Impostor Syndrome and Other Musings on IFLT 2018

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Hi all!  Welcome to our second post!  We are so glad to have you here on this journey with us.

I have so many thoughts and feelings running through my brain as I process everything from the last week that I wanted to make sure that I got it all into a post before it escapes. In case you didn’t know, Adrienne and I had the privilege of spending the last week at the IFLT conference in Cincinnati surrounded by some of the best in our field. (For more information about IFLT, click here.) While the conference focused on our L2 learners, we were lucky enough to be able to present two sessions on heritage learners as well.  Enter, impostor syndrome.  Duh, duh, duhhhhhh.

What’s impostor syndrome you ask? Like the name suggests, it’s that feeling that you are an impostor, a fake, a hoax.  It’s that fear of being found out for who or what you really are and then not measuring up.  It’s that sneaky little voice that tells you that you are not good enough and that at any second, everyone around you is going to find out the truth.  That is impostor syndrome and a lot of times, perfectionism is the culprit.  It never lets us be good enough. Brené Brown talks about it a lot in her work around shame and vulnerability.  Here is a link of her discussing the topic with Oprah and I highly recommend all of her amazing TED Talks.

Impostor syndrome is something that I have struggled with and worked on in many areas of my life, but teaching heritage learners is a big one of those areas.  I inherited (no pun intended, or maybe totally intended) my first heritage classes with my first teaching position after graduate school in 2010.  It came as part of the package.  The teacher I was replacing had advocated for those classes based on the promise that building first language literacy skills would have a positive impact on the students’ English language development. That was the route that I was expected to follow, and it is one that agreed with and still agree with wholeheartedly.  I didn’t realize how lucky I was that someone had already advocated for those classes, written the proposals, been approved and recruited students.  That is a big part of the hard work that it takes to get a heritage program started.  My impostor syndrome kept me from seeing all of that.

I was a last minute hire, so I didn’t have much time to reflect on what I was walking into before school started, but let me tell you, my impostor syndrome voice was loud.  Who was I, a white woman who learned Spanish as a second language, to come into a class full of Latino students, replacing there former teacher who was Latina, and teach them about their own language?  Now, if I were giving advice to most new teachers suffering from impostor syndrome, I would tell them to ignore that voice, believe in themselves, acknowledge their accomplishments, etc.  But in this instance, I think that questioning was important, and it continues to be.  I am hoping to be able to explore it more as this blog develops.  It was important for me to critically examine myself as white female in that role. What power and privilege was I bringing in to that situation that could affect the dynamics of the class and ultimately the bonds I would form with my students? I wish I could say I had that all figured out on the first day, but I didn’t.  But as I look back, I can see that I had to make friends with that voice.  I had to say, “I hear you and you’re right. And I have to put you aside for now because these kids need someone to show up tomorrow.” And that’s what I did.  I had to sit with the discomfort generated by a conflict in my belief system.  On the one hand, I believe that students from minority groups need to see teachers that look like them and have lived similar life experiences.  On the other hand, I was the person that was available to show up and do the job. And in the moment that had to be enough.

That impostor syndrome voice has not gone away.  Sometimes it is louder than others and sometimes I am able to keep it at bay.  When Adrienne first suggested that we start sharing what we have learned about teaching heritage learners in our first presentation, it started screaming in my ear once again.  “Who do you think you are? You change your approach every year. Who would want to listen to you?” I had to take a step back and look at the facts. We were seeing success.  Our program was growing. I thought about where I had started with my first group of heritage learners and how I had scoured the internet for information on how to teach these classes.  Maybe I could share something with people who had been in that same situation. It was a time to look at my impostor voice, acknowledge it, and tell it to shut up.

If you haven’t figured it out already, this week my impostor syndrome came back. I kept trying to ignore it, push it to the side. I thought it was just nerves, but then I heard a hilarious and touching lunchtime talk by the amazing Sarah Breckley that opened my eyes to what was really going on.  (See Sarah’s talk here.) For the millionth time, I was feeling like an impostor.  My impostor voice was saying things like, “What do you think you are doing here? Everyone here is amazing. What makes you think you have something worth sharing?” So for the millionth time, I had to look it in the face and listen.  I had to ask myself what was real and what wasn’t. And you know what? It made our presentations better.  It made me revisit why we do this work.

This time of year, impostor syndrome is rampant. Many of us are asking ourselves if we are qualified to do what we do, if we have worked hard enough, if we deserve to be in front of the students that we teach. At least I know I am. So my goal is going be to listen to that voice, hear it, and acknowledge it, but not allow it to be the loudest voice in the room.

-Mary Beth

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