Three things in the last few days have collided and helped me think about insecurities and how they can hold us back. Or not!

1) Faculty insecurities

I was reading about why faculty have trouble keeping up with new technologies. One of the reasons cited was that it is scary to try out new things in front of students. Teachers do not want to feel incompetent!

This perspective struck me as a) true and b) sad.

The truth is, we teachers expect students to take risks, to venture into learning with the understanding that things will go awry. We want students to feel uncomfortable at times, because that’s part of learning something new. If everything is always easy…if we’re always at the top of our game…well, that means we probably aren’t growing.

And if we expect our students to take risks and grow, we faculty ought to be leading the way.

We probably cannot avoid feeling insecure and even incompetent when trying new things. But maybe as teachers we can be explicit about those feelings and their normalcy. Maybe we can show students that insecurity is temporary, and that rewards await us as we gain competency and feel pride in what we’ve accomplished.

2) Frolleagues showed various levels of insecurity

On Friday, Lindsey and I visited the campus cafeteria and asked eight or ten faculty to pose for us with an irritated expression. (I don’t mean that Lindsey and I had an irritated expression; what I mean is that we wanted stills of faculty looking irritated. You’ll see why before too long when Five Stages of Coping with Feedback is edited for YouTube publication.)

Some faculty were more comfortable with this request than others, but almost every person we asked ended up posing for us.

Two observations from this experience: a) some people more easily feel self-conscious and insecure than others and b) most people who do feel self-conscious are usually good sports about ignoring those feelings in order to help out a friend (or a “frolleague,” as Kevin Dettmar has considered calling colleagues who are friends, though he’s worried it sounds too much like a colleague with benefits…a whole other conversation, really….).

I can’t really rate the awesomeness of everyone who posed for us, but I do want to say that I completely appreciate those who have a gift of hamming things up for the camera and those who don’t feel gifted but step up and do some hamming anyway. Both kinds of frolleagues are completely impressive!

3) I was (am?) haunted by insecurities

We’ve been filming using Lindsey’s DSLR and a similar camera from the Comm Dept, and I have very little experience with such cameras. In addition, my experience with YouTube has been completely amateurish, whereas Lindsey has a journalism background and has taken a photography course and simply has higher standards than I do about some things. AND the students we’re working with, Mackenzie and Brigid, have more experience with cameras and lighting than I do.

That combo of factors has made me feel VERY worried. I don’t want to be the one to mess everything up and disappoint everyone in the whole wide world! (Sometimes insecurities give me hyperbolic tendencies.)

I told Lindsey about my insecurities when we met to do some filming this past Friday, and she reassured me. Then, my insecurities became OBVIOUS when I was shooting Lindsey. (I wasn’t shooting Lindsey in a violent way, but more in a filming kind of way. When I think about how much worse a gun would be than a camera, my insecurities almost disappear. I am going to have to remember that.)

Anyhow, I was completely nervous that I wouldn’t focus clearly or I wouldn’t frame the shot in a way that would work. Lindsey was awesome, though. She said: “Take your time. You’re fine. It’s no rush.” (I’d show you a video of her saying that except I’m too lazy to edit it right now. If I were to show you the video, however, you would not only believe me that Lindsey is a very reassuring person but you’d also be impressed with how well-focused and well-framed that outtake is. Really. Not bad at all.)

Anyhow, I slowed down, and I made decisions, and if anything is completely sucky, we will do it over. But chances are that I did well enough. And I am bound to do better as we move on!


I think it’s okay to feel insecure and incompetent at times. I think it is not okay to refuse to do something because of those feelings (unless that something might have super-bad consequences, like performing surgery or giving someone a haircut right before an important gala).

To make the insecurity less debilitating, it helps to work with supportive people. It helps to take our time and to hear reassuring things (whether from others or from our own little voices in our heads). It helps to keep our work in perspective. And it helps to use available resources to make the situation more manageable.

As teachers, we need to make these strategies explicit for our students. Instead of appearing only as experts, we should also be role modeling learning.

And that means we need to let students see our feelings of incompetence instead of pretending that learning is easy.

Last note: In case you feel like I’m preaching at you, that’s not my intention. I’m actually preaching at myself!



About lauriemcmillan

I teach writing and literature classes at Pace University in Pleasantville, NY.

Posted on January 27, 2014, in Learning Curving, The Process and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’ve found that the students are only too eager to help when things go wrong. Not in a snarky supercilious way, but enthusiastically and sincerely. I had so many techno-oooooops! moments in intro to Cognitive Science (I hate Windows) that it became sort of a tradition.

    Great piece, Laurie!

    • Thank you, Lee. And you hit on another great point: it’s easier for students to learn from teachers when they feel like teachers are open to learning from them as well! Your entire class had a wonderful rapport–visible even in that brief time I visited!

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