So, is it Imposter or Impostor?

Steven HerderSo, is it Imposter or Impostor?

by Steven Herder.


Teaching for years in Japan without a recognized teaching qualification or teaching license from Canada always left me feeling somewhat insecure, with a sizeable “gap” in my overall identity as a teacher. Even though I was amassing thousands of contact hours in the classroom, had very good communication skills, continually learned from my many mistakes, and could always fall back on my natural enthusiasm to get students to work with me more than work against me, I always carried a doubt that maybe all of those teachers who earned an actual education degree knew a secret that I, the imposter, would never discover. 

At this point in my career, however, I am now well and truly cured of that imposter syndrome, happy to discuss or debate education with anyone and firmly established within myself as an educator. In the past 10 years, I have become a seasoned conference presenter, a busy teacher trainer, and an EFL teacherpreneur through my work with iTDi. I feel “cured” because I am often re-invited to lead teacher training workshops at numerous boards of education around Japan, have been leading popular publisher teacher trainings from Hokkaido to Kyushu for the past 6 years, and receive all kinds of appreciation from teachers around the world as a facilitator of The Teachers’ Room at iTDi and as a tutor on the iTDi TESOL Certificate. However, in order to be a better teacher trainer, I recently realized that I have a new “chicken and egg” question that I really need to better understand if I want to help more teachers. 

“Which came first for me, building my teaching credentials in order to be able to talk to teachers, or talking to teachers in order to define my teacher identity?” 

From my perspective, a whole teacher needs a balance of these three components: 

For so long, I thought that doing my MA in TEFL/TESL at the University of Birmingham offered the educational theory that I needed to become whole as a teacher. I had taught myself the skills needed to teach, and I had gained a lot of experience, what I was missing was the theory. 

However, recently, I am meeting a great number of teachers who don’t have any kind of MA in TESL/TEFL/TESOL or Applied Linguistics, who have shown themselves to be just as whole as me or any of my learned colleagues.  

What appears to be the difference between WHOLE teachers and those teachers with a HOLE remaining is mostly a case of the above-mentioned impostor syndrome or a general lack of confidence in themselves.

“I want to tell some teachers that they are already WHOLE and tell some other teachers that filling the HOLE that they may perceive to be in their teaching lives is, in fact, much easier than they would ever imagine.” 

To illustrate, I want to share an anecdote from The Teachers’ Room recently:

“Last week, I was talking with a teacher about him feeling like a fake teacher compared to others in our context because of his sense of having Impostor Syndrome. He said he spent a great deal of time avoiding discussions and hiding his real views from others. Even though he occasionally did presentations, he believed it was just a matter of time before people knew he was a fake. He explained how this sense of himself as a teacher kept him from growing any further as a teacher.  

First of all, I assured him that I knew exactly how he felt. I had felt many of the same things literally for years! However, I said that after years of talking with teachers face-to-face and online, I have come to see a pattern in professional development: 

Almost every whole teacher I know, including me, has gone through these 3 stages of professional development:  

  1. First, “There’s no way I’ll stand up in front of a group of teachers I don’t know and talk about what I know about teaching” (impostor syndrome).
  1. If we are able to stumble into a learning community, then we begin to trust those around us, and we take our first tiny steps – offering our opinions and sharing our teaching experiences, both good and bad. Unfortunately, only talking about our teaching is never enough. From my perspective, you need to build up your educational theory through a balance of input and output. This means reading and listening to a lot of what the experts know about teaching and learning. It also means having a place to discuss ideas, and preferably an opportunity to write about your ideas as they form into your own personal theory of learning (how people learn a language) and theory of practice (how you choose to teach). 
  1. Finally, and much sooner that most people would imagine, we are able to reach a comfort level, which is supported by positive feedback, and then we really begin to grow. Once you get into stage 3, then the real fun begins – collaborating, innovating, and inspiring others.

Right now, iTDi offers three invaluble veues to become a WHOLE teacher: 

  1.  Advanced Skills Courses (Online month-long courses or self-study units) 
  2.  The Teachers’ Room (Online live weekly sessions) 
  3.  The iTDi TESOL Certificate (Online 130-hour personally-tailored and interactively tutored course) 

We are a niche business, small but mighty, and owe our success to the exemplary quality of our faculty. We work well together because we share a vision, we agree on our mission, and we genuinely respect each other’s work. 

As highly-experienced, passionate teachers, we know what helps teachers to reach their potential as educators. We formed iTDi in order to offer opportunities to teachers that we wish had been available when we needed them most. We look forward to meeting all like-minded teachers who both want more for themselves and believe that they deserve more for themselves as teachers. 

By the way, I learned today that either spelling – imposter and impostor – is accepted as correct. I’m relieved that I won’t need to know that fact any longer in my teaching. 

Presenting Vocabulary – Steven Herder

Herder grayscale copy

Dream Students and the Rest of Us – Steven Herder

In economics, these days we hear a lot about the 1% and the 99%. In ELT, I also see this division when it comes to learning vocabulary.

Dream students (1%)

There are countless resources – many of them free online – for students who want to increase their vocabulary while learning a second or foreign language. If your students have already made a commitment to improve their vocabulary, and if they also have the skills to make decisions, make a viable plan, follow through on the plan and adjust the plan as necessary, teaching vocabulary is very easy for us teachers.

Here are some great posts and resources for that small percentage of your students who simply need to be pointed in the right direction:

vocab Herder 1





vocab Herder 2Vocabulary sites




Normal students (99%)

In my experience, however, the vast majority of learners do not fall into that category. Most of my students over the years say they want more vocabulary but haven’t addressed the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of vocabulary that is needed in order to succeed with vocabulary. Here are a few sets of questions (and answers I’ve heard from some of those Dream students) that your normal students need to answer in order to succeed with vocabulary:

1. Why should I make an effort with to learn more vocabulary?

–       It makes you smarter and opens many more doors to your future (especially for those who don’t know exactly what they want to do yet).

–       It is the quickest way to raise your score in tests like TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS, etc.

–       It teaches you discipline and you’ll gain confidence.

2. What vocabulary should I learn?

–       You need to learn the most frequent words (Top 2000, 3000, 5000, etc).

–       You need to decide which words are active and which are passive, then decide which ones YOU need.

–       You need to focus on TOEFL words if you are taking the TOEFL test. There are many lists available online.

3. How can I learn vocabulary?

–       Spend time with words in order to learn them.

–       Use the words you want to learn (Speak and write them a lot).

–       Read more than you currently read!

–       Learn to notice words you hear but don’t know

4. How can I not give up after three days?

–       Make a good plan that will last over time.

–       Collaborate in studying vocabulary with your friends.

–       Make learning fun by using new words with friends and teachers.

–       Develop a system (word cards, smart phone, etc).

–       Set goals and get feedback on your progress.

–       Talk with your teacher and solicit their ideas.

–       Tell your friends, and get them to join you or check up on you to make sure you continue.

5. When can I fit in this extra study plan?

–       Make it a habit or routine in your life (at breakfast, on the bus, before you sleep, etc).

–       Set daily, weekly goals that are attainable and race to meet your deadlines each day.

–       We all have “dead” time or little “chunks” of time throughout the day; we just need to use it.

Once you make a good plan, and get used to doing it, you will begin to see your improvements. As humans, we like to succeed. And the old saying, “Success leads to more success” is very true. Another way of looking at this phenomenon is called the “virtuous cycle” – we make an effort, then we begin to get better, So we get excited and motivated more, this leads us to make more of an effort, and the virtuous cycle continues.

So, if you are a normal student, answer the questions you need to succeed and then go succeed.

I hope some of you will add both questions and answers to this post, because I’m sure there are a ton of other useful ideas out there!

Rules I Follow – Steven Herder

Rules I Follow

– Steven Herder

After some brilliant blog posts on Breaking Rules recently, it is tantalizingly timely (and great fun) to now consider the “Rules We Keep”. I’m excited to spend time writing about this topic, but even more psyched to see what everyone else comes up with!

1. The Golden Rule – I simply try to follow the Golden Rule whenever I walk into the classroom: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Many years ago, I remember talking one day with my colleague, pumpkin bunny Chris Mori, about how we each had made a very clear but somewhat unconscious decision to treat our teacher’s room (office for 6-8 English teachers) as our own sanctuary from the outside world. Whatever difficulties we were facing in our daily lives, we left them outside. We were committed to keeping the classroom and our office free from all of the complications of our private lives. We knew that we had to spend 40 hours a week in that space and so we decided to keep it a kind and loving space. Of course it was difficult sometimes, but having the commitment to stay positive and keep things simple, completely affected our approach on a daily basis. As a bonus, I think students benefited a great deal because they knew what to expect from us, and our consistent, optimistic approach to their studies.


2. The Connections Rule – I continually try to connect with students because I believe it can have a positive influence on their learning:

  • They try harder when they feel a connection to the subject, the teacher or classmates.
  • The more I connect and get to know them, the better I can understand them and tailor my approach to their specific needs.
  • The more emotionally connected I feel to a class, the more satisfaction I get from teaching them.
  • When I open up and share parts of my daily challenges as a teacher, they gain trust and begin to share as well.

The power of emotional connections has clearly been documented in a great number of fields. Here, for example, is a great little graph showing the difference between satisfied shoppers and emotionally connected shoppers.


3. The Expectations Rule – I always try to be clear, realistic and positive about my expectations for any group of learners, while at the same time trying to develop individualized expectations for as many students as appear to need a special set of expectations.  For some students, targets well beyond the class goals are appropriately challenging, while for others, just getting to class on time and having their study tools ready (notebook, text and pencil case) is an excellent expectation to begin with.

Of course, the main point is for students to know that you expect them to improve, and that you will do your part to help them succeed; now – how that manifests itself can be in any number of different ways, but if learners feel pressure from the teacher to perform well, and the teacher helps the learners to reach some form of success, then it becomes a win-win situation. Both the learner and the teacher can leave the class feeling good about themselves at the end of the course


4. The Riffing Rule – I wrote a full post on the idea of SLOW Moments. Check out this excerpt and read more if you’re interested:

These “spontaneous learning opportunity windows (SLOW)” are moments that I have grown to love and cherish. I define them as those serendipitous moments when everyone is suddenly focused on exactly the same thing. It may be triggered by a student’s comment, a joke, a mistaken answer, something from the textbook, or something the teacher has just said. At that moment, everyone’s brain has stopped and a small window has opened. If the teacher is ready, it is very easy at that moment to slide something through the window and

Finally, a rule that I usually keep to myself is that,

If I continue to try my best, it’ll all work out in the end.

If a lesson or an idea doesn’t work, I now know that I can make it better next time.

If I define and maintain my own basic principles of teaching, I will succeed.

As for the daily challenges and curves that come my way, I will just work them out day by day.

Connect with Nina, John, Marco, Steven, Alexandra,  James and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.


Breaking Rules – Steven

Rules I’ve Broken and How I Lived to Teach Another Day – Steven Herder

Steven Herder
TD Program Director

I’m reading two great books right now – The Courage to Teach (Palmer, 2007) and Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (Fink, 2003).

They are both major rule breakers in the sense that through their own research and personal experience, they have evolved beyond the regular assumptions of what it means to be a teacher. They have both created a new paradigm of sorts and based it on their own perception of teaching and learning. Palmer has an endless number of great quotes, for example,

“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (Parker Palmer, 2007, p. 10).

“Technique is what teachers use until the real teacher arrives” (Parker Palmer, 2007, p. 5).

Brilliant stuff. And there is so much more to be had in both these books!

So the good writers and the great teachers always inspire me to continue to believe in my instincts in the classroom – to trust my “spider sense” of what is good, what is working and when to tweak things in another direction. This tweaking is not random at all, but based on years of honing my skills at observing what’s actually happening in my classroom.

So, I wonder where these preconceived teaching rules come from? Could it be from all of my previous teachers from kindergarten onwards? Could I be carrying their baggage of assumptions and norms for teaching that they themselves picked up along the way? I’m sure that has had a major impact on many teachers including me. It’s funny, though, the teachers who were memorable were the ones who broke free from the mold, who, as Palmer says, evolved beyond technique, to create or empower their own identity as teachers.

Here are a few of the rules that I regularly break with glee and abandon:

1. Don’t let the students take control of the class.

2. Don’t postpone the start of the syllabus until the team is ready to study

3. Don’t tell students about your personal life.

4. Don’t go off on tangents during a lesson.

5. Don’t negotiate with students.

I’ll elaborate on any of these in the comments section if anyone asks. I would also love to hear which rules you break in your classes. This picture represents a whole new foray into breaking rules if anyone wants to know more…



 Connect with Steven and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development Courses.

Register for John F. Fanselow’s four-week More Breaking Rules Course with live sessions on June 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th. The course is only $49.95. The experience: priceless. All sessions will be recorded and the archives made available exclusively for registered participants.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.

Your support makes a difference.

Challenges in Teaching – Steven

Challenges for the 2013 school yearsteven

I always tell students that finding a good job means understanding themselves well enough to know what they need to be happy. If they like consistency, working alone, and detailed puzzles, then being an accountant might suit them very well. On the other hand, if they like interacting with young people, enjoy helping others to learn, and can deal with change – they might want to consider being a teacher. Since, at the very least students change somewhat every year. Beyond that, the teaching context can change, textbooks change, approaches change, group dynamics change, school policies change, and I change.

So, therein lies my own challenge – to try to accept all those ongoing changes while always trying to make the coming year my best year yet.

In the spirit of looking at one teacher’s life, here are 6 challenges that I’m thinking about right now and will have to begin addressing head on from April 1st:

1. A new job – I’m staying in the same department at my university, but I have taken on a new coordinator role with three new veteran teachers coming in fresh this year. My initial impressions are great, and I’m psyched to pass on what I can as well as learn from them. I need to always keep one eye on the big picture, while dealing with problems and situations that arise naturally every day. It’s not as much what I do, but how I do it that counts

2. A new team – It sure takes a lot of time being a coordinator. I have pledged to try to make my new colleagues entry into our department as smooth and as painless as possible. However, there is simply too much information to learn for anyone to be able to take a significant shortcut and completely avoid stress and mistakes. I keep telling myself that it all simply takes time, and that people always come first.

3. Balancing it all at work – Beyond coordinating, I have a full schedule including two new courses: an Extensive Reading Course, and a new Seminar Course with 3rd and 4th year students focusing on “Exploring Leadership”. I have to make sure to say “No” when I have to get looming work done. My old job was 80% teaching, and 20% getting things published. This new job is 33% teaching, 33% administration, and 33% getting things published.

4. Making time for family – My son and I noticed that we don’t see much of each other recently. He’s 11 and studying hard at juku (night school). So we have talked about making time to do some new hobbies together. First, we built a model plane together and both hated it. Next we’re trying stargazing with this great iPhone app called SkyView. My daughter wants to do things together on the weekends, like bicycle rides, gardening and baking. It’s an ongoing challenge for teachers who have young kids…

5. Improving on last year – Since I began teaching, I’ve always made 2 pacts with myself, saying firstly, “It’s OK if the lesson, the idea, the project, or an interaction with a student does not turn out perfectly, as long as I think about how to make it better the next time” and secondly, “When I stop worrying about always improving my teaching, then it is time to quit teaching and go look for a new challenge.

6. My Achilles heels – We all have our natural strengths and weaknesses as teachers. Of course, I try to focus on my strengths and avoid letting my weaknesses cause problems for my students or me. However, it is a constant challenge for me to NOT start too many new ideas; to challenge the upper level students as much as I naturally support the lower level students; to spend as much time as necessary to form an overall plan and spend even more time paying attention to the details that changes good work into excellent work. And finally, to find the elusive balance in life that when in sync makes teaching the most rewarding vocation in the world.

What are some of your challenges as a teacher?