Imposter syndrome

First, I want to say hey to all my worldly readers out there! I love that wordpress shows me the metrics of my site. Did you know that earlier today, I had a visitor from India? Wow! I remember being a kid, maybe 8, and visiting my friend’s house. She had a much older sister who would’ve been about 16 at the time, and they just got the internet at their house. I remember the sister saying ‘Look at this! I’m talking to someone in England!’ And even though my family got the internet shortly thereafter and making friends from around the world has been a huge part of my life, it still sometimes amazes me that I can press keys on a keyboard in Lincoln to make text appear that can be read by someone anywhere in the world.

In a way, that sense of amazement brings me to today’s topic: imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is pretty self-explanatory: a feeling like your success, whatever it is, is a sham and you don’t really deserve the accolades. (It is interesting to know that imposter syndrome is more frequently found among women than men, but that’s a post for a different blog.)

Yesterday, I went to Nebraska’s first play production workshop/conference. All summer, I had been attending trainings on language teaching, but you know – I feel like I’m a pretty good Spanish teacher. Not a master yet, but I’d give myself a solid 7.25 out of 10. Now, play directing… yuck. I love the opportunity to create really strong bonds with my one-act kiddos, but it’s very stressful on me (mostly because it requires 12+ hour days, since I live too far from my district to go home between school and practice) and our program is not very strong. Play production is particularly tough because the judging is so subjective – something that one judge loves and gives high marks for might be something that another judge hates. There are certain tweaks to get high marks (which is why I went to this conference) but at the end of the day, how you place in a tournament has as much to do with the feelings of 3 judges as it does with the hard work of everyone involved in my production. And let’s be honest here: winning is not everything, but winning feels really, really good. Coming in 9th out of 8 plays because you went over time does not feel good. It feels really, really bad. I have zero problems with my students receiving a low rating if they’ve given me low effort, which has happened some years. I do have problems with my students receiving a low rating because of something under my control.

Okay, so here I am at this conference, and I am surrounded by directors who have kicked my butt for the last 5 years. Malcolm. Louisville. Stanton. Hardington. The director from Auburn sat next to me, because I was a friendly face. (Last year was their first year in our conference, and they were AWESOME. I made it a point to go over, say hi, and congratulate them because I know how scared I was the first year I entered the conference because I was the new kid, and how the director from Mead was very welcoming to me.) The presenters were from schools who have repeatedly gone to state competition. Wausa. Laurel-Concord-Coleridge. York. David City, who is right up the proverbial street from us. So I was basically surrounded by the champions and superstars of my state in this particular activity. I was there to learn, for sure, but here’s the kicker: everyone there expressed that they don’t have any super powers, they’re just doing what they do. I am pretty sure they have some sort of creative thing that happens in their brain that I don’t have, but at the end of the day, they’re just people. People who work really, really hard to make a good show for their kids.

Imposter syndrome also leaks over to the language world, I think. Amy Lenord, who was one of the first language blogs I read and one of the first people I connected with on #langchat, expressed her self-doubts in this blog post in July. Or Sara-Elizabeth, with her recent post on the very quick evolution of syllabus practices. I feel weird when I’m linked to or quoted by other teachers with an awesome internet presence – I think they’re so much better than me, how can they POSSIBLY think that my work is good enough to share on their space? I mean, I’m just a Spanish teacher doing my thing. It’s not THAT great.

But maybe it is. Maybe I am great. One of the interesting side effects of social media/the internet is that it allows people to fluff up their life to look better than it really is. But it also allows previously ‘inaccessible’ figures to be easily accessible. For example, earlier today, Stephen Krashen tweeted a joke he made about his dental filling falling out. Stephen Krashen, revered linguistic researcher… teller of dad jokes. I’ve had a favorite author email me personally (which isn’t so weird, but he initiated the conversation). I have a group of friends whose band got a short-lived record deal and went on international tours… but to me, they’re just my friends who make music. Good music, sure, but they’re not like the Foo Fighters or anything. But you know what, I bet if I met Dave Grohl, he would say the same thing. Shrug. He’s just a guy making music that a lot of people happen to like. Would we still do what we do without the ‘fame’? I know I would. But being able to connect with others helps shore up our weak points, give us new ideas, and push us farther than we thought we’d go.

So anyway, what I’m trying to say with this set of incoherent morning ramblings is: you know, we’re all faking it. We all have things to contribute to the discussion, and we all have moments where we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. Nobody in my personal ‘celebrity’ bubble have ever acted like they thought they were better than someone else, and I suspect that people who do were jerks before they ever achieved anything to get that ‘celebrity’ status. When I’ve reached out to other language teachers, I have received friendly responses. So I think maybe this year, I need to stop being so star-studded by the amazing directors in my conference (or especially David City, since I could easily drive over to watch one of their practices) and send that email, asking for help. If I want to get better, I have to actually ask questions – especially because they’re willing to listen.

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