Teaching and Imposter Syndrome

According to my good friend, Wikipedia, Imposter Syndrome is “…a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.” 

Super fun.

Teacher friends, can you relate to this? Knowing I most likely am not the only one who feels this way, I decided to Google “Teaching and Imposter Syndrome.” Yeah, my hunch was correct. Imposter Syndrome is very common among teachers. 

This may surprise the non-teachers out there. Nationally, we have a critical teacher shortage. The usual reasons given are low pay and lack of supplies. I submit, however, that perhaps right up there with low pay is Imposter Syndrome.

Why might teachers be more susceptible to this phenomena? I believe it is rooted in the fact that teachers are sensitive people. Why else would we choose to work with kids and make less money? (I understand this is a generalization). We don’t want to mess up or disappoint anyone. But making mistakes is inevitable. We are juggling so many details and tasks on top of the actual teaching part, which is what we really love. Just this week, my morning took a hard turn sideways when a sweet little girl started saying that her mom called the police on her dad. I forgot to turn in my roll on time that day. Then I worried I might get written up for this oversight.

The lack of adequate supplies is also a major frustration for teachers. I believe this issue also contributes to Imposter Syndrome. This year I was given 5 computers for my classroom and 2 reams of copy paper for the semester. We have some textbook readers but no math or reading workbooks. My task was to generate everything else using donations from students or my own money. Before the end of August I bought a box of copy paper at Costco and a big pack of 3×5 cards. So I am generating materials and creating fun and exciting learning opportunities, writing lesson plans, communicating with parents, keeping objectives up in kid friendly language each week, generating report cards, scheduling conferences, meeting with parents, and strategizing how each student can best succeed all in the 5-ish hours built into my work week when I’m not actually teaching students. 

I’m tired after writing that, and I no doubt left off at least 10 weekly tasks.

There’s not enough time to do it all. I like to do things well and stay on top of all the details. As a teacher, I am going to forget things now and then. I am going to go in some days without feeling 100% prepared. I am going to go home to my family and tell my job I’ve done enough. Except it’s hard to do that. I want everything to be amazing. This may be harder for the teachers with families, medical bills, and kids in college. Some young teachers still live with their parents. Bless their hearts, but they seriously need to stop making the rest of us look bad.

About once a week, I think about quitting and even convince myself I’m not a good teacher. I know this is a lie, though. My students have always been happy, thriving, and learning. They regularly blurt out things like, “I love school!” And, “Do I HAVE to go home?” at the end of the day. I am gifting them with near saint-like patience and kindness (I’m not always this way at home, but it IS something I am getting paid to do). My students have always exceeded expectations according to cold hard data on academic growth. I’m a good teacher. My students are learning and becoming better people because of my efforts. I am saying this out loud so I will always believe it. I shouldn’t quit. 

Non teachers, please encourage the teachers in your life. Administrators have a critical role in helping teachers feel valued and supported. They can set the tone for a positive and encouraging school culture. Donate time or supplies to your kid’s classroom or a teacher friend’s classroom. Children are the future. We all have a vested interest here. 

Teacher friends, say this out loud with me: I AM A GOOD TEACHER! Now go change lives. You’re not going to be able to do everything perfectly. Nobody is. The kids need you. Keep the faith.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

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In Which I Introduce the Enneagram

It’s been a good 9 months since my official dive into the enneagram began. Psychology fascinates me, and I’ve been soaking up everything I can about this ancient yet new to me personality system ever since. Credit goes to Personality Types by Riso for the bulk of my understanding so far.

As a teacher I’m also fond of sharing with others what I’ve learned. All summer long I’ve been teasing out ideas for the perfect introductory enneagram post. Then I watched Christopher Robin. My husband, who I’ve been gently pushing the concept on (I may have nonchalantly turned on an enneagram podcast in the car recently) said, “I wonder what enneagram numbers the Pooh Bear characters are?” On it. So instead of a serious essay, let’s have some fun!

Typing Pooh Bear Characters:

Rabbit-1 (reformer/perfectionist)

Kanga-3 (image and achievement focused)

Tigger and Roo-7 (fun loving risk takers)

Pooh-9 (mediator)

Christopher Robin-2 (helper/giver)

Owl-5 (observer)

Eyore-4 (all the feels)

Piglet-6 (loyal)

This is purely my assessment. It’s ok if you want to challenge me on any of them. I’ve heard the Hephalumps typed as 8, but that’s not entirely fair. One thing I love is that each number 1-9 has positive and negative qualities. In fact, 7 of the numbers are associated with a “deadly sin”. These are the “passions” or negative sides.

1 – anger

2- pride

3- deceit

4- envy

5- greed

6- fear

7- gluttony

8- lust

9- sloth

There is no bad personality, which is a relief. There are various levels of integration, or health within each number. An unhealthy 8 is a bully, but a healthy 8 is a protector and champion of others.

This graphic explains a lot about how the enneagram works. 8, 9, and 1 are motivated by the gut or instinct. 2-4 are heart, and 5-7 are head focused. The arrows indicate two other numbers associated with each type. 2 integrates to 8. I typed Christopher as a 2 because a healthy 2 will also manifest the best qualities of 8. He leads and champions his friends. The second number associated with each number indicates where that person goes in disintegration. I’m a 9, so when I’m doing well I go to 3. I believe in myself and do cool stuff. When I’m not doing well I go to 6 and become paralyzed by fear.

Many tests are available for figuring out your type. The Enneagram Institute has a very accurate test for a small fee. I look forward to sharing this journey with you!

In Defense of a Charter School

After years of focusing primarily on raising my kids while working part time as a private piano teacher, I began to venture into the classroom. I started as a preschool teacher, then got hired as a music teacher at a private school. After the recession, however, finding a real teaching job without a credential became very difficult. After a couple of frustrating years of being underemployed, I was pleasantly surprised to get a job offer in Arizona along with acceptance into their alternative credentialing Teaching Intern program. As a Teaching Intern, I received an intern certificate, which allowed me to teach in my own classroom with full salary and benefits while taking my certification classes online. It was a hard couple of years, but I was ready to have a legit career and even more ready for a decent salary. I mean, I was in Arizona, but it was still more income than I had ever personally made.

It turns out, Arizona was and continues to be in a desperate teacher supply draught. When I moved to southern California, getting hired as a teacher proved much more difficult. Transferring my credential was relatively painless, although due to a clerical error, my fingerprint requirement was delayed until my local district had already started its fall semester. Getting hired with an out of state credential was out of the question. There was way too much competition. Even the local charter schools refused to look at my application until I had a CA credential.

I eventually got a job as a grant funded music teacher in a traditional public school district. The job was part time with no benefits. It was also 45 miles away from home. By the end of that semester, my credential had fully transferred, so I began to look for a full time general ed classroom position. So far my credentialed experience was all in first grade. First is not an easy grade, so these jobs often pop up. Sure enough, a charter school only 20 miles away was looking for a first grade teacher. I got the job.

There’s a lot of buzz about charter schools these days, and most of what I hear is negative. I was skeptical. I also needed a job, so I resolved to keep an open mind and give it a try. I tried to keep my expectations low. After about a month, I realized that I was in a really great place. This school was legitimately improving upon the model I was so acquainted with after working in a Title 1 traditional public school. They were doing so many of the things I saw as drawbacks in traditional schools. I also saw first hand that the complaints I had heard about charter schools just were not playing out here. At all. My point here is not to say that all charter schools are superior to traditional schools. I am simply submitting that this school is getting it right, and I believe more often than not the charter schools are creating a healthy competition in which all schools can learn from each other and improve. What follows is a window into my charter school, addressing the many arguments against charter schools.

I noticed a few things immediately. My class was very ethnically diverse. I had about 50% hispanic, 25% black, and 25% white students. Our school is located in a high poverty neighborhood, and my student population definitely reflected that. To be fair, my classroom was more diverse than the school population as a whole. Our school started as a private church school, so there is still an imbalance of wealthy and Caucasian students for the area. This is changing, however, as I saw in my first grade class. And my students performed very well on their state testing.

As far as resources for low income students, parents donated snacks for our cupboard in case any student did not bring one. A few times, a student would forget a lunch all together. When this happened, I would send them to the office to call home. Parents always came through with some food. So we made it work in the nutrition department. The school is just three years old. They will be offering breakfast next school year and lunch the year after in their own state of the art facility.

Our charter allows for a TA in every classroom along with already small class sizes. The largest a class can get is 26 students, so there is never higher than a 13:1 ratio of students to teacher/TA. Our school uses a blended model of instruction. This means most of the learning takes place in differentiated small groups. We also use high quality individualized math and ELA computer based learning programs as rotations when I am working with other students in small groups. These programs are ST Math and

Imagine Learning. Students in the lower grades spend about 30 minutes a day total on these two computer programs as well as 30 minutes a day receiving small group instruction with the teacher. Other rotations include math games, hands on word work activities, a writing center, a listening center, and a leveled book center. Students may choose hard copy books to read to themselves or with a partner on a comfy beanbag or use our online library to find even more books to read or listen to. When I saw what was going on in the classroom, I was very impressed. I told my administrators at my first evaluation that I want to stay in first grade. Before, it seemed impossible and frustrating to do everything I felt expected to do. But here it is possible, and it is working. I saw results. More than half of my students were reading above grade level by the end of the year, and nearly 80% met or exceeded their state math standards.

As far as accountability, traditional schools will never be shut down because of low test scores. Not so with charter schools. We report directly to the CA Department of Education. If we do not consistently prove that we are achieving, they will shut us down. We have visits from the Department of Education, and our charter is regularly reviewed to make sure we are following it. We also have a special ed department. I had two students in speech therapy and two English language learners. One tested out of the ELL program at the end of the year.

This school year, our board made a drastic move in order to improve our administration. They pulled three master teachers with administrative gifts out of the classroom to form an administrative team. We now have a principal over the whole school, an upper school, and an elementary school administrator. It was a good move, because now our “bosses” know exactly what should be happening in the classroom as well as what teachers need in order to be successful and feel supported. They pop into the classrooms all the time. Of course I would love to have an evaluation in which I was told, “You don’t need to improve anything. You are perfect.” Until that day (when Hell freezes over) I always feel encouraged and valued as an important member of the team with unique strengths and gifts. That’s all a teacher can ask for, really.

Finally, with a lot less bureaucracy, my school has more funds available for the students. Even with smaller class sizes and a TA in every room, there are funds available for nice field trips. We went to the San Diego Safari Park. Also, I was able to get materials I needed for the classroom and reimbursements for things I purchased.

Not everything is perfect, of course. I am on an “at will” contract. I can leave or be asked to leave at any time. This does give me a small amount of anxiety. I saw a teacher fired this year. It should not have been a surprise to her; she had been asked several times to make changes, and she didn’t do it. There has been a lot of teacher turnover, which is not good for the students. Perhaps charter schools cannot provide the same security for teachers because they function outside the teacher’s union. I believe with the new administration in place, teacher turnover will slow down, however.

In summary, I have been blown away by how much I like this school. I don’t come home feeling beaten down and exhausted. What I have seen is a school that is

legitimately improving upon the local traditional schools. It would be awesome if other schools could take note and make positive changes as well. We need to be a society that values education in all its forms and learns from each other in order to continue improving. Not all charter schools are this good. Hopefully those in need of shutting down, will be told to do so in a timely manner. But I’m going to stick around this charter school. I think they are on to something.

Buying Curtains

After about 8 sessions of therapy, I came out of my “post move depression”. I made an amazing discovery about my identity as a child of God. I learned that avoiding conflicts makes everything worse. And I forgave myself for not being perfect. All in all, going to therapy was a total win. I recommend it.

There’s a great story I like to tell about how a motorcycle improved my marriage. Tim grew up riding motorcycles while I grew up being told (accurately) how dangerous they are. Tim waited about 18 years before beginning to persuade me to give him my blessing to buy one. It occurred to me at the time that we were exercising too much control over each other. So I told him, “I don’t approve, but get it anyway. Also, whatever you spend on it I’m going to spend on whatever I want.” This is healthy marriage talk.

For several years I spent that mad money exclusively on self care- acupuncture, massage, manicures, etc. That’s what I needed.

Home decorating has never been a priority for me. We have usually lived in rentals. We have never had extra money, and I knew we wouldn’t be around long. While in survival mode, curtains were not on my mind. But a couple weeks ago I looked around at our assembled possessions: two nice second hand armchairs in need of reupholstering, a baby grand piano we bought at Costco and wrote off when I was teaching piano lessons, a second hand oriental rug, oak bookshelves filled to overflowing, and a nice 8 person dining room table we finally splurged on. The stuff had potential, but the bare windows and table made me sad. Even though we hope to buy a house in a few years, I decided the time is now to start pulling things together. We still don’t have a decorating budget, but it’s worth my mad money to start with Target curtains and take it from there.

Making my home a haven will never be money wasted. And it’s another glimmer of hope that I’m on the right path.

2017 Positivity

Yes, 2017 has been a dumpster fire. But let’s not dwell on that. How about some positivity? Here are some great things that happened to me this year. I challenge you to make your own list.

In 2017, I:

Moved into a beautiful house.

Sent my daughter to college.

Got a good job.

Got a new car.

Started therapy.

Got better with boundaries.

Deepened my faith.

Developed stronger relationships.

Learned to accept myself.

Got teaching credentials in AZ and CA.

Spent Christmas with all my kids, including the 3 who are adults.

Spent another year with my kind and loving husband of 24 years.

Wow! I have a lot to be thankful for, and I bet you do too. Happy New Year! Also, just a quick recommendation. I started reading Emily Ley’s A Simplified Life, and my mind is blown. Check it out.

Now What?

One of my favorite scenes in Toy Story is the one where the toys pull off a highly dangerous mission to cross a busy street. They barely make it and stop to look at the traffic devastation in their wake. Then Buzz (Tim Allen) says, “Now what?”

I can relate. It is so tempting to forget the mission or run back to fix all the new fallout. But that’s not the point. In case you have not been following, I began a journey a few years ago to find greater health and fulfillment. It began with a Whole30 but evolved into much more. I’ve now embraced the intuitive eating model and body acceptance. Disordered eating and diet culture is devastating, especially to women. I’m rejecting the pressure to force myself to look any different than I was created to look.

There is so much more, however. As a serial people pleaser, I’ve allowed others to dictate my personality and life choices. Finding my identity in Christ has been life giving. Now it is up to me to live out my purpose. Creativity plays a huge role here. I’ve often struggled with creativity, but we are all meant to create something. Staying stuck in a receiving mode has left me depressed. I’ve learned the healing power of getting up and doing. This looks different for everyone and changes depending on our season in life. It’s been hard to reach outside my immediate family during the overwhelming years of child raising, but reaching out to someone is also key. It might be your infant; it might be a foster child; it might be a soup kitchen. Right now my creative purpose means sharing my journey with you, playing with my kids, visiting a little boy we support at a Tijuana orphanage, finding joy in my job as a music teacher, cooking something delicious for the family, or my personal challenge- writing a song.

My husband recently preached a sermon about our need, as the Church, to write some new songs. This is so true on a national scale, but it is also personal. Stay tuned.

Moving On and Letting Go

Anne Lamott is my spirit animal. Do yourself a favor and have a listen to her Ted Talk.

https://youtu.be/X41iulkRqZU

One of my favorite quotes is, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” These words are especially apropos during the holiday season. Contrary to those social media highlight reels, all families are flawed, many severely. So the cycle must continue: overlook, confront, protect boundaries, repeat until infinity.

I’m so thankful I have my faith to cling to. It always helps to remember my 3 identity truths: I am created perfectly, I am worth dying for, and I have a unique purpose. For those of you suffering right now, I would add: you are loved, you are worthy, and you are brave.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, encouraged me today with this: “Who are you going to blame for your life today?” Ouch.

It’s time to move on. A grieving period is appropriate when you take the brave step into wholeness. It will upset the status quo and ruffle some feathers. That can’t be helped. But inner peace is worth it. It’s time to stop looking back. It’s time to turn off the people pleasing commentary loop.

It might also be time to cook that turkey dinner again. Just for you and your groupies. You deserve it. And now the journey begins.