by Bryan Webber, Teaching Faculty Member, Faculty of Management, VIU
The “Imposter Syndrome” is a psychological phenomenon that I’m familiar with from my previous life in the corporate world. In my simplified version, it refers to one’s self-doubt about their worthiness of the position they’ve achieved. And this is regardless of evidence to the contrary such as a list of relevant accomplishments and the supportive opinions of others. Basically, it’s “do I really deserve to be here?” especially with opportunities that have greater responsibilities and attention, like new senior managers.
I’ve felt that same way as a teacher. When I was a new at VIU eight years ago, I was keenly aware of my inadequacies with respect to teaching. I didn’t follow a traditional path in academia, I had no PhD, and I hadn’t been in a traditional university environment in almost 20 years. I had never stood in front of a group of undergrad university students since being a student myself decades before. Who was I to be telling them anything?
Now, my graduate studies did have a significant focus on adult learning, I had been involved in training for years, and even was a substitute teacher in the public school system for a year. And it’s just come to mind (really, just now), I had been a teaching assistant for a year while in my undergrad, responsible for leading all the seminars and all the grading. (Wow, I can’t believe I forgot about that). I also teach here in a professional program where practical experience is a valuable asset, so I have much to offer in that vein.
Despite those minimized and/or forgotten attributes, which didn’t make me a teacher perhaps, but were relevant knowledge, skills and experience, I seriously doubted that I was someone who should be professing. As a result, I worked hard to make up for what I thought was missing, before anybody caught on and pointed out that I was a fraud and didn’t belong here.
Over the years, the sense of not belonging has mostly dissipated. What I have worked on the most, and that has helped dampen the insecurity, is to understand my role in affecting student learning. Early on, after the first-year nerves started to shake off, I began to see that teaching is so much more than dissemination of knowledge. It is a vast domain of skills and processes, with its own wealth of concepts, theories, and methods, and I have the possibility of engaging deeply with it, similar to that of my own academic discipline. That’s far from news for many, but with the pressure of standing at the front of a class being the person who has to “know”, in my early years I tended to focus my energy on only that one kind of knowing, and not about what is actually happening within the teaching process.
A big part of that transformation, from focusing on the transfer of knowledge to taking responsibility to shape the learning experience, was starting to connect with all the information out there about teaching at the university level. I confess that I don’t get to spend as much time with many of these resources as I would like, but by engaging, I feel like I’m part of a community that wants me to be a competent teacher, and a professional.
For example, books I have enjoyed include “Teaching to Transgress” by bell hooks, “what the best college teachers do” by Ken Bain, and last week I received a new one, “Teaching for Quality Learning at University” by Biggs and Tang. I get the email newsletters from “Teaching Professor,” “Faculty Focus,” and others. And of course, I am active with our own CIEL, which has provided me with a diverse range of ongoing learning opportunities and a wealth of teaching resources.
I still have my doubts at times (and I’m okay with that, I find the willingness to question myself to be healthy thing). But I feel like I practice a craft that I can work at, in a community of others who are experiencing or have experienced similar things. I have the continuing possibility of becoming more capable and more effective, and can say with confidence “yes, I’m a university teacher.”