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ASL Instructor Impostor Syndrome

Do you belong in front of an ASL class or are you an imposter?


Definition: “impostor syndrome”
The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills. (Source: Lexico)

There is a difference between “impostor syndrome” versus being legitimately and appropriately aware of one’s shortcomings as an instructor.

How can an ASL instructor know if they are experiencing “impostor syndrome” or if instead they are an actual impostor experiencing the pangs of insufficiency or the righteous guilt of having taken a job that perhaps should have gone to someone else?

Let us consider the case of a “young lady” who has been deaf from early childhood and is now teaching college but experiencing “impostor syndrome.”

There a number of questions or considerations that can be considered such as:

1. Deaf from birth often doesn’t mean “signing from birth”

2. Deaf from birth often doesn’t mean growing up in the Deaf Community.

3. Being a language user doesn’t qualify you to be a language teacher. Signing and teaching are two different skills.

4. It is rather common for unqualified Deaf people (with little or no experience in teaching and with no pedagogical training) to be hired to teach college level ASL classes.

5. An untrained Deaf ASL signer in front of a college ASL class is about as appropriate as picking some random Hearing person off the street and asking them to teach a college English class. Just because the Hearing person grew up speaking (some version) of English doesn’t mean they know how to effectively teach and discuss English.

So, yes, it is quite possible that a “Deaf from birth” individual can be an imposter playing the role of a “qualified” college-level ASL instructor.

If that “young lady” grew up in a Hearing non-or-barely signing household – then being Deaf from birth isn’t necessarily even a qualifying factor. If she learned to sign in her teens from someone who signed pidgin or Signed English -- her signing “ability” would not be a qualifying factor either.

How can ASL instructors avoid the “impostor syndrome?” Below are a few qualifications to consider. While it is possible to be a wonderful teacher without having all of these accomplishments--the more qualifications you legitimately hold -- the less inclined you will be to feel like an impostor.

1. Have several thousand hours of signing experience prior to stepping into an ASL classroom. Around 4,000 hours would along the lines of a very dedicated ASL learner who has gone through 4 years of an immersion-style ASL program, chose to turn off their voice every chance possible (including during “hallway” discussions and interactions with other students), attended several Deaf events per week and actively signed with a variety of adult native Deaf signers, watched dozens of ASL videos per week, and kept all that up for four years (including during the summers). A preferable number of hours of experience would be 10,000 (which would be on the level of living “in” the Deaf community for many years – using ASL as your primary mode of interactive communication.

2. A degree in Deaf Studies or a related field -- including courses in Deaf Culture, Deaf History, and ASL linguistics.

3. A significant amount of coursework in “teacher education”-related courses.

4. Experience having attended, visited, observed, or served as a “teaching assistant” for a “significant” number of other instructors’ ASL classes.

5. Hold ASLTA certification or similar credentials.

6. Read dozens of books on ASL and have become “very” familiar with ASL terminology.

7. Review and/or teach from several different ASL curricula so as to have become familiar with a variety of views and opinions from (so called) experts as to what the (so called) right sign(s) are for various concepts.

8. Review and or analyze several old ASL dictionaries (and/or have spent many hours talking to older Deaf signers) so as to have developed a deep repertoire (mental bank) of sign versions and an understanding of how various signs have developed over time.

9. Have or develop a personal library of ASL material (including various textbooks and dictionaries) and also have bookmarked a number of Deaf-sponsored online ASL dictionaries that you can reference for additional insight regarding various sign versions.

10. Develop and maintain mutually supportive relationships with a variety of currently socially active native Deaf adult signers with whom you can discuss signing trends and emerging new signs.

If you find that you are missing more than a few of the above characteristics or accomplishments then perhaps you are indeed an impostor and not merely suffering from a syndrome.

On the other “hand” -- there are many ASL teachers who started out as impostors but stayed in the profession long enough and worked hard enough to become legit, wonderful ASL teachers.
If that is you then you then give yourself a break.  You are not an impostor. You got your credentials from the school of hard knocks.





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