Self-Doubt Sneaks Into the Classroom

As I was teaching yesterday, I glanced out the window and noticed snow falling from the sky.

“Something winter this way comes,” I announced to my class. They looked out the window with end-of-term-tired eyes and nodded.

The first snow of winter fell while Kelsey was teaching, which was surely some kind of metaphor.

I took the pause to check the little clock on the corner of my computer screen: still over an hour left. Would my plan for the rest of the class be enough to fill the time? I flicked through my lecture notes and performed imaginary math in my head: short lecture plus group activity plus class-wide conversation equals ….

Then, I noticed the students looking at me expectantly: the burst of wonder of the first snowfall had worn off. I dropped the math and picked up the lecture.

Time: ever the menace.

This is not the only time that I’ve got myself calculating time this semester. This fall, more than any other, I’ve found myself haunted by the ghost of teaching near-future. “Are you ready for class?” she whispers nervously. “Are you sure you have enough material?”

I’m not a teaching veteran like Kim. But, I’m not new anymore either. Why am I pestered by these thoughts now?

“It’s because you’re a little out of field,” I’ve told myself. Which is true. Even though I’m very qualified for my current course load, I haven’t taught in some of these subject areas in years. And, sure, I taught all of my current courses on zoom last year. But, this year is different: I’m in person; the time slots are longer, and there are LIVE HUMANS in front of me.

For most of the fall, this was my answer. But, as I asked myself this question after the first snow of winter, another thought crossed my mind: it’s because you’re scared of being found out.

Oh.

Even in scrabble, it feels like doubt should have a higher word score.

I have been around long enough to know: that’s the voice of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome—the nagging feeling of doubting capacity and feeling like a fraud at work—has become something of a buzz word in the last ten years. And, its worthwhile to think critically about the term.

As Ruchika Tulshy and Jodi-Ann Burey argue, “imposter syndrome” is often used in relation to women and people of colour. The reasons for this, the authors suggest, are largely systemic and the solutions, therefore, should also target systems and structures.

Nevertheless, the concept helped me identify a specific kind of doubt, one that crept unnoticed into my pscyhe. And, it’s the unnoticed part that I find the most discomforting. Because, as a rule, my inner narrator is positive or neutral. Sure, I can lapse when I’m stressed but generally my conscious thoughts are constructive.

So, rather than thinking “I’m not capable of doing this” or “I’m a fraud,” I’ve been casually organizing a chunk of my teaching life – extra prep time, constant in-class stress – around feelings of fear and doubt.

My self-doubt, it turns out, is sneaky. She has burrowed beneath my conscious thoughts, where she can influence my actions

Self-doubt tip tip toeing into my body.

Which: of course! I KNOW that one of the most impactful manifestations of power is when it hides itself within bodies so that thoughts and actions appear naturalized. And even though I think and talk and teach about power and bodies all the time, I forgot that systems of power don’t only effect abstract bodies, they impact MY BODY.

The good news is, that, precisely because I teach and talk and think about power so frequently, I have a toolkit for counteracting power structures.

I’m currently working on re-orienting my actions and habits by resisting the urge to do more prep, by being okay with “not perfect” classes, by encouraging more participating from students. And, in doing a bit of digging, I found some of Kim’s old posts, which offer great insights (and some cross-temporal emotional companionship) on these subjects.

For our next post, we’ll feature one of these older posts.

In the meantime, I’m going to do a little searching, to see other not-so-helpful-feeling have burrowed their way into my actions so that I can do the work of promptly exhuming them.

1 thought on “Self-Doubt Sneaks Into the Classroom

  1. Pingback: Fret less, teach better – and feel better (is it really that easy?) | The Activist Classroom

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