This post is part of my series on Wholehearted Teaching which provides some tips for tackling some of our greatest barriers to being “all in” with our calling as teachers. I previewed the series with a blog on self-compassion (the antidote to perfectionism), my last post was on modeling risk taking and learning from mistakes and failures (the antidote to fear of failure), and today we’ll tackle one of the biggest obstacles – the fear that we are not good enough to teach and that we are simply not enough for our students.
This is a silent killer of teacher’s souls. The thought lurks in the back of our brains. Sometimes never coming to the forefront of our thoughts, but silently wreaking havoc on our ability to be happy in our roles and with our performance as teachers. The truth is – it plays on our deepest fear – that we wouldn’t be good enough at the one thing we care most about – making a difference for our students.
When you care that deeply about anything, when your heart is on the line, when you sacrifice your personal wealth/time/energy for something you think is even more important…that’s when you fear failure and your worthiness the most. It’s vulnerability at its deepest core definition.
Teaching is a work of vulnerability.
Teaching in the current times is a work of vulnerability in the midst of a scarcity culture. A very difficult combination. Let me explain…
In her book, Daring Greatly, author Brene Brown explains our current “scarcity culture” like this: (excerpt from an interview found here)
We live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’” We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. “For me,” says Brown, “the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough.”
As teachers, I believe we are shrouded in this scarcity culture even more than in other professions. We never have enough energy, resources, attention, supplies, grants, field trips, TIME – never enough time for grading, time for planning, time for collaboration, time for feedback, time for each student, time to breathe, time to relax, time to ourselves… and on and on.
I’m not a big fan of the teacher’s lounge for this very reason. It’s dominated by this cultural mindset. Teachers come in complaining and often leave just as negative as they came in. Next time you are in the teacher’s lounge for your lunch period, I challenge you to count how many times there is a complaint specifically about a lesson/student/other teacher/principal/planning time etc. that wasn’t good enough.
Here’s another challenge – how many times a day do you catch yourself having a “scarcity” thought regarding not being/having/doing enough?
This – my friends – is the root of why we never feel like we are enough for our students.
So how do we fix it? Here are some tips from my work with teachers through A Teacher’s Best Friend:
Become aware of your own scarcity mindset.
Notice how often you are having these thoughts. Keep a tally on a sticky note on your desk or in your planner. By bringing your attention to the issue, you can start to combat it.
Redirect your thoughts of scarcity.
Every time you have a ‘not enough’ thought, make yourself redirect that thought to ‘enough’. For example, “Oh my goodness, only ten minutes until school begins. I don’t have time to get down to the copy machine and make those copies for science.” Redirect that thought to something like this: “Ten minutes left until the bell rings. I have enough time to create an example notebook reflection template to show students on the document camera in lieu of a copied worksheet. I can even grab colored pencils for the students to write with as a way to mix things up.”
I realize this may seem odd and unnatural at first, but with practice, it will become more second nature. This practice of redirecting your thoughts is something I term ‘mental discipline’. Oftentimes reigning in our thoughts can be the most difficult and yet the most rewarding way to transform our lives to a more positive outlook.
When in doubt – just say to yourself “I AM ENOUGH”.
Recognize trip hazards to scarcity thinking.
I mentioned the teacher’s lounge as a hotbed of scarcity thinking. If that doesn’t sound like the teacher’s lounge at your school, consider yourself blessed. I realize that we all have to let off a little steam from time to time, but there is a fine line between venting and going down a spiral of negativity. Often times teachers lounges can be way over that line and when something, someplace, or someone becomes an influence to generate those scarcity or ‘not enough’ thoughts for you, that’s when you’ve found a scarcity trip hazard (or sometimes a scarcity minefield!!!).
Watch out for these! Become aware of them, put them in their place, and limit your exposure to them. Here may be some examples to consider:
- Particularly negative people
- Unproductive “venting”
- Gossip especially among colleagues
- Social media (a hotbed for comparison and not feeling good enough)
- Comparison of any kind
Consider taking a hiatus from your “trip hazards” for a week (or even a few days) and observe how that changes things for you.
Align yourself with positive people.
Is there anyone at your school – a colleague, a parent volunteer, a custodian – that is always smiling and positive? How do they make you feel when you are around them? How do you feel after interacting with them?
Find those people and hang out with them. Send them a thank you note for being such a positive influence. Go out of your way to talk with them once a day if you can.
I will warn you – sometimes these people are the least popular people in a school. Why? Because misery loves company. And if scarcity culture has got a hold of your school, then these people will be in the crosshairs. But if your goal is happiness – and not the approval of super negative, never-enough thinkers (whom by the way you will never be enough for) – then trust me on this one. Those are the people who will fill your cup when you need filling. And you will fill theirs.
If there is no one like that at your school – you need to come talk to me! Email me and we’ll set up a workshop for your teachers!
This is one of the most important and ongoing battles you will face as a teacher. But I promise you…it’s worth it. The moment you think you are not good enough to teach, think again.
You. Are. Enough.
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend
Dee LEE says
I’m in my 2nd year of teaching and I often feel like I’m not good enough to be a teacher. I went through the alternate route to get my teaching license, as teaching wasn’t my original career plan but life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan it. I often feel inadequate with teaching, planning, giving feedback, gauging students’ understanding of material, maintaining a proper work/life balance, etc. Sometimes I don’t even want to get up in the morning.
Dee, I know the feeling!! I can relate to so of what you said. I believe it’s a pretty universal feeling to teachers actually. Teaching is hard and lonely because no one has your exact group of students, your exact personality, your exact set of skills, etc – so there isn’t really anyone who can truly “get” what it’s like from where you sit each day. But here is what I know – you are doing the best you can. And that’s the important thing. There are some great exercises we could work through to help you get back into your groove. Give me a shout via email and let’s set up a time to chat –> alison@ATeachersBestFriend.com
All my love, Alison
It’s my first time teaching in a tough school. I’m not from here so I have a different accent. I had two students removed from my class. One of the parents said she doesn’t see her child making any progress with me.
Another student told his mom that he would like to go to another teacher. I know I’m not a pro and that I’m not perfect, but I do my best to teach what my students need. Mom wants a conference with me. I feel like I just want to disappear. I’m doubting myself now
Oh no Ket! I’m so sorry to hear about what you are going through. It’s natural in difficult years like this (and when others are telling you THEY believe this) to believe that you aren’t good enough. But it’s not true. That is a lie. We all have areas to improve. But you are there. You are showing up. You care. And that says a lot. So I hope you can stop believing the lie and begin to embrace your purpose to be in front of those students! Feel free to reach out to me via email for some support: email@example.com