Over the last few years I’ve been pulled aside by a few respected colleagues who’ve told me to be less self deprecating and more confident in my abilities. I’ve taken their advice, but for the longest time I had a compulsive need to confess any mistakes I made—as if telling people that I lost my cool, or some quizzes, would absolve me of my carelessness. I wore my mistakes openly in search of comfort and commiseration.
But most of the time my confessions were met with non-committal shrugs, polite smiles and few “there, theres,” all of which made me feel more isolated and less competent. It took me several years and a few different schools to realize, I’m not the only one who makes mistakes or has weaknesses, I’m just one of the few teachers in my experience, who feels comfortable admitting them. Many tend to stay quiet, adhering to a fake it till you make it mentality, rather than share their own blunders or concerns.
I’ve since learned to restrain myself and interestingly enough, I feel like I make fewer mistakes.
But I wonder why we have this fake it till you make it mentality where teachers and administrators feel that admitting what they don’t know, or that they’ve made a mistake, will make them vulnerable. I wonder how productive it is, ultimately, in creating a collaborative (and honest) community.
I know faking confidence is an essential and effective strategy that can get us through situations that make us nervous–like that first day with a new class of 20 discerning faces. Amy Cuddy gives a great TED talk on faking confidence through body language and how it increases testosterone levels in the body, which can lead to improved performance.
But what I’m taking about is the faking, fronting and posturing that is done in private conversations between colleagues, or between teachers and administrators at faculty meetings, a posturing that is born from competitiveness and a fear of looking weak.
To be fair, I think the international school system fosters these qualities in teachers. One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of international teaching is what I call the rate of acceleration. The learning curve is fast and steep and the rate at which a classroom teacher can get promoted is exceptionally quicker than the systems back home where a teacher may be expected to move slowly and carefully up the ranks. In the international system, I’ve seen classroom teachers promoted to principal positions and higher within their first or second contract year. This is a great opportunity for educators with natural leadership abilities (and there are many); but it’s also the perfect stage for those who fake them.
The issue is system wide. New international schools are being built all the time, the turnover rate for teachers and administrators is high, and the expectation to do something beyond your demanding teaching job–to leave your legacy, to innovate and initiate–is intense. We’re encouraged to be stars in our profession, to have exciting and active web presences, and to demonstrate a commitment to issues affecting our local, national and international communities. For 2-3 years, anyway, before we pick up and do it all again somewhere new. The emphasis, it seems, is on working as hard as we can to get noticed so we can build our CVs for our next position.
It’s understandable, then, why we are sometimes competitive and resistant to showing weakness. For example, if teachers or administrators are promoted before they’re ready, without appropriate guidance or mentorship, they may feel forced into faking their comfort level, experience and confidence in their new positions.
But like most weaknesses in the school system, the students are the ones who are most affected by a fake it till you make it mentality; if we can’t have productive, non-judgmental conversations about our weaknesses and concerns with the teachers and administrators with whom we work most closely, then the quality of our growth and development may be compromised, despite our great new jobs and promotions.
The antidote to the fake it mentality is to find acceptance in what makes us uncomfortable about our practice and to recognize that discomfort often leads to growth. Finding the courage to talk openly to each other will connect us as educators, and will likely reveal that what we see as mistakes are actually just the day-to-day stuff of the teaching profession.
As teachers, we encourage students to fail forward because we know that failures will make them stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate people. As teachers, I hope we can also fail forward by nixing the fake it till you make it mentality and instead, try a bit of honesty.