perfectionists will not trust anyone to do the work and have a hard time delegating. They will also micromanage processes for others.
Experts will not extend themselves outside of their comfort zone unless they feel that they are extremely good at the task. Experts will also refuse to apply for any jobs unless they more than exceed the qualifications needed. This can severely limit any job opportunities that may otherwise be a good fit.
Soloists believe that they need to do everything themselves and if they need to ask for help, then they obviously have failed.
Naturals Geniuses think that if they don?t get things right on the first try, then, much like soloists, they feel like they have failed. Natural Geniuses won’t really start on anything or push themselves any time they are struggling.
Battling Impostor Syndrome in Teachers
Now, let’s focus on a few top practices for battling impostor syndrome in teachers.
Practice Shipping (Just Send it)
This is a practice that I really needed at first. I would often debate whether I needed to send out a resume or cover letter because I felt it wasn’t perfect. I realized that if I kept poring over something and never get a chance to send it out, then the right person will never see it. If I kept believing in the self-doubt, then I would have never been able to get another career where I am happy or create a course where I can help others find their path to career happiness.
Believe in Your Praise
People are telling you are amazing because you ARE amazing. You need to believe what people are telling you. Even if you have to write it down to keep reminding yourself that you are great, then do just that. Your praises have a 70 percent better chance of sticking in your head if you write them down. Also, find someone to be your negative blocker. If you have a positive friend close to you that can help you block out the negative noise, lean on that person to help to get you where you need to go emotionally. If you have one happy person in your life, this will increase your happiness by 15 percent.
Don’t Forget Self-Love
It’s also important to engage in self-praise as well. Your words will be the seeds that help your self-worth grow and diminish impostor syndrome. Studies show that positive affirmations can help you battle stress and get you into the right mindset. If you are filled with negative thoughts, then this is a very important step. Read your positive affirmations out loud. Carry them around and revisit those affirmations every time self-doubt rears its ugly head. This should be a daily practice. Studies show that it takes three times as many positive thoughts to overcome one negative thought. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but once you get into the routine of positivity, the dividends will pay off.
Self-care is another important aspect of self-love, so if you are suffering from burnout practicing teacher self-care will help alleviate some of the symptoms.
Start With Low Stakes
This may seem a little trivial, but it can really help with your self-esteem. No one likes to fail, but we may not always get what we want on the first try. A little trick I use is to apply for a few positions that I am overqualified for. Even though you won’t take the job, when it comes time to interview, you’ll get the practice you’ll need and the confidence knowing that recruiters will call you. Start with things that aren’t scary and build upon those experiences so you can become equipped with the knowledge when the job you really want calls.
Identify Impostor Syndrome Patterns
One of the best ways to battle impostor syndrome in teachers is to practice identifying it. When you feel yourself getting into those patterns of negativity, learning to shift your mindset will get you back on track and determine your success in this whole process. Remember, I have been in this exact position before and I know how frustrating and anxiety-filled this process can be, but you can absolutely do this. Make sure to set goals often and strive toward reaching those goals for a better life.
Remember you are capable of anything, you are determined, you are intelligent, and you will get through this. It’s ok to brag about yourself, you have earned it.
Help for managing teacher stress & burnout
Too many teachers downplay their mental health struggles thinking it’s just “new teacher jitters” or part of the position. My final year of teaching at a toxic school environment completely broke me. After walking away from that experience and finding happiness, I was shocked at how conditioned/numb I had become to being consistently unwell.
You should not feel intense dread about your career on a daily basis, period. If you are miserable more often than happy, let’s try to find solutions to support you:
The Teacher Career Coach Podcast Episode 31: Blake Blankenbecler, Therapy for Teachers
Finally, if you’re struggling day-to-day it may be worth it to look into a therapist. Get started today with TalkSpace, a private, online therapy with flexible plans to meet your needs.
And if managing stress brought on by teaching isn’t enough, it may be time to look into alternative careers. If you’re at a loss when it comes to figuring out your options, check out our free quiz below for customized suggestions teachers transitioning out of the classroom.