Marking and impostor syndrome

Will my students think I don’t know what I’m doing? Will they think that I’m a fraud? That I don’t deserve to be the instructor of the course?
~ The impostor in my head

Nothing like marking to bring about a case of impostor syndrome. It is funny. I teach online. I don’t have that sense of impostor syndrome when I’m talking to my students. OK perhaps I get a little self-conscious when I prepare a recorded VoiceThread. Again I find myself wondering will my student think I’m a giant fraud?

I worry like crazy when assignments are due. Marking brings about the worst of it. When I mark, I’m mostly just providing constructive feedback. I do not “grade” (or at least I avoid that as much as possible). What I mean by this is that my students only need to try to meet the requirements. I do not reduce marks if their attempts are not correct (what does it really mean to be correct after all?), rather, for me marking is a form of teaching. It is one-to-one coaching. It is a chance for me see where the entire class is at, but also provide individual feedback to help students improve.

There is no one right answer for the topics that I teach. You don’t get a design ‘right’. In the same sense, all designs can be improved upon. That is part of the challenge but also the joy in working with a complex subject.

This brings me back to a conversation that I had with my new PhD supervisor. I remember commenting that I want committee members that will help me learn. Ones that will provide useful feedback so that the dissertation that I create is better than something I would have done without their guidance. I’m also in a new place. Before, I would feel defensive with feedback. Now, I feel like I am happy to learn. I see feedback as formative evaluation rather than grading. I think this is something that the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy have taught me. They describe it as “Love in a Time of Peer Review“. I want committee members that will provide that formative assessment that is not about judging but rather it is about improving. I want coaching. So far, my committee is shaping up nicely.

I want my students to know that I’m not grading them, rather, I’m providing formative feedback so as to help them learn. I don’t want them to feel graded, the same way I don’t like to feel graded when I receive feedback on my work. I want no sense of judgement in this process. I want there to be a common goal of doing better, of fostering learning. And yet I cannot shake that feeling of impostor syndrome. Whenever I approach the marking of assignments, I feel like I will be judged for the feedback I provide. I feel like my students are grading me, and with that grade they will declare that I’m a fraud. That I do not deserve to be the instructor. That my feedback is unworthy.

Funny that I don’t at all have that feeling when I’m designing the course. I love the challenge of designing. I also don’t feel that when I’m facilitating online discussions or when I’m hosting online synchronous sessions. I only seem to have that feeling when I have the task of marking student assignments looming in ahead of me. Perhaps it is just too many memories (both old and new) of being graded by my professors. Where they were judging me.

To my students, know that I am not judging you. I strive to provide feedback that will help you grow, that will help you better grasp the concepts, and that will in the end make you better designers yourself. I am far from perfect, but I do hope that I am offering you lessons and opportunities to learn. That’s what is all about after all.

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