Updated: Mar 20
Why are there so many teachers considering quitting teaching? There are a range of reasons for wanting a career change but actually taking that step can be scary and overwhelming. This is especially true if you have the belief that you don’t have the skills and ability to do anything else. Feelings of self-doubt or that you aren’t good enough are characteristics of Imposter Syndrome.
I’ve heard teachers say things such as:
“ The only thing I can do is teach, what other career can I do?”
“I’m just a teacher, I don’t have any other skills.”
“It is all I have ever done. I feel like I do not qualify for anything else.”
“I don’t seem to be qualified for anything.”
Lots of teachers especially those that are competent, experienced but also expensive – because they are on the top of the pay scale - are all of a sudden having their lessons scrutinised, skills questioned and made to feel incompetent.
This, of course, causes stress and anxiety; a feeling of low self-worth; a reduction in job satisfaction and ultimately a strong desire to leave teaching. This is exactly what the school administrators want because they have been told to reduce costs and what better way to reduce costs than get rid of all your expensive , experienced teachers and replace them with newly qualified cheaper teachers.
This is wrong on so many levels, as we all know. It is also the reason why many competent teachers are leaving the profession feeling like they are not good enough to do anything else.
What’s Imposter Syndrome?
It’s a term that was first used by psychologists in the 1970’s. It was originally thought to only exist in high achieving women but nowadays is considered to be far broader than that. Imposter syndrome is characterized by feelings of self-doubt, not being good enough, of being out of your depth or even a fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Teachers and Imposter Syndrome
It’s not hard to see how as a teacher you can develop the belief that you don’t have the skills and ability to do anything else.
If you feel undervalued or unappreciated by your school, parents, students or society in general you can easily begin to doubt your own self-worth.
If you are drowning in an unrealistic amount of work that you spend evenings and weekend doing, you have no energy or enthusiasm left for your face-to-face teaching because you’re so exhausted. As a result, your relationships with your students suffer and you feel not good enough.
If you are stressed because:
o you have no time to relax and recharge
o you have too many things to do in too little time,
and your mental and physical health will begin to suffer.
With low self-worth, bucket loads of self-doubt and exhaustion, it’s so easy to draw the conclusion that I’m not good enough to be a teacher or anything else.
If you recognize some of or all of this, just know you are not alone. There are many teachers feeling this way in different schools in different parts of the world.
Fortunately, there is hope! You definitely ARE good enough and as teachers you have a huge number of skills that employers in other industries will appreciate. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help.
How can you deal with Imposter Syndrome?
Recognise your strengths
If I asked you to tell me what your strengths are, it is quite likely that you would struggle to answer. You would probably find it easier to talk about your weaknesses than your strengths. But, at the same time, you would be able to easily name a couple of strengths of your best friends. So why is that?
Our strengths are often things we find easy – we assume that everyone else finds it easy too, so it is nothing special. We may not notice it as a strength unless someone points it out.
When you know and use your strengths your confidence will increase when you have a better understanding of yourself. It will also help you to narrow down your job options.
Identify your transferable skills
Just as we don’t always recognise our strengths, as teachers we often think that because we are a teacher, the only thing we can do is teach.
The reality is that as teachers we have a great number of transferable skills that are relevant to a range of jobs, we just have to recognize them.
Celebrate your successes
Recognise and celebrate even small wins. By acknowledging your achievements, you will begin to offset the negative thoughts of not being good enough.
Let go of perfection
When we aim for something that is unachievable, such as the unrealistic workload that is put on many teachers, we will always fall short. When we can’t keep up with the workload we blame ourselves for not being able to cope and so we work even harder – again we feel not good enough.
As an exhausted teacher you will not be helping yourself or others. Finding ways to reduce your stress will not only make it easier to deal with the issues you are facing but also help with your feelings of self-worth. Meditation or mindfulness is a very effective way of dealing with this. I am a big believer in meditation and/mindfulness, and I’ve written several articles on incorporating mindfulness into your life. Check out this blog post for ways to cope with teacher stress.
So now is a good time to practice mindfulness or meditation. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Just start by sitting quietly for 5 minutes noticing your breath move in and out of your body. There are many mindfulness and meditation apps and courses available.
One of my very favourites is a very easy but effective breathing technique that can lower stress in a couple of minutes. It’s called Box Breathing and this is what you do:
You breathe in deeply to the count of 5,
hold the breath in for a count of 5,
breathe out for a count of 5,
hold the breath out for a count of 5.
Repeat this 5 times.
It really does work in making you feel calm and relaxed in less than 2 minutes. Try it for yourself and see how you feel.
Find examples of teachers who have successfully transitioned out of teaching
This will provide you with the proof that it IS possible. Find them on LinkedIn or in my Teachers in Transition Facebook group where former teachers often post about their new careers and ask them how they did it.
Find some help to work on your beliefs
Sometimes if we’ve been feeling unworthy for a long time. we may have developed beliefs about ourselves that are more deep seated and difficult to shift. That is when life/career coaching can help you to identify and get rid of the beliefs that are holding you back.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
As educators you may be familiar with the work of Carol Dweck on fixed and growth mindset. She found that any sort of success in life correlates to whether someone has a fixed or growth mindset. Just as we encourage our students to develop a growth mindset (a belief that our abilities can grow through effort) we can also remind ourselves that it applies to us too.
Spend some time doing some self-discovery. Learn about what motivates you and what gets in your way. Discover your values, purpose, strengths and passions.
In the process you will gain confidence in yourself and your abilities
So rather than telling yourself (or others) that “I am ‘just’ a teacher how can I do anything else?” (or any of the other versions I mentioned at the beginning of this article), change this to “As a teacher I have many skills that are transferable to other careers”
Your Next Steps
If you need some help with this I have available 2 online courses written specifically for teacher who want to change careers.
Getting Started with Career Change for Teachers is an introductory online course I created for teachers who want to change careers but have no idea of where to start. It is based on good life coaching principles and will help you examine your beliefs about yourself as well as identify your strengths, values, transferable skills (and lots of other things too). You can find out more about Getting Started with Career Change for Teachers and enol in the course here.
Career Change for Teachers is a more in-depth course that guides you through a 6-step job search process that delves into your mindset, your beliefs, values, strengths, transferable skills, interests, passions and purpose. It then guides you to identify the careers that are the best fit for you and create a career pathway to get your ideal job. If this sounds like what you are looking for, you can find more details and enrol here
If you’d prefer some personal support with your career change Imposter Syndrome or anything else, book a complimentary call here to discuss how I can help you.