Dr. David Sparks, Visiting Assistant Professor of Science Education in UTeach and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at UT Arlington shares heartfelt and wise advice for new teachers who may not yet “feel” like a teacher yet! It happens to many of us. Feel free to share thoughts and comments in the comment below. –Dr. Semingson
“I don’t belong here. These teachers are so much more experienced than me.” “I wonder if the principal knows my G.P.A. I bet it was lower than all these other teachers.” “Here I am teaching high school and I am only five years older than some of my students. How can they take me serious?” New teachers have many of these thoughts. They have just finished a challenging college degree and student-teaching experience. Although they feel prepared, there might be lingering doubt that they are qualified for the position. They might worry that the principal or the other teachers will find out how much they don’t know about teaching methods or about their designated subject area.
But teachers, I have good news!
This is common with professionals in brand new careers and in graduate students. Ironically, confident college students and recent graduates with high intelligence and high self-esteem are even more susceptible to this feeling. It could be called the “Chicken Little Phenomenon” because many new teachers feel like the sky is falling. But Dr. Pauline Clance, a Psychologist from Atlanta, Georgia, coined the term Impostor Phenomenon to describe these feelings. While doing research with Dr. Suzanne Imes, she discovered that well-adjusted professionals and graduate students face this from time to time. The good news is that by recognizing their perceived inadequacies, receiving some counseling, and meeting with other individuals that have experienced the same feelings, they were able to understand that they are just as qualified and competent as anyone else in their field.
I experienced a similar situation this year when I started working at the university level. I spent 21 years teaching science and technology in public schools and I went back to receive my doctorate at the age of 41, after most professors had been teaching at the college level for nearly 20 years. I had feelings that, because I was so new and I had not received my doctorate from Stanford or MIT or another prestigious university, I was somehow not as intelligent and did not belong in this realm. After preparing a conference presentation, I emailed a number of other professors in my field to ask them questions. This helped me to understand that we are all professors at a university and we all have our doctorates. They all have the title “Dr.” in front of them just like I do, no matter where they obtained their college degree. Those feelings have subsided and I have settled into my new role as Dr. Sparks.
With practice and experience, you will begin to feel better about this new career. My first principal and mentor, Mr. George Moore, told me it would take about three years before I would feel comfortable and competent as a teacher. I know that seems like an eternity for a young professional educator, but with each passing day you will understand your new role and grow comfortable in your skin. Be patient and it will happen!
David Sparks, Ed. D. “Dr. Sparkplug”
University of Texas at Arlington
Visiting Assistant Professor of Science Education
UTeach and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction