Last week, for our CSP Reading Group, JahB selected an episode from (Re)Teach, a podcast written, produced, and hosted by our very own Dr. Bruce Hoskins. If you weren’t able to listen and join in on the conversation last week, I encourage you to check out this episode before our fall semester starts. The focus of the episode is imposter syndrome and how it impacts our students. Bruce discusses imposter syndrome with two MiraCosta students–Susy and Melissa–who each share their imposter syndrome stories and experiences. Here is the episode link and you can also find (Re)Teach on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Sticher, etc.
If you’re anything like me, imposter syndrome is a very real, very challenging issue. If you have not experienced imposter syndrome yourself, trust me when I tell you that many if not most of our students are probably feeling it when they sit in our classes. I think all of us probably feel some level of imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. For some of us, though, it can be chronic and even debilitating. Operating from a place of fear can be motivating, as I’m sure we can witness in ourselves and our students, but it is also tremendously exhausting and demoralizing. When we aren’t able to channel our fears into motivation, we get all up in our amygdala by fighting, flying, and freezing. My wife, a certified emotional intelligence counselor, says this is called the “Amygdala Hijack.” Fear overwhelms us and causes us to react in ways that might seem like strange behaviors. Often, we’re doing less fighting and more flying/freezing. When we fly, that is when we don’t show up the second week of class. When we freeze is when we don’t turn in an essay even though we got an A on the last one. When we fly, we might “ghost” you over email (this, right here, is a big one). When we freeze, we might seem fine even though we’re so tired we fall asleep in class. When we freeze, we sure as hell aren’t talking in the class (or a meeting) even if we enjoy the subject. When we fight, we might get mad about an activity. We fight by refusing to do something that might seem like a simple assignment/prompt/activity to the teacher. We’re not mad, we’re running, hiding, and yelling because we’re operating from a place of fear.
This fear has it’s roots in feeling like we don’t belong and constantly worrying that what we’ve earned, what we worked for, will be taken away eventually. Surely the application committee, the hiring committee, that interviewer, made a mistake. They’ll call any minute to say “oops, wait, actually, there’s an issue with your application.” Or, more to the point for classroom faculty, “If I answer this question, if I’m honest, they’ll know right away that I don’t really belong here.”
As I said, anyone can fall victim to imposter syndrome. But it absolutely is more likely to occur in students who come from historically marginalized backgrounds or backgrounds that don’t have a lengthy history of earning higher education degrees. Obviously, we teach in an institution where our students have a high likelihood of having imposter syndrome. From my own experience, you might be more likely to see imposter syndrome manifest in students who are preparing to transfer to a 4-year school or students who are starting to apply for scholarships, internships, summer programs, or anything else that might feel like a “reach” (even if we know somewhere that isn’t in our amygdala that we are capable).
For about the last 10 minutes of the podcast, Bruce asks the students “what would you want your teachers to know” to help first gen, historically marginalized students deal with imposter syndrome. We get a chance to hear directly from students what small changes would make them feel more comfortable in our classes and ultimately more comfortable in school. You have to listen to see what they say, no spoilers here. Just from anecdotal evidence, though, I feel pretty confident that a lot of us tend to the affective side of our students’ lives. As we head into the fall, I encourage you to spend even more time on activities and conversations geared towards making students feel welcomed, seen, and invited in to your class, especially early in the semester. I know personally that a lot of the affective care that I give to my students often happens in little conversational tangents while teaching or during a mini-lecture or even just chatting before/after class. It is organic, fluid, unplanned, and frequent. When these spaces are all of a sudden missing or at least significantly changed as a result of distance education, we have to be more intentional in how we make affective interjections. We’ve already seen some excellent examples on this very blog from Mary, Chad, Jade, Curry, Tony, and Jim. All I ask is that you be intentional and don’t take it for granted that your students will eventually feel comfortable. They are in a new (digital) environment, a new social/intellectual space, and for some of them, they are absolutely, 100% going to be all up in their amygdala.