Dear Sarah,

I have all of this self-doubt about myself as a teacher. I don’t know if I’m doing anything right. I look at my colleagues and it seems so easy. They always seem successful. How do I fight this?

Sincerely,

Doubt Creeps In

Dear Doubt Creeps In,

Doubt is a special kind of devil, isn’t it? It has these fast-growing tentacles that grab and paralyze, stretch and squelch. There’s a lot about doubt that remains elusive to me, but what I know for sure is if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t doubt. So let’s start there. Doubt has a way of displacing what we care about most. It cuts it into small pieces and scatters them far from each other so that we feel just as scattered as everything we care about.

It seems as though doubt and comparisons go hand in hand for you (as they do for most of us). I can imagine the more you see fragments of your colleagues’ lessons, the more you see the successes without the struggles. It’s not unlike a social media feed, is it? We see a picture, a post, a quip, a hashtag and forget we’re only seeing part of the story. I know a lot of social media is constructed, even fake. Yet, I think of it a little more nuanced in that the smile might be real, but we didn’t see the struggle it took to get there.

I think it’s the same with your colleagues. It only seems easy because no one is talking about the toil that happened first. Yet, that’s exactly the conversation we need to promote with each other. Could you try one of these questions the next time you’re sitting with your colleagues?

  • I saw that lesson you were doing. It looked really interesting. How did you come up with that idea?
  • The kids were talking at lunch about the cool project you’re doing right now. Projects like that make me nervous because I’m worried they won’t go well. How do you get past that fear?
  • I saw that thoughtful assignment you’re doing in class next to the copy machine. I’m sure it took a lot of work to pull it together. What’s the hardest part of teaching it?

I know it might feel awkward to ask these kinds of questions. But if you don’t, you’ll have to keep contending with this self-doubt in isolation. Fighting this means putting the pieces back together and the glue will come from getting a whole story instead of a partial one.

Before I end this response, though, I need to assure you having self-doubt in the first place isn’t a mark on your worth as a teacher or as a person. Comparisons are inevitable (and sometimes even healthy). It’s when we start standing in someone else’s negative space (think the art kind here) we contribute to our own self-doubt.

Like you, I have to fight this both professionally and personally. Some days it wins. Some days I win. I’ve learned that on days I win, I do few things really well. Perhaps they’ll be helpful for you too.

  • Write a Compass. Awhile ago, I realized I was spending too much time on comparisons. I wondered what would happen if I used that time to create a compass instead. So, I set a timer for 20 minutes and wrote about what I valued, what was central to me, what I’m unwilling to give into. I have to tell you…what started as an off-handed exercise really helped me. I go back to the compass often, even read it out loud if I need to. Before doubt can fragment my sense of self, the compass helps catch everything I care about and keep it intact.
  • Create More. Here’s the thing. If you’re comparing, you’re already creating. You’re creating a story about someone else and it somehow requires you to modify or change the story of yourself in the process. You know it goes…She’s so amazing! That must mean I’m not. Or, everything looks so easy for him, but it’s hard for me. That must mean my work is shoddy. This is when we lean-in and create. The more focused you become on creating for your learners, the less room you’ll have for comparison.
  • Celebrate Strength. Of course, not all comparison is bad or toxic. It can help jar us out of a rut or motivate us to stretch into new territory. So, yes, recognize the strengths of others, but simultaneously celebrate the substance in yourself.

Hang in there. I don’t doubt for a second you will find your way back to confidence.

Teach openly,

Together with Teacher2Teacher

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