Self-doubt is the foundation of good teaching, right?

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I don’t know whether my colleagues in the profession experience this, but teaching—at least for me—takes place to the accompaniment of a ringing chorus of self-doubt.

In fact, I’m not sure if anything makes me doubt everything about my skill set like stepping into a classroom can. [Well, acting would be ahead of teaching on that scale…. good heavens…. Emotional vulnerability? Please. Take off my fingernails instead.]

Here, let’s peek into my pedagogical process:

  • Step 1: Look at syllabus and course documents. Decide what concepts and/or skills need to be next in the sequence. Briefly worry whether this is the best sequence for this material. Panic slightly, then remember how much time I spent putting together the course sequence. Relax. I’m a professional. I even have a degree in this….
  • Step 2. Explore the concepts and skills to make sure I still understand them. Google everything.  Read stuff. Anticipate student questions. Realize there are questions I wish my students would think to ask. Remember how well Dr. Bell could do that in Systematic….ah, he was the master…. Panic that I’m nowhere good at it as Dr. Bell or most of the teachers I spent my life teaching with.  Go to bed a 1 a.m. feeling apprehensive.
  • Step 3. Wake up thinking about the course material. Stumble into the shower. Mull over ideas for making it interesting. Strike one golden idea for a good learning activity or discussion question. Promise myself I won’t forget it as soon as I step out of the shower. Dry off. Realize I’ve forgotten three other good ideas I had during that shower.
  • Step 4. Drive to work. Think about the golden idea. …This is perfect. It’ll illustrate the ideas I want to convey and challenge them to keep thinking. Awesome…. Make mental list of needed supplies. Add +3 to stress level if the class is today and I have to go buy supplies.
  • Step 5. Visualize golden idea taking place in my class. Realize I need a worksheet because that’ll make my communication of the activity much more clear. Dash off something in Word. Feel bad that it doesn’t match the design and layout of the rest of the course materials. Mental berating for failure to implement basic design standards or proper advance planning to prevent last-minute worksheet development. Pick up printout from photocopier on way to class. At least I proofread it….kinda….
  • Step 6. Walk down hallway. Feel excited.  Does my hair look ok? My eyeliner always betrays me and smudges. Pop into bathroom to look for smudges. No smudges. We’re good.  Confident walk.
  • Step 7. All eyes on me as I step into classroom. Offer a cheery hello. Get one smile, three grins, a nod, two glances, and one “fuck off” look from the assembled students. Normal day. Set out the worksheet. Worry whether it’s going to be enough. Make mental plan for what to do f the activity flops and I need to move on to something else.  Start teaching.
  • Step 8. During the 30 second transition into this learning experience, realize that Idea B would have been a better lead-in. Call mental audible and launch Idea B. Ramble about 3 minutes longer than I’d planned because I changed the setup. Remember I was going to introduce Concepts 2, 3, 4.  Forget to introduce concept 1. (I’ll remember that about an hour later.) See students looking a little dazed. Stop talking and get them working.
  • Step 9. Roam the classroom watchfully as students work in groups to brainstorm answers to the Big Question. Pat myself on the back that they’re all engaged and learning…..Wait, is that student checking out? Yes! Yes he is! He’s not paying attention! Must… ensure…all….students….engage…actively….in…..learning…..   Observe. Watch. Make mental notes. Realize I left a key question off the handout. Shout it out to the working groups. Watch disengaged student wander toward door to “go to the bathroom.” Give him the teacher stink-eye. Student slinks back toward working group and pretends to be interested. Visit all the groups. Visit his group the longest. Ask 5 questions, hoping they’ll pick up on one. They don’t. Say, “How about asking yourself this…..”  Make mental notes about followup activities.  Release students from class.
  • Step 10.  Realize that I could have done “x” and this activity would have worked so much better.  Pack up to return to office. Feel happy about what went well. Wonder, “How could that have been better?” Note the 3 things that immediately pop into mind. Realize I forgot to introduce concept 1. Sigh.


It’s all a journey.  We improve by doing; we all keep learning and growing and developing in our fields.  Maybe I’m a freak, but I imagine that many of my colleagues could write a post like this too.

Because I define “success” as “provoking my students to be better versions of themselves after interacting with my course and with me,” I really care whether my students are learning and growing. It’s classic: I worry because I care.


So if you happen to see a teacher today, give them a word of encouragement. It’s a demanding job, one that requires a lot of intellectual and social energy and rapid-fire flexibility.

+5 to Karma if you tell this to someone who taught you.

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