Tag Archives: professional identity

Imposter syndrome & the emerging professional

I (Said) graduated from UofT’s Concurrent Teacher Ed. Program in 2014. Since then, I have had experience working as an occasional teacher and as a student affairs professional. I am currently working on my Master of Arts at OISE. I am sharing this to highlight that as a graduate student and emerging professional, the pressure to achieve is tremendous. Every year, I have felt my professional identity transform and evolve in numerous ways. Said “the teacher”, Said “the researcher”, Said “the professional”… it is overwhelming at times, especially when imposter syndrome takes over.

imposter-syndromeImposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy despite signs of evident success. Those who experience it struggle with the fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ or ‘not smart enough’, especially among peers and other professionals. Therefore, any success is often attributed to luck, downplayed, and rationalized as a means to mask a supposed lack of knowledge or expertise. Beginning teachers may feel like they do not belong in the classroom, especially if working within a school culture that does not value their contributions and perceives them as inexperienced. What they must remember is that they were deemed qualified to teach and are worthy of their position.

Similarly, graduate students may feel intimidated at their institution, especially when working with faculty members considered leaders in their research fields. However, I have come to realize that my voice has value and that insight from the sharing of ideas and heated debates can spark new avenues of inquiry and inspire those around me.  Isn’t it wonderful how being part of a research team/community of scholars allows us the opportunity to discuss, dispute, disagree, dispel, dissertate and so much more? I refuse to be trapped in a self-imposed cage, and if I ever feel surrounded by 20-foot walls, I will build a 21-foot ladder.

As I embark on a journey in academia, I recognize that it is perfectly normal to feel slightly out of place, as any novice would. Instead of emphasizing my invented unsuitably for this exciting new endeavour, I have decided to do all that I can to gain more confidence in my professional and academic life. If you ever feel like you are ‘not enough’, please remember what Christopher Robin once told Winnie the Pooh. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Teachers’ Broad Conception of Their Role after Several Years

I (Clive) have been working with Clare and Elizabeth on a paper on teacher identity, based on our longitudinal study of teachers. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is how broadly our teachers view their role.
Elizabeth has just developed a table showing what the teachers give priority to in their teaching. In spring 2012 (year 8 for cohort 1 and year 5 for cohort 2) we asked 39 of the teachers:
What do you think are the most important aspects of your role?
What are your main goals for your students?
The top 8 priorities in each case were as follows:

Most Important Aspects of My Role

Provide engaging lessons


Build a community, and a caring and safe environment


Develop a relationship with students


Be a role model


Involve parents



Teacher reflection and ongoing learning



Advocate for student needs


Foster strong literacy abilities in students


Most Important Goals for My Students

Social development




Love of learning




Development of self




Sense of community




Problem solving and critical thinking




Progress in learning












Having such a broad role may appear burdensome for teachers. However, based on the teachers’ comments and our reading of authors such as Mary Kennedy and Nel Noddings, we argue that approaching teaching broadly is in fact more feasible and satisfying. Students are more engaged, understand more deeply, and develop across many aspects of their lives. And teachers are also enriched and find the daily interaction with students more enjoyable.

Professional Identity

Today I (Clive) was teaching my School and Society (social foundations) course in the preservice program. Our topic was professional identity. What a class we had! We discussed:

·      Teachers’ perception of their role

·      Motivation and satisfaction

·      Challenges of teaching

·      Work-life balance

·      Confidence

·      Stance in relation to system mandates

I selected a number of quotes from our chapter on professional identity from our upcoming text: Growing as a Teacher (Sense Publishers). The students took turns reading these quotes aloud which proved to be very powerful. We brought the “voices” of the teachers into the class. Here are a few of the quotes we read:

Classroom teachers have an enormously challenging job; I didn’t realize that when I first started teaching, but now I do. And that hasn’t made me any less effective, if anything it’s made me somewhat more; because now I’m kinder to myself. I see that basically the teacher sets the atmosphere of the classroom, and if you’re constantly stressed out and trying to attain the impossible you become a frustrated and burnt out person. (Felicity, eighth year teacher)

The most important aspects of my role are ensuring that my students develop a positive sense of self; that they acquire a love of learning; and that they develop a world perspective, with compassion and understanding for other people. Embedded in that are social skills; but it’s bigger than that, because I want them to see beyond their own life and community. This view of my role is broader than it used to be. If you’d asked me when I started teaching I would have said the world citizenship component was important, but it didn’t play into my daily practice to the extent it does now. (Tanya, eighth year teacher)

Coming out of my inner-city pre-service program, where the emphasis was on being a change-maker and inspiring every kid, I had to learn that it can often be slow going and I have to not feel defeated if I fail to accomplish everything I hoped for. Because…you really, really need to enjoy teaching to last in the profession, and it’s draining and can get frustrating. I’ve always worked in inner-city schools, so I’m mentally prepared for it…[but] I’ve had to learn not to take things personally. Otherwise you go home and things rest in your mind and you get physically sick.  (Jessica, fifth year teacher)

Basing my teaching on where the students are and where they need to be [according to the standards-based approach], I found I ended up teaching to the test; and the whole fun and love of learning went out the door. So I changed my process, and asked: What am I teaching? What skills need to be taught? How can I get that across to them in a way that they’ll enjoy? And then after reflecting on it, and seeing where it didn’t work so well, I asked: What should I change?   (Lucy, fifth year teacher)