My path to National Board Certification has been circuitous, as I did not begin my teaching career until I was 43 years old. When I was young and in college, I was uncertain what I wanted to do in my life, but I knew that I did NOT want to become a teacher. I came from a long line of educators, and I was certain that was definitely not the path for me. I married, supported my husband while he earned a law degree, then focused on raising our three young daughters. When they all entered school, I became a substitute teacher in order to work in their schools and supplement our income. During that time, I sometimes worked as a substitute for a middle school P.E. teacher (who had taught school for at least thirty years). Over her desk, handwritten in green marker on an index card, was a note to herself reminding her of her importance in her students’ lives. The note read: “You may be the most important person your students see today, and it may have nothing at all to do with your subject matter.” It was not until I was actually in the classroom that I began to feel that teaching was what I was meant to do, and that – like that P.E. teacher – I could make a difference for students.
I went back to school, earned a graduate degree and teacher certification, and began teaching at the middle school level. I threw all my energies into becoming the best teacher for my students and sought every opportunity for professional development. In 10 years, I earned additional endorsements in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL), Computer Literacy, and Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). After having taught middle school English for seven years, I had become rather complacent in my teaching. To challenge myself, I moved down to the elementary level and began teaching all content areas. Three years later, I felt solid in the curriculum I was teaching and began looking for other ways to stretch myself as an educator. It was then that I became interested in pursuing National Board Certification.
Earlier in my career, I had very briefly explored National Board Certification and had been told by my administrator that “it is really expensive and not really worth it.” I know now that she could not have been more wrong. Is National Board Certification expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
National Board Certification has been the most meaningful – and the most difficult – professional development in my career, because it was about what I do as a teacher, why I do it, and for whom I do it. The certification process forced me to reflect on and analyze everything that I did in my classroom. How well did I really know my students and their families? What was I teaching? Why was I teaching it? Were students learning? How could I know that for sure? Was I really an accomplished teacher?
The Five Core Propositions and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching became my constant guide as I worked – and struggled – through each of the four components. I was fortunate to have two close colleagues working through the certification process with me. If there is one piece of advice I would give to new candidates, it would be this – do not try to go through the National Board Certification process alone. We joined a cohort that guided us through the logistics of the certification process. As candidates, we shared ideas, successes, and struggles. We supported each other through the difficult moments when we thought we just could not muster the time, energy, or resources to complete the components. When it came time to see if we had certified, we celebrated that two of us had achieved certification, and we rallied around the third candidate whose certification process will continue into next year.
Achieving National Board Certification means so much to me because it is something that I chose to do in order to become a better teacher. I believe that teachers can make a difference in the lives of children. If I did not believe that, I would probably seek a higher-paying, less demanding job elsewhere. I believe that my job as a teacher is not only to teach students content, but to have a positive impact on their lives. Even if a student goes home to dysfunction, they should always know that – when they enter my classroom – they are in a safe and supportive learning environment. No matter how awful my day has been, I must always remember what was written on that index card over that P.E. teacher’s desk: “You may be the most important person your students see today, and it may have nothing at all to do with your subject matter.” Marilyn E. Gootman, in her book The Caring Teacher’s Guide to Discipline (2001), cited research that found that high-risk children who become resilient adults had at least one person in their early years who accepted them unconditionally. Becoming a National Board Certified Teacher has helped me become that person for my students.