Feeling like an imposter in the new-year time warp

8th September 2017 at 00:00
Anyone questioning their ability as a new school year starts is not alone

Occasionally, the writing of a magazine column has a way of warping time. It’s quite disconcerting knowing that by the time you’re reading these words, the first week of term for most of us will be over. By contrast, as I write them, that whole rollercoaster has yet to get going. No how many Septembers roll around, each one of them brings that same feeling of impending…something. It’s not quite doom, but it certainly has an aura surrounding it.

Last September, I posted a tweet on the first day of term directed at new teachers getting that feeling for the first time. It read: “Feeling like a fraud waiting to be found out? Don’t worry, so is your NQT mentor. And your headteacher.”

By a twist of fate, this year, I am that headteacher and that sense of being an imposter is the same. It’s not new to me, only different. As a new teacher, I couldn’t quite believe I was being left unattended with such responsibility.

In fact, every time I was given any responsibility, I couldn’t help but wonder how long before it was rescinded and my immaturity pointed out – or worse, my incompetence.

Over time, you get used to it. I imagine that parachutists still have occasional moments of awe as they stare into the wind wondering how long before their luck runs out, and barristers probably have the odd bout of panic as they’re about to cross-examine witnesses. It seems that it’s perfectly natural to have the fear. In truth, it’s probably the people who never get that feeling that we should be worried about.

The same worries

What makes it all the more strange is that, beginning the year as a head, the worries feel almost exactly the same as they have for years. Exactly what should I wear for Inset Day? Will everyone else be smart? Or very casual? Should I have bought new shoes over the summer, or will a polish of the old ones suffice? What will I say if someone asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to? What on earth will I say in my first lesson or assembly? Have I double-checked my resources enough times to ensure no mistakes on the first day? Do I pay for tea, or take my own?

Presumably by the time you’re reading this, all of those worries will have dissipated as the first week gets underway. The first weekend feels like a lifetime away from me at the moment. Chances are you, dear reader, feel like your holiday is only a dim and distant memory. Before we know it, we’ll be thrust into the midst of the autumn term and it will all start to feel that little bit more routine.

Then it only remains to be seen how long it takes for impressions to be made. The first few weeks in any new role can seem strange, as you try to work out the politics of a place, get a sense of who’s who, and start to work out just what sort of character your new work persona will have. With each new role, I’m sure I’ve changed slightly, but equally, every school I’ve left has been one where I’ve found colleagues who share my humour and felt part of a strong team.

First weeks are not quite like that, though. It takes time to find your feet, to find those kindred spirits, and to fit into that comfortable place where work feels as though you’re among friends. But rest assured, if it’s you starting something new this year, feeling like a fraud, don’t worry: you’re not alone..

Michael Tidd is headteacher of Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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