Just a few weeks ago I wrote about an observation about what was happening with some of my female students. After reading some of the comments, I thought I had to educate my self about this syndrome.
So, what is Imposter Syndrome? Cal Tech has described this syndrome as:
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.
For me, when your think of gifted children it is easy to think since they are smart they should be confident as well. I read the story from Ian byrd, and his experience with imposter syndrome. It really moved me, for the fact I know I have students who feel the same way as Ian.
Imposter Syndrome can be broken down into three categories: Feeling like a fake, luck, and discounting success.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, I have had male and female students who fall in all three categories. I know they have abilities to succeed in just about anywhere they go, and in just about anything they want to commit hard work to. They just don’t have the confidence in themselves, or the belief they don’t deserve the success from their abilities.
The group of students that I have that seem to be affected most by Imposter Syndrome is girls. Girls work hard at hiding their abilities. Particularly in an urban setting like I am in. Gifted girls also try to give answers to teachers that they think the teacher wants to hear. They will do just about anything to keep the attention off themselves.
What can teachers do to help gifted girls or boys (or anyone with this syndrome) over come this? I think we have to show students that feelings and reality don’t always go together. For example, if a student says “I feel so stupid.” That doesn’t mean they are stupid. Teachers also need to work on showing student how much success they have, and how they got there. We need to show that the success they had or have is something to be proud of, and it has meaning. We need to get them to stop doubting their abilities and their success by realizing that when their doubts happen to shut them.
I feel like I have a long road ahead of me to help my students with Imposter Syndrome. I know it can’t be cured over night, but you have to start somewhere. Urban children have a lot of aspects to their life. They have the street personality, the school personality, and family personality to deal with. Sometimes where they are in life, or how they see their life will attribute to the Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know if I can over come that aspect, but I do know that I will try just about everything I can to help my students overcome this syndrome.