by Andrea Noble, Online Course Support Assistant, Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (CIEL)

“…teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction and risk are endemic.” (p. 1)

Original Drawing by Andrea Noble (C) 2013

Original Drawing by Andrea Noble (C) 2013

In Stephen Brookfield’s book, The Skillful Teacher, he exposes the truth about teaching. After all, it’s not a predictable profession. Students, class sizes, subjects, institutions, technology, government policies, etc. are continuously evolving. In addition, many teachers are subject matter experts with little to no training in education. As a result, teachers are muddling through as best we can.

When I first started teaching, I felt like I was muddling. I thought I was alone with this feeling. I assumed other teachers knew exactly what they were doing. I was embarrassed to admit I was struggling. Other teachers appeared so confident… at least on the outside.

“Once impostorship is named as an everyday experience, it loses much of its power. It becomes commonplace and quotidian rather than a shameful, malevolent secret.” (p. 81)

Brookfield explains that many teachers (and even students) feel like imposters. Some of us have a belief that we’re really incompetent. Since we’re muddling along, someone might discover that we’ve been faking it so far. We’re afraid others will expose our façade and reveal the ugly “truth.”

I imagined the students revolting, pointing and yelling, “FRAUD! Get out of the classroom!”

Original Drawing by Andrea Noble (c) 2013

Original Drawing by Andrea Noble (c) 2013

Brookfield takes the shame out of this secret fear. By exposing it as commonplace, I realize I’m not deficient. Facing feelings of impostorship is the key to unlocking the chains, taking risks and gaining confidence.

Throughout the book, Brookfield offers a realistic interpretation of what it’s really like to teach. He’s an honest writer who offers many insights. I admire Brookfield’s humbleness. He doesn’t assume that he—or anyone else—has all the answers. He warns teachers that a lot of time can be wasted searching for “the holy grail of pedagogy.” So let’s share ideas and help each other succeed!


Brookfield, S.D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.