Opinion
Teaching Opinion

Will Today Be the Day They Figure It Out?

By Starr Sackstein — January 18, 2018 3 min read
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Confidence.

The word can be confounding and depending on how different people dress it, it can generate a spectrum of responses.

I’ve always been the quietly confident type; certain of what I do well, but equally as protective about my perceived areas of weakness.

Never wanting to come off as arrogant or condescending, I struggle with how to balance those wonderful moments of real pride and those terribly terrifying moments of tremendous self-doubt.

As an educator, it took years, but I still had moments of deep feelings of fraudulence. Despite how much I know I know, there were days in the classroom I was certain that someone would find me out. They’d scratch the surface only to see how truly vacuous I am and how little I actually know and worse than that, they’d call me out on it and I’d publicly be shamed somehow.

Now that may be my disease talking. You know the one I’m talking about?

Perfectionism.

Because I have always pushed for this unattainable ideal, the deep chasm of what I don’t know seems more salient at times than what I do.

Over the years, of course, this feeling has become more fleeting, but when it strikes it could be debilitating. Having such high expectations of myself and a challenging time of accepting my humanness often pushes me to points of near sickness.

As a new administrator, I often struggle with what I actually don’t know in addition to occasionally feeling like perhaps I made a mistake. That isn’t to say I don’t love my new job or the new challenges, just that I miss the classroom.

Ironically, I was beginning to be a little too comfortable in the classroom even with the daily risk-taking and I feared complacency which is one of the main reasons I wanted to make a bigger change than just switching schools or teacher-line roles. Over 16 years I was taught most grades between 7th and 12th and a plethora of other electives. I mentored new teachers, both one-on-one and also as an instructional coach with a teacher’s center.

Although never in title, but in practice, I helped develop professional learning experiences and implement technology in the classroom. I was truly respected by my colleagues. Being a good colleague was very important to me. I’ve had some amazing friends, mentors, colleagues, and even leaders in my career, as well as the opposite of that, and it was time for me to step up.

However, making a big move like I did exposes the soft underbelly. Eager to be as good at my new position as I was at my old ones, I work tirelessly to build relationships and learn from each of my amazing team members and their experiences. I learn about school culture and protocols, as well as personal beliefs, and gather feedback about how I’m doing, all the while looking for spots where I can help build capacity based on my known strengths.

No matter how many different schools you work in, especially if they are all in the same system, like most of my previous gigs, there are some things you can rely on as familiar.

That isn’t always so when you also switch systems; I realize this now with something as simple as testing. Not just with the testing philosophy of the school, but the actual practices for prepping for them. One of my major goals for June now, when we go into our next big testing push in the high school, is streamlining the process from a departmental standpoint.

I’m not a micromanager and I won’t be. So I’d like to empower my teachers and support them without making the process more onerous.

This week was truly one of those times where I felt behind the eight ball because there were many procedural things I just didn’t know and didn’t even know to ask about. Fortunately, a few of the teachers on the team have been generous with their knowledge.

Sometimes I continue to judge myself on some very unrealistic standards. A wise friend once told me to treat myself as I would treat a mentee and be kind to myself, remembering what my beginning years as a teacher looked like (the Cliff Notes version is that it was bad... serious understatement, but you get the point). I’m new at this and I can only know what I know and keep learning.

So perhaps it won’t be as scary if they know that I still have a lot to learn, especially since I’ve been so transparent about it. I used to view my not-knowing as a weakness, but now I am eager to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. And luckily there are so many chances for that.

As the years go on, I can only hope that my fear of being called out as a fraud diminishes as I continue to grow and learn as an educator, but I certainly hope I never stop pushing to be the best version of myself.

When was the last time you needed to do personal check about needing help? Please share.

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