Like many schools, my school has a tiered evaluation system, and this year is one of my years to be evaluated. At my school, we are evaluated by our division head, department chair, and a peer we select ourselves. We write narrative self-reflections on different specific professional areas where we want to improve, and then all three members of our team come and observe our teaching for an entire class period. Then we meet again, and the team members share what they observed, and we have a conversation about it all. It’s a great process, and I helped revamp it a few years ago as a member of a school-wide committee, so I’m familiar and comfortable with it. This process is not tied to salary, like many performance reviews are, and even if it were, I feel fairly confident about my job performance.
I think I am a good advisor, I try hard to be a good and collegial colleague, and I put a lot of time and energy into trying to be the best teacher I can be. I seek out professional development, volunteer for committees and extra responsibilities, and advise one club and one student organization. I’ve been evaluated before, always with positive comments, I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and set personal goals, and I’ve served on plenty of evaluation teams, which I have always found to be fascinating and personally valuable.
But in all honesty, each time, being evaluated freaks me out. Like, majorly. MAJORLY. I was super-stressed in preparing for my first evaluation meeting this week, in which I had to discuss what I think my own strengths are (I think I came up with two, maybe?), and I know my nervousness showed, which made me so frustrated with myself. I am already stressed when thinking about my observations, which will happen after we return from spring break. I trust, value and respect my evaluation team, so this isn’t about them; it’s entirely about ME.
I’ve always thought that part of my personality is a strong dash of imposter syndrome. Illustration: when I was in my first few years teaching at my current school, the secretary came to my classroom door while I was teaching, beckoned me into the hallway, and whispered that we were going to have an all-upper-school meeting in the theater directly after that class period. My first immediate and vivid thought was that they were going to fire me in front of the entire assembled student body and faculty. Even after the assembly (which I think ended up being a slightly graphic one about drunk driving), I had a tough time shaking that panic and fear for the rest of the day. I’m nowhere near that bad these days, or I wouldn’t have been able to write that paragraph above about the ways in which I think I am good at my job. But that feeling still lingers, and evaluation season is certainly its favorite time.
However, lately I’ve also been wondering if there’s something else going on with my reluctance to blow my own horn, as it were. Reading this profile of Sheryl Sandberg makes me think maybe there’s a gendered aspect, that I worry somewhere inside my head that if I had come into that meeting (or any meeting) with a bulletted list of my strengths and accomplishments, I would have instantly seemed less likeable, too conceited or self-important or pushy. I work in a very female profession, and everyone on my team is female, but that doesn’t mean the barriers don’t exist inside my own head. Again, this isn’t about the women on my team; it’s about me. I’m no Reese Witherspoon, but I do agree that I need to dig deep and get more comfortable with being uncomfortable in this area. I’m much more comfortable outlining my weaknesses and where I need to improve as a teacher, and while that helps me keep improving, it doesn’t help my confidence or self-image, and it may shut me of from future opportunities. You can’t say, “Wow, that would be perfect for me, as it plays to all my strengths,” if you have no idea what your strengths are.
Do you struggle with this too? Are you as comfortable listing your strengths as you are your weaknesses?