For 15 years now one comment on my final teaching report that I had as a pre-service teacher has driven me as a teacher and not necessarily in a good way, that comment was
Shane is a competent teacher but he is a little too dispassionate
That comment destroyed me at the time, and it has stuck with me ever since, no teacher wants to be known as just competent, nor do they want to be known as dispassionate. This comment comes into my head when I have a bad lesson, but it also comes into my head when I have a good lesson with the thoughts of what could have been done a bit better. It drives me to work beyond my level of exhaustion in the pursuit of becoming the best teacher I can become. I think teaching can really be one of those jobs that no matter how much time you spend on it, no matter how much you improve, and no matter how much recognition you may receive, you can be still left with the feeling that you are not doing enough and that you need to be doing more, and that you can always find reasons to justify that you need to work harder.
At one time this year when that feeling was particularly strong Twitter Math Camp 2018 (TMC) was running. Living in Australia my chance of ever attending it is highly unlikely, but I kept a close eye on the twitter feed over that time. It was at this time that I saw stickers appearing in the TMC feed saying
You are not an imposter, you are enough
After a bit of digging further I found that these stickers images were stickers by Julie Reulback @jreulbach. At that time that was the message that I needed to hear, and I have looked at that image a number of times over the last few months, however I think that needing to see it has been one thing, but believing it has been a whole other issue.
So tonight I did something I haven't done in the last 15 years. I opened that teaching report from my pre-service time and I read it from start to finish. It wasn't a comfortable read, and I am still not sure it was an entirely fair report (for reasons I will explain further down), but I needed to read that report now, it was the right time, I needed put that report behind me.
It was directly after reading it that I went and watched Julie's talk from TMC 18. I had seen the sticker but needed to see the talk that went with it. Watching the video has helped me to start the process of believing the sticker, not just needing it.
Some of the things that really resonated for me as part of this talk were
1. No teacher goes to school trying to do a bad job
I guess in reading the report again I am not sure if that report was true of me then, but even if it was I know I was doing the best that I could with what I knew at the time. I also know that what was true of me then is unlikely to be true of me now, I have developed and improved a lot in the last 15 years but my approach is still the same, I am doing the best that I possibly can with all that I now know, and the same could be said of any teacher I have come across. The difference is now I not only have a lot more experience, but I have also benefited from reading much more widely and connecting with online communities like the MtBOS, my practice is now based on a much more well informed base. However I have, and will continue to, stuff up from time to time, not because I am not prepared, and not because I don't care, but because teaching is hard and complex work.
2. There is no one way to be a good teacher
In looking over the report, this became very clear to me. My teaching style at that time did not align very well to the teaching styles of my supervising teachers. At the same time as reading that report I also went back and read my pre-service teaching report from the previous year and it was a very positive report. However my teaching style tended to match more closely with their way of teaching. The reports did identify some common areas for improvement, but overall to look at the reports they seemed to reflect how well I matched with how they thought I should teach, not how well I taught in line with what I was trying to achieve, they wanted to see themselves reflected in my teaching rather than looking at the effectiveness of what was there.
I am very aware that when others see my class, whether that is students, staff or parents, they may think it is too loud, that there are off-task conversations and that it is not helped by students sitting in groups. But I want them to know that it is a deliberate choice for me, if my class is quiet, they are not discussing their maths, if they are sitting in rows and not groups then they are not bouncing ideas off of each other. I want to create a class environment where there is a free sharing of ideas. I want them to know that I know that there are off-task conversations occurring, and that I am prepared to tolerate some of this if it means that students feel safe to have conversations about their learning.
I am also aware that when others see my class they see a lot of problem solving work, they see kids struggling with the work, they see them getting frustrated and they are not seeing much teacher directed instruction. But I want them to know that teacher directed instruction is still a strong part of what I do in the classroom, I do value it, but I use it as it is needed. I want them to know know that I don't feel they are struggling with the work, I feel they are grappling with it, that they are working at that point where they are trying to make sense of it and it is just outside of their grasp. I want them to know that my students have chosen to be in that state and that they could have chosen something easier, but they chose to do the harder questions. I want them to see how I interact with, and question my students, I want them to see how it is building their ability to work much more independently and to think for themselves.
Most of all I want people (students, parents, teachers) to take the time to understand what it is I am trying to achieve, to have a conversation with me about it, to let me know what is not working for them with it so we can figure out a way to move forward, and I want to make sure that I hold myself to the same standard.
3. I need to share more
Following on from the previous one part of letting people know what I am trying to achieving and why is sharing it more widely. I am proud of, and believe in, the work I am doing and I am proud of the work my students are doing. But I think a big impact of this imposter syndrome is that you never feel you are quite happy enough with your own work to share it more widely, you are concerned that someone will find a hole or flaw in it. But I need to get it out there, the work my students are doing is amazing and they deserve me to share that with others, to share what it is that they have done and what it is that they are capable of.
A strong part of this need to share more is sharing with teachers what I have really enjoyed about something else someone has done in their classes. Whether that is in my own school or whether it is online through the MtBOS, sharing with others about something you have really liked or got a lot out of helps to lift that belief that you are an imposter. It lets them know that you have seen value in what they have been doing. If as a profession we are to shake off this imposter syndrome we need support each other in whatever way we can.A quick email, conversation or tweet really doesn't take a lot of time but can make all the difference.
I am lucky enough to have people around me who do not believe that I am imposter, and they feel that I am doing more than enough, and for now that works for me until I completely believe it for myself.
Senior Leader of Pedagogical Innovation and Mathematics Coordinator in Regional South Australia.
Opinions in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.