On teaching, self-doubt & knowledge

Tomorrow morning, I will be in Unity, Maine at the Northeast Permaculture Convergence, which should be really fun.  After the session I’m co-teaching, that is. My friend Mischa Schuler and I will be giving a session on Medicinal Plants for the Permaculture Garden–it’s my first time teaching at the Convergence.  Mischa finished her permaculture design course last winter, and I finished mine in 2011. While I haven’t been designing formally, I’ve been using the principles in my own landscape and life.  I like to think that I live permaculture as much as possible in a rented apartment in a small city.  So this session should be no problem, right?  I grow all of the herbs we’re going to be discussing.  I use them all in my herbal practice.  And yet, the familiar anxiety and self-doubt creep in.  What if I can’t remember what to say?  What if I don’t know enough?  What if someone sees through me and realizes I shouldn’t be up there giving  a session at all?

DSC00614Time to work with my mind, find gentleness and acceptance of these voices of self-doubt.  I hear my mother’s voice in the recesses of my mind, all the times when she downplayed her talents, her gifts.  I know that these are long-held ancestral wounds.  I know that this is a relic of being socialized female in a society that tells us to defer, don’t be too proud, don’t speak up too loudly about what you know.  I downplayed my mind when my mother said, “you make us all feel stupid.”  I stopped talking about things that mattered to me.  I learned to disappear pretty completely (to be fair to my mother, this was not the result of that one statement!).

How is this related to teaching, you ask?  Well, because it’s all about being willing to take up space and claim knowledge.  I picked up my first herb book in 1998–a book I still treasure and learn from as I follow its rhythms through the seasons of the year.  I learned about herbs from my mom and my grandfather when I was growing up.  I spent my entire childhood surrounded by plants, and now I spend some part of most of my days in the garden with my herbs, and it still feels like a leap to see myself teaching classes about medicinal plants.

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I have been teaching for 16 years in some capacity or another.  I can’t quite believe that myself, but for all of those years, the struggle has remained the same–self-doubt and the impostor syndrome keep me from shining as brightly as I could.  Many times, I have simply turned my back on teaching, rationalizing it as taking too much of my precious introvert energy.  I don’t want to be a teacher, and no matter how hard I try, teaching follows me.  I had a few sweet years where I hid behind the scenes, and then it was back to the familiar narrative of doubt in my abilities/knowledge/etc. as I took my place at the front of a classroom or at a lectern giving a talk.

I’m so tired of this old push and pull.  It’s not true–I know that I am a teacher who has made more than a minimal impact on some of my students.  I have cared deeply about people who have sat in the classroom with me, and I have been full of love for the subjects of herbalism and poetry that I’ve been lucky enough to teach.  I have a lot to share, and my manner of presenting speaks very strongly to some people.  I know these things, and yet I struggle every single time I have a class.  Perfectionism and fear are not my friends.  I think it’s time to embrace what’s been true for many years–I am a teacher, and I have a voice that is unique with gifts to share.  Whether or not they come out perfectly, well, that’s another story.  Wish me luck tomorrow.

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One thought on “On teaching, self-doubt & knowledge

  1. Pingback: Some medicinal plants for the permaculture garden | Delicious Ginger

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