In Seth Godin’s latest blog, he asks,

Is there anything worse we can say about you and your work? “You are unprepared.”

Well yes. The worst thing I think anyone could say to me about my work is that I’m incompetent.



having suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, experience, etc., for some purpose; properly qualified:

Well, given that  am properly qualified, one should assume that I am competent. I also have considerable skill, knowledge and experience.

And yet, there are times, when I don’t feel competent. There is  that one student, or that one concept, or that one issue that I can’t seem to succeed with. I start to doubt my self, lose confidence and wonder if I’m really cut out for this work.

But those feelings are deceptive. There is a difference between feeling competent and being competent. It seems human nature to focus on the negatives, to pay attention to our fears and doubts, our inadequacies rather than our strengths. To view those times when we either don’t succeed, or doubt we will succeed as hard evidence of our inability.

We need to remind ourselves of our strengths: the indisputable fact that we are, in fact, suitably qualified and bring knowledge and expertise to our roles; the many times in which we have succeeded, our capacity to problem solve and to acquire the knowledge and skills to face fresh challenges, to draw upon our networks for support.

Trust Yourself

We are teachers. We are learners. We are more than competent.

UPDATE 4/1/14 :  An article by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post appeared in my Twitter stream today: Are you a Truly Bad Teacher? Here’s How To Tell. It’s worth checking out. 


10 thoughts on “Incompetent

  1. Great thoughts, Corinne. We do need to trust ourselves more, but it can be hard in the face of governments and even society that is constantly heckling our profession. While the teaching standards are by no means perfect, they do allow us to show our critics that we do have industry standards that we are increasingly called on to abide by. I would like to see more power given to student voice, as I trust their judgement on my work absolutely, but at the core, we must believe in ourselves and the work we do.

    • Hi gripgirl17, thank you for commenting. I really like the point you make about student voice, and also the teaching standards. They not only allow us to show our critics that we are capable, I think they also help us to affirm that within ourselves.

  2. Perhaps this is a function of my inflated male ego, but I mostly assume that I am competent and that it is the situation that is untenable on those occasions when I struggle. My actual nightmares, however, do involve me being actually incompetent in a slightly difficult situation and this is No Fun at All.

    • Interesting, Mark. I wonder if there is a male/female dimension to this. I’m always wary of making statements like that, but I can’t help noticing that many of my male colleagues seem to have more belief in their abilities than many of my female colleagues.I wonder how much our cultural conditioning affects things.

  3. The one thing I’ve discovered in my time at a district level is that the teachers who doubt themselves are often the best. In my 20 years I have always agonised over my failures as a teacher and more recently as a leader. It what drives us to be better and improve. I have always feared being labelled as incompetent but perhaps it is this fear that has shaped my competence.

  4. Very interesting, Corinne. I’ve been teaching for more than twenty years and still feel self-doubt! You only need one ‘naughty’ student to challenge your confidence. I still recall my bottom year 8 class of boys, whose worse subject was English and my job was to keep them in their seats – a humble goal that wasn’t always successful! 🙂

  5. michelle hughes says:

    Corrinne,I love your blogs! This is a real help to me too, considering I am doing my prac this year and more than a bit nervous. Good to know even the experienced feel this way sometimes.

  6. During my NLP training we discussed the four stages of competency: 1. Unconsciously Incompetent (I don’t even realise I have no clues about what is going on); 2. Consciously Incompetent (I cannot learn until I realise I have room to grow and now I am aware I’m not good at something); 3. Consciously Competent (I’m aware that I am good at something and the process for being so) & 4. Unconsciously Competent (things just happen and I’m not aware of how or why). The odd thing about stage 4 is that although the capability is, or has now become innate and therefore easier to undertake, I can’t teach you what I do because I’m not aware of how I do it. So good teaching requires a Level 3 awareness to a Level 2 student. And sometimes good teaching requires bringing a student out of Level 4 to a Level 3 to then challenge them with a Level 2 activity; conversely, helping a student realise what an acceptable outcome is, brings them from Level 1 to a position of being aware of and hopefully open to, the possibility of moving from Level 2 to Level 3

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