Dealing with imposter syndrome

So, you want to give tutoring a shot, but you don’t know if you have what it takes to become a tutor. Did you know that the most common factor hindering tutors from achieving their full potential is not their teaching ability and not even a lack of credentials, but the belief that they don’t have the experience required to get started with tutoring.

Overcoming our self-imposed psychological barriers is often the first, and the toughest challenge we must face in order to achieve our goals. The moment we want to try something new, self-doubt creeps in. Subconsciously, we start creating excuses to avoid pursuing our plans. “I don’t have the right credentials anyway. I’m not experienced enough. What will my (insert disapproving family member) say??”

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Research shows that up to 70% of people suffered from imposter syndrome at some point. Seventy percent! Perhaps one reason that number is so high is because we’re not open enough about it. While overcoming imposter syndrome can take time (and it's not alway possible to change overnight), you can change the way you think about your abilities immediately.

1. Remember that starting a new chapter of your life requires stepping out of your comfort zone

Trying something new is always uncomfortable. You might remember your first swimming lesson, your first teacher-parents’ meeting, or your first time speaking in public. Unpleasant times, huh? Tutoring is no different. You might have all that it takes to become a successful tutor, but due to a lack of experience taking that first step may seem more difficult than it really is.

2. Getting started > getting it perfect

Getting things 100% right the first time round is not impossible, but it’s unrealistic. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll talk over your student (or vice versa), you’ll suffer through awkward silences while you aimlessly fiddle with your pen trying to think of something smart to say — these are just the inevitable consequences of trying something new.

However, that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged from taking this bold step. Quite the opposite — perfection takes time, and if you spend most of your time thinking about perfecting each lesson, you’ll miss your chance of getting some valuable practice doing just that! The faster you get started tutoring, the faster you’ll be able to identify flaws in your teaching technique and improve your tutoring approach and program.

3. You know more than your student

No, you don’t need a Phd in Education or English Literature to start tutoring. The fact that you know more than your student is qualification enough! (As long as you’re not calming you can tutor someone to a 9 in IELTS, of course).

I’ve been in that position when I tutored Spanish and Mandarin. I do not consider myself an expert (or anything close to it) in either, yet what was important was not my general proficiency, but my comparative ability. In the first case, my students were high school Spanish learners preparing for their IGCSE exams. In the second case, my students were complete beginners who wanted to acquire some basic speaking skills in Mandarin. In both cases, the first lesson was tough — I had no idea whether I was prepared. What if my students asked questions I didn’t know the answers to?? That would be mortifying! However, that was far from the case. Both ended up being rewarding experiences that boosted my self-confidence and belief in myself as a tutor. Moral of the story — your students do not expect to be taught by Shakespeare — if you are considering tutoring in the first place, my guess is, you probably know more than your student in your subject area — there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Some tips for success:

1. Reflect on your mistakes

Just like any job, tutoring is a learning process. While it’s arguably impossible to get everything perfect during your first lesson, it is very much possible to improve over time. The key is to write down feedback after every lesson. No, not just for your student, silly (though don’t forget to do that either!), but for yourself as well. Think about what went well during the lesson, what did not go as expected, and what you can work on in the short term.

For example, if you went overtime and weren’t able to finish your lesson, you might take note of the fact that you need to shorten your content per lesson. Same goes for the opposite — if you find that you’re running out of things to teach or say about a certain topic, it might be worth preparing some additional exercises for the next lesson.

2. Try tutoring in ‘easy-mode’

If you’re not a big fan of stressful situations, you can try this simple hack. This can mean tutoring a friend, or someone you are already comfortable with. This will give you a taste of what tutoring feels like and will allow you to reflect on your mistakes in an easy-going, low-stakes environment.

Remember, imposter syndrome is not eternal if you don’t allow it to be! I hope the tips given above will help you start building up the confidence to reveal your full potential and kick imposter syndrome in the butt. Stay strong!