How to Deal with Teacher Imposter Syndrome

Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
A teacher sits on a bench in school; she is looking pensively out of the window.

What is Teacher Imposter Syndrome?

Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome? You may have, but not in terms of imposter syndrome as it applies to teachers. The imposter syndrome definition is the occurrence of thoughts of which an individual doubts their talents, skills, and ability to perform. As with any profession, imposter syndrome can impact teachers and anyone in the world of education. Often these thoughts can lead to other, related imposter syndrome symptoms include an inability to focus, low self-esteem, and low performance.

It isn’t hard to fall into a downward spiral of negative thoughts if there is a lack of support for teachers, especially those who are new to the career. This can even lead teachers to leave the field of education.

Teachers who are suffering from this syndrome may have thoughts such as:

  • “I am in the wrong profession.”
  • “I am going to bomb my observation.”
  • “I don’t know what I am doing.”
  • “I have no control over my classroom.”
  • “I’ll never be able to teach well.”

Although imposter syndrome is difficult to face and overcome, it is possible to rise above these negative thoughts. Imposter syndrome can be beat. It is important first to realize what imposter syndrome is, why it occurs, and how to move forward.

Why Do Some Educators Struggle with Teacher Imposter Syndrome?

It is probable that teachers have suffered from imposter syndrome ever since the idea of teaching existed. Factors as to why teachers suffer from this syndrome no doubt change as the times change. Most recently, teachers are coming back to full-time education and classroom instruction after experiencing the strange and drastic changes of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers are having to relearn time management and classroom management. Such environmental circumstances as this certainly impact the thoughts that run through the minds of today’s educators.

Furthermore, there is always a possibility in any profession that the professional at hand may experience both internal and external factors that could spawn thoughts of Imposter Syndrome. Internal factors can include personality traits and characteristics, mental health issues, and social-emotional challenges. External factors may include environmental circumstances such as teacher finances, school culture, and administrative support (or lack thereof), negative self-talk or negative team talk.

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

The good news is that this syndrome can be reversed regardless of the source of imposter syndrome, externally or internally sparked. Thankfully, it is possible for those suffering from such negative thoughts, to become both capable and confident teachers.

There are several ways to overcoming imposter syndrome. Thankfully, there are many resources available to teachers to help them begin to enjoy, take pride in, and thrive at their jobs. The following are a few ideas for how to overcome imposter syndrome.

Ask for Help

Perhaps one of the most helpful resources in education are our human resources. Grade-level colleagues, instructional coaches, peer coaches, administrators, or mentors can do this. Simply sharing what teachers are going through with others opens the door to ideas, resources, and relationships that can improve positive thoughts and teaching practices.

Utilize Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations can help teachers feel more confident and calmer as they begin each day.

There are many options for affirmations teachers can practice each day including:

  • “I am competent and capable.”
  • “I am a good teacher.”
  • “I believe in progress.”
  • “I am prepared for success.”

Don’t Forget to Practice Self-Care

Taking care of your own mental health, in general, will naturally spill over into your professional world. When teachers are well-rested, healthy, and happy; they will naturally begin to think more positively regarding their performance.

Recognize Negative Thoughts and Redirect

One of the best ways to attack teacher imposter syndrome is to identify when these negative thoughts occur and learn how to have a mindset shift from negative to positive thinking. For example, on a day when students do not respond well to a math lesson, instead of thinking, “I planned this poorly,” think instead, “I will use this information to change tomorrow’s lesson plan in the following ways…” Reflecting daily is a good way to get out both negative and positive thoughts and to redirect negative thoughts tangibly.

The process of learning and growing means reflecting on teaching practice regularly. Although negative thoughts can take teachers down a road leading to imposter syndrome, educators can use these thoughts to create a more positive work environment and learning experience for themselves and their students. It is perfectly normal to doubt oneself from time to time. However, it is important for teachers to use resources and tips like the ones listed above to combat imposter syndrome and continue to improve their practice and stay mentally healthy.

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