Impostors!! (2)

I have been reading more about impostor syndrome among students, ever since I posted about the syndrome on this blog in October. I took an interest in the topic, and researched a few resources online to explore it further.

Pauline Rose Clance offers a 20-question online test for Impostor Syndrome with a helpful summary for responses. Do you feel like an impostor? What is an impostor?

Weir (2013) describes it as “First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” First ascribed to women, feelings of impostorship apply also to high-achieving men.

Weir continues: “So-called impostors think every task they tackle has to be done perfectly, and they rarely ask for help. That perfectionism can lead to two typical responses: an impostor may procrastinate, putting off an assignment out of fear that he or she won’t be able to complete it to the necessary high standards. Or, he or she may over-prepare, spending much more time on a task than is necessary.”

What does this mean? CalTech’s Counseling Center defines Impostor Syndrome as follows:

“Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.

Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake” “My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” “Admissions made a mistake,” etc.”

Jeffrey Shoemaker defines Impostor Syndrome among students as:

Feeling like a Fake

Students who have this feeling are in the company of those students who feel like they are living a lie. They are afraid of trying something because they are afraid they will be found out how much they don’t know. Some students feel like they shouldn’t have success because they are deceiving others of their ability. They hide because they don’t want to be “found out.”

Success by Luck

Some students feel they only had success because they had good luck. They didn’t earn it. They don’t have the confidence in their own abilities, and they probably couldn’t have that kind of success again. Its based something that happened externally that caused them to have the success.

Discounting Success

Students who discount their success play down their abilities, and their success. They claim it “wasn’t hard”, or “not that important.” The problem is they don’t see how much they had to do to get to the point they are.

What can students do? Weir (2013) offers the following steps to overcome the belief that you do not measure up:

  1. Talk to your mentors to recognize that the impostor feelings are both normal and irrational.
  2. Recognize your expertise – tutor or work with younger students to realize how far you have come and how much knowledge you can impart
  3. Remember what you do well by assessing your abilities and writing down what you are truly good at, and what areas might still need work.
  4. Realize no one is perfect – so stop focusing on perfection. Do a task ‘well enough’ and then take time to appreciate the fruits of your hard work. Celebrate achievements!
  5. Change your thinking – reframe how you think about achievements. Let go of superstitions, spend less time perfecting that already-great assignment.
  6. Talk to someone who can help – consider individual therapy to break the cycle of imposter thinking.

What can we teachers (and parents) do about this? Ian Byrd offers the following advice:

“Teachers, stay close to your students. Don’t let the brightest kids just work on their own. This increases the feelings of being an impostor. Give caring, honest feedback of how your best students can improve. Never give the impression that you think they’ve perfectly mastered a topic. They know they haven’t, and then they’ll stop trusting your praise.

Parents, connect your students with experts in their interests so they can get feedback and guidance from a master (whether that’s guitar playing, LEGO building, or acting). And don’t feel bad that your kids don’t trust your opinions! Encourage risk and accept mistakes. Don’t let the expectations of perfection cloud your students’ judgements.

Most of all, make your students aware of Impostor Syndrome, especially as they move along in their educational careers.”

Good advice indeed – I have a few students who have reached out to me about this, and I look forward to encouraging them to stay the course, and to sharing stories from my own journey.

He Found You Out !! Donald Sutherland in Body Snatchers, (C) United Artists, 1978


Bahn, K. (2014). Faking It: Women, Academia, and Impostor Syndrome. Retrieved from

Byrd, I. (2016). The Curious Case of Impostor Syndrome. Retrieved from

Clance, P.R. (2013). Impostor Phenomenon. Retrieved from

Clance, P.R. (2013). Impostor Phenomenon Scale. Retrieved from

Shoemaker, J. (2014). The Impostor Syndrome and Gifted Children. Retrieved from

Weir, K. (2013). Feel Like a Fraud? Retrieved from

Impostors!! (2)


I am working my way through a delightful textbook about teaching for my PID3260 class. In his “The Skillful Teacher” book, Stephen Brookfield spends an entire chapter on “Understanding and Responding to Classroom Emotions” and in particular on the topic of impostorship.

I struggled with Impostor Syndrome in the early days of my career, learning the ground rules of marketing practice. However, in due time these feelings abated as I gathered more experience and continued to progress through the rungs of my career. The same can be said about teaching – as a guest lecturer I had a story to tell in the short time of an hour or less; but when I was given responsibility for one class, and then a few more, I occasionally questioned my school’s sanity in handing over these young (and not so young) charges to my care. But we all did all right, and my confidence only grew. That ill feeling still comes back to haunt me from time to time, as I try new techniques in class or deviate from my lesson plan to show something new or try a new approach – but the fleeting feeling of “impostor!” fades away as I watch my students try these approaches and I make note whether to repeat this technique or not.

I am surprised, however, at how often I hear my students – young and older – mention that they feel out of place in university, or that they are “not good enough to be there”. It could be that they have been out of school for a long time, and find the routine of reading, thinking, writing a little overwhelming at first. It could also be that they are struggling with a new language, in addition to a new degree. Or they could feel intimidated by the more vocal students in the class, who speak often and provide good answers, and they feel at a disadvantage.

I am very glad when a student approaches me with this concern, because I have a chance to listen to their concerns, discuss the situation that troubles them, and hopefully change their mind and confirm that yes they made the right decision to be here, and yes they are progressing forward, not backwards, in their learning journey.

Brookfield (2015) lists the range of emotions inside of the classroom: “…[Students] talk about the exhilaration of intellectual stimulation, the anxiety of personal change, the pleasurable rush of self-confidence that comes from successful learning, and the shame of public humiliation that accompanies what they see as their failure” (pp. 55-56). Left untreated, the negative emotions diminish or extinguish engagement and can end the students’ careers as learners.

As instructors it is important to leave ourselves open to sharing about feelings of impostorship in our own lives (whether past or present) to open up the dialogue with students about their feelings and concerns. Admitting frailty, admitting struggles and sharing about one’s journey will open up the sharing of similar concerns by students. Brookfield states that “once impostorship is named as an everyday experience it loses much of its power” (p.59). By taking this feeling out of the secret realm, there is a “release of tension as the students recognize their own anxieties and perceptions in these words” (p.60).

Steve Voght, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival 2008, CC-BY-SA-2.0


Brookfield, S. D. (2015) The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.


Attributes of Good Teaching

I completed the Teaching Perspectives Inventory questionnaire last night, and its results didn’t surprise me. My profile clearly indicates that I tend to focus more on Nurturing, Development and Apprenticeship, rather than on Transmission and Social Reform.

My Teaching Perspectives Inventory results.

The Teaching Perspectives Inventory is a short and interesting questionnaire, found here, which measures perspectives, rather than personality-based ‘styles’ or ‘technical methods’ (there are many tests for either of these, elsewhere). When completing the questionnaire, I was asked to keep in mind one particular class, rather than the sum of my teaching experience. I thought of my adult learners at BCIT – older adults (35-50 years old) who are returning to university to sharpen their skills, obtain a Baccalaureate in Technology Management, and either continue their studies with an MBA or return to work to climb the corporate ladder armed with new skills, tools and techniques.

I learned that “all teachers embody all five views, but in varying degrees”. I teach a business degree, so I was not surprised when I received the results of the perspectives that I use the most – Nurturing and caring for my students, Apprenticeship or the sharing the inner workings of skilled performance and its translation into accessible language and an ordered set of tasks and Developing a motivation to learn from the ‘learner’s point of view’.

I received lesser scores for Transmitting (right at the mean of my responses) and for Social Reform (well below the mean). Transmitting can also be understood as teaching how to do the right thing (and do the thing, right). I spend less time in class on Transmitting the exact structures of a marketing plan or technology assessment rubric than on Apprenticeship. As for Social Reform – to change society in substantive ways – again I am not surprised, as I teach at the level of the individual rather than that of the collective. We spend little time on critical stances empowering students to take social action to improve their lives and those of others – this is the domain of personal reading, and of other degrees. However, we do spend time deconstructing marketing methods, the psychology of sales and market relationships. These discussions may eventually have a societal impact on a larger scale.

What will I make of this result? I wish I had answered this questionnaire at the very beginning of the Provincial Instructors Diploma so I could compare how I was back then, versus how I teach now as I am nearing the completion of the degree.

When I reflect back to January, as I was beginning my PID journey, I was less empathetic to my students and less willing to try new approaches inside my classroom. I had also less exposure to the theories about how learners learn, and what helps them learn. I can therefore assume that my Nurturing score was lower at the time. I plan to revisit this questionnaire a year from now, and see how I am evolving as an instructor. If anything, a high score in Nurturing and Development is what I seek to improve even more. As a marketing practitioner of many years (decades), I take my ability in Apprenticeship and Transmission a little bit for granted: I know what I know, and know how to transmit it – and this was the old me teaching back then, without much regard to learning styles or motivations. As I complete the PID degree I am seeking to change that.

I will therefore continue working on the soft skills of education – connecting with my students, learning how they learn and helping them learn by using the tools and technique that I am currently learning. The connection aspect of instruction fascinates me, and this is what I will seek to develop more as I mature in my teaching practice.


Pratt, D., Collins, J. (2016). Teaching Behaviors Inventory. Retrieved from

Attributes of Good Teaching

Stephen Brookfield’s Truths About Teaching

Quoted from Stephen Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher, pp 9, 10. Licensed stock image.

I am enjoying reading the textbook for PID3260. When reading Stephen Brookfield’s wise words about his 30+ years of teaching, I was inspired to put to Canva the truths that Brookfield has established for himself about teaching. Now if only he wasn’t so wordy 🙂


Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.


Long time, no see.

It’s been a few months since I’ve written here. A lot has happened – I have been teaching management of technology at BCIT’s School of Transportation, and I also taught Marketing at BCIT’s School of Business – a fun experience that I hope to continue. I am updating two textbooks and course materials for two Bachelors-level courses at BCIT. This fall, I have also started to teach at Kwantlen in the School of Business: I teach two courses in Marketing. All this, while continuing with the Provincial Instructors Diploma and a few consulting projects as well. Busy!

And it’s been good, and I have been learning lots. The PID is a great program. Through the many courses I have taken, I picked up useful tools and techniques and met wonderful people that I continue to see outside of class as well. It’s been a good decision to undertake this – my teaching techniques have vastly improved because of this program.

And so here I am, taking the final course in the program before I undertake the capstone project. I can almost see the blue skies and the wide open spaces. Wow, it all happened so quickly.

I will be writing here frequently in the next two months, a few posts every week, on a range of topics touching on the profession of teaching, ethical issues that come up in the classroom, feedback and professionalism, and on general topics of education. It’s good to be back, here.

Doorway to… by Mark Iocchelli (CC Attribution Non Commercial)
Long time, no see.