Impostor Syndrome: what it is and how you can defeat it

Trudi Bryant, Assistant Principal, The Gateway Academy

“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostor syndrome incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or interpret it as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be."

We have all been there. That moment when you realise you are going back to school. Your heart starts to race a little bit quicker and your mind starts to race through all the lessons and groups that you will be seeing and what you are going to teach. For some people this is Sunday night insomnia and for others they don’t feel it until the first day of September and for most of us we laugh it off and talk about feeling like we have “forgotten how to teach.”

We have now all experienced a joint trauma where our professional lives were suddenly turned on their heads. What we knew as good teaching seemed suddenly unnecessary and we were in the abyss of virtual teaching, desperately trying to learn new skills and keep up with technology which underpinned a new way of teaching. All in the spirit of support and helping us to tackle a job which bore little resemblance to the one we were trained to do.

We change, we adapt and then we are back to the old ways and the sense of post summer holiday dread is magnified as we have trained our students into a new way of doing things and our ability to catastrophize what is about to happen when we return to the classroom is immense.

So what do we do about this? How can we take charge of our situation and remember that we are all educated, high achieving individuals who have accomplished lots in the classroom and will be good enough again.

Here are 5 top tips about how we can support ourselves and each other through these, and any, first weeks back:

1. You are not alone

If you have carried on singing the rest of that line then you are definitely not alone! We often tell ourselves that everyone else is fine and we are the only ones who feel this way. We worry that others will find out that we are a fraud and then we will have to bear the humiliation of being escorted out of the school, thrown to the kerb as the whole school looks on wondering how we have managed to get away with it for so long. We worry that there is no way we can show up and be the adult that the children in front of us need and we have not got our own stuff together enough. This is where we turn to someone we trust and say how we feel. I guarantee they are probably feeling the same way and even if they aren’t you will be met with love and support.

2. Keep track of the good bits

We all have moments that reaffirm that we are good at what we do. Cards, emails, certificates and in some cases awards. However when we think we are a fraud we class these as lucky wins or just a good day. Start to write these down and when you start to feel like a fraud use these as a reminder that you are good at what you do. Future proof for your own anxiety.

3. Plan for the worst

If you want someone who is good in a crisis, find the person who is constantly anxious about how their day is going to go, but doesn’t show it (not easy to find but I promise you they are there.) These people have named all the gremlins that are going to trash their day and they have either laughed at them and realised they are catastrophising over a non-issue, or they have a solution in place already. They are the kings and queens of problem solving. So, name your gremlins, then either dismiss them as ridiculous or plan for what you will do if that thing happens. What will you do if you forget all of Macbeth during your lesson? What will you do if the whole class start talking and they won't be quiet? Once you have named and planned for them you will feel much more in control. If you are slightly obsessive about things this may not be the strategy for you – try the other ones first!

4. Take a breath and stand tall

Our brains and bodies are linked and so when our brain in anxious our body will follow. This can be useful as we can reverse this by tricking ourselves into thinking we are confident when we are not. We visualise the most confident person we know and then emulate their posture, voice patterns and breathing. We will then start to feel like we are a confident person and will get the response from the class of a confident teacher. We may need to give ourselves a talking to outside the class (or in the mirror if you can stand that kind of thing!). Think about what you would say to a colleague who was experiencing this and tell yourself the same thing,

5. Keep a child in mind

Remember the child in front of you who has really connected with you as a trusted adult. When you feel like it is too much and you are too anxious about everything, focus on that one child and plan and teach for that child. The rest will be along for the ride but it will lower your anxiety and the lesson will feel achievable. Before you know it you will have finished the lesson and you will have a moment to put in your positive list – the day you thought you couldn’t do it…..but you did.

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