Imposter syndrome is not a new experience for me. In my university days, I joined an obscure film appreciation society. I put a lot of effort into feigning reverence for world cinema – but rarely had a clue what was going on in the film. I spent these evenings furiously speed-reading subtitles, missing the plot completely and then nodding sincerely during the post-film discussion. This is the closest comparison I can find to sitting through meetings in those first few weeks and months (maybe even years) of teaching in a secondary school.
The secret code of teacher-talk
I’m an English teacher, so words are my thing. You can imagine how frustrated I felt with myself in these meetings for feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from the discussions and insights shared. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t keep up with the pace or the complex language being thrown around the room. The worst of this teacher-talk for me was, by far, acronyms: the secret code of experienced teachers. These little collections of letters kept catching me out. I would nod and agree that Billy would benefit from being put on a BIP without having the slightest clue of what this object of torture was or to what I was condemning poor Billy.
The more terms I conquered, the more these pesky acronyms kept popping up to ruin my fun. I began to feel slightly disappointed that so many friendly nouns were reduced to a small assemblage of letters. I want a library to be a library because, well, I like libraries. I’m not as keen on the Centre for Resource Excavation, Literature and Information ("today’s lesson will be held in the CRELI"). The more I nodded in meetings without really understanding the content, the more detached I felt from the job I loved doing. For that reason, I had to take action and that could only mean one thing – asking a much dreaded but often vital question: "What does that mean?"
This September, I started my first qualified year as a secondary teacher and with two years under my belt, I’m starting to slowly crack the coded content of meetings and discussions. I’m forever grateful for my more experienced colleagues who are kind enough to quietly lean across to me and whisper when spotting that familiar look of bewilderment on my face, "It means Behaviour Intervention Plan."
Even better than this, I’m now starting to regularly ask for translation, clarification or just plain repetition. It’s liberating. I’m beating back that imposter syndrome all too familiar to those of us new to a school environment and I’m growing in confidence to contribute thoughts and ideas in meetings. It turns out my colleagues aren’t looking for an impressive display of oracy from me and are interested and responsive – regardless of my use of acronyms.
One brave question at a time
So I encourage you to do the same. Imagine the doors of opportunity that will be opened by this one, brave question. Before you know it, you’ll be branching out to "What does this look like in the classroom?" and "How does that apply to what I’m doing?" I make a daily choice to publicly decode teacher-talk and it’s led to more understanding and more freedom. Asking questions and getting used to the sound of my own voice among a crowd of experts is a small, daily victory for me. So don’t be tempted to speed-read the subtitles from a distance when asking that one, simple question might just propel you into the storyline.
Alexandra Ellsmore is an English teacher at Manor School Sports College in Northants. She tweets @AJEllsmore
For World Teachers' Day 2019, Tes is having a new teacher takeover – every piece published on our website on 5 October will be by a new or early career teacher. Find the rest of the articles at our World Teachers' Day hub