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“It Was Only A Matter Of Time Before Someone Spotted That I Was Just A Girl From Watford”

Natalie Scott has achieved masses in her teaching career, so why does she still feel like she's about to get found out?

  • “It Was Only A Matter Of Time Before Someone Spotted That I Was Just A Girl From Watford”

I was a quiet child, usually lost in a book, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t take risks or believe in myself. I was often found hanging upside down from trees or skateboarding down the driveway. I had very few fears and would happily narrate school plays, dance in front of audiences and sing in front of my peers. I was fearless. Brave. Invincible.

At school I was diligent; cheeky enough for teachers to like me but bright enough to know when to pipe down. I did well and the adventurer in me itched to see the world. Straight out of my A levels and as cocky as they come, I took a gap year, climbing mountains in Kathmandu and drinking lassi in Calcutta. Never did I worry or feel anxious. I was daring, bold, and nothing could stop me.

Afterwards, I had a wonderful time at Manchester university then applied to Cambridge for my post grad without hesitation. I wasn’t the usual Oxbridge candidate, a gobby Watford girl, but I was offered a place. Bingo.

Everything always seemed to go my way. My only real plan, one that had been cast in iron since Y9, was that I would teach. And that is what I did. I was good. I was told that I was a natural. It was tough at times but I refused to give up.

16 years have passed and at some point something shifted.

If you are constantly told you are outstanding, the pressure builds, and I began to put increasing amounts of it on myself too. The more people turned to me for advice, the more I researched pedagogy and became aware of how very little I knew in the grand scheme of things.

It was gradual at first. I flew through my AST assessment and was respected by colleagues, students and parents alike. I was seconded to assistant head and became involved with staff training. I passed my SLE assessment and interview and received an Honorary Licentiate. I was part of the WomenEd steering group and helped teach refugees in French camps. I won Teacher Blogger of the Year and became a trustee and director of the Chartered College of Teaching. On paper I looked pretty impressive. I was the golden girl.

Yet somewhere along my leadership journey, I realised that with each pat on the back I felt that I wasn’t quite good enough. I felt like an imposter. It was only a matter of time before someone spotted that I was just a girl from Watford with a few bits of good luck.

My anxiety that I am not as good as the next expert is always with me – a shadow that no one else can see. When I sit and think sensibly, I know that I am my own worst critic, and that I am not alone in this.

Research says that between 65% and 75% percent of women feel this way at one time or another.

Many men suffer too, often less openly. I’ve read up a great deal on these annoying voices in my head. Perfectionists are more susceptible, as are those who achieve success.

If, like me, you are a secret sufferer of imposter syndrome, my advice is to be brave, get out of your comfort zone and do something that scares you. It is actually awfully exhilarating.

Keep trying to make a difference and you will. If you make a mistake, hold your hands up and try a different way. Stop beating yourself up. Being daring, having faith in yourself and constantly learning aren’t weaknesses and don’t make you an imposter. So go on, go for that job, take a risk in that lesson, dust off that skateboard. I dare you.

How I’m facing my fears

1.When I doubt myself, I re-read old thank you cards, emails and letters. I have kept every token of gratitude that I’ve been generously afforded during my career and when my inner voice tells me I’m not worthy, I read. And I have started to listen to the voices. They can’t all be wrong, surely.
2.I have stopped trying to compare myself to others. I want to be like the people I admire but I know I have to find my own voice, and if it is the voice of a Watford girl who did alright in her own way, then so be it.
3.I have stopped caring so much about critics on social media. I tell myself that if they aren’t willing to walk a day in my wellies, then it is their insecurity, not mine.
4.I still read; it’s my passion. But now when I read wonderful books, I annotate with times or examples of similar things that I have done. Don’t get me wrong, I still underline and highlight like the best of them – I’m always learning and gaining new ideas – but I remind myself that I am on the path already.
5.I make mistakes. It makes me human and reminds me that I’m not an expert at anything. Beckham didn’t score every shot he took. What matters was that he kept trying. Leaders do not have to be perfect, in fact those who have carefully (and selectively) shared the mistakes that they have made and have asked for help are the ones that I admire the most.
6.I don’t know everything, far from it, but I am finding peace with that. I hold my hands up when I don’t know the answer. Anyone who thinks they know everything is a fool.
7.I try to fake it. Not in a blagging sort of way, but in terms of confidence. If I smile, my body produces endorphins and I can trick myself into thinking that I am not so scared. Slowly it’s working.
8.I share my feelings. I talk to other leaders and acknowledge my own flaws. You know what? Often they feel exactly the same. Being overly self-deprecating is just as much of a hindrance in your career as being proud or arrogant.
9.I’m taking risks. If I can jump out of a plane and survive, I am certain that presenting at conferences can’t be that bad. It puts the fear of god into me, but each time is getting a little bit easier.

Natalie Scott is an English teacher, SLE and trustee of the Chartered College of Teaching. She blogs at nataliehscott.wordpress.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @nataliehscott.

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