I remember my alarm waking me up early on a Saturday in December. Realizing my kids were still asleep, I pressed snooze so I could steal a few extra minutes of rest before the breakfast cheerios and cartoon chaos began. Before I could doze off again, my phone received an email notification. It was score day for National Board Certification.
I hesitated to open the email and log into the scoring system. On one hand, I was confident that I provided clear and convincing evidence of strong teaching and growth as a professional. But on the other hand, what if the National Board didn’t agree and I didn’t pass? How would I tell my family? Do I have it in me to try for certification again? My journey to National Board Certification was like a Hero’s Journey plotline (Figure 1) used in popular movies like Star Wars1. With the aid of various mentors, I was able to navigate my National Board Certification journey with all of its highs and lows to transform into a stronger teacher than I had ever thought possible. In my next few blog posts, I hope to break down the National Board Certification process in Chemistry to help others in their own Hero’s Journey to National Board Certification.
National Board Certification is considered by some as the gold standard for professional certification in K-12 education. Updated in 2016, National Board Certification requires teachers to demonstrate expertise in five teacher-developed core propositions2 through subject area standards3. Board certified teachers provide clear, consistent, and convincing evidence of the five core propositions. They show they understand their students’ varied backgrounds to help them meet high expectations. They demonstrate subject area expertise and their ability to teach their content to diverse learners. They prove how they ensure academic growth by managing, monitoring, and adapting to student progress. They continually reflect on their craft and learn from their experiences. Finally, they provide evidence of how they are active members of learning communities. When applying for National Board Certification, candidates have up to three years to successfully complete four components that include an assessment and three portfolios analyzing classroom video clips, student work, and student assessment samples.
The Hero’s Journey starts with a call to adventure. I have been called to the adventure of National Board Certification several times. Many of my chemistry teacher friends that I respected and aspired to be like were National Board Certified and encouraged me to do the same. My state and school district offered yearly stipends and compensation for National Board Certification. While National Board Certification was on my teacher bucket-list, I could never pull the trigger and get started. I refused the call due to insecurities and fear of the time commitment with a young family at home. Fast forward a few years when my teaching license was about to expire. After weighing my options, National Board Certification was the most cost-effective route to renewing my teaching license at the time. So, while still nursing my third child, I decided to finally accept the call to adventure and start my National Board Certification journey.
Figure 1: The Hero’s Journey graphic 4
In the Star Wars movies, when Luke (the hero) is called to adventure, Obi-Wan Kenobi serves as his mentor, teaching him about the Force. As I embarked on my adventure, I found many mentors along the way. These mentors were invaluable and consisted of current National Board Certified Teachers and other National Board candidates like myself. The National Board works hard to take into account every teacher’s unique working environment and respects the art of teaching – there is not one “right way” to teach students. Mentors do not have the answers to National Board Certification, but they did provide priceless guidance, a sounding board, reassurance, and a critical eye to make sure my evidence was clear, convincing, and consistent. They helped bring out the best in me and helped me persevere through challenges. If you are considering National Board Certification please consider finding a mentor or another teacher to collaborate with during this process. Check with your local teacher’s union or educational agency to find a National Board cohort to work with.
Along the Hero’s Journey, there are many tests, challenges, and temptations. Luke faced many battles in the Star Wars movies, just as I did in the classroom. You can’t just “talk the talk” in your portfolio submissions, you have to “walk the walk.” Many times, I felt like I knocked a lesson out of the park, only to find out while reviewing the video footage or assessment data that I was far from successful. I really had to take an honest look at the reality of my teaching, not just my rosy perception I had of it. I had to take a hard look at my shortcomings. I sought out resources and advice from my mentors to help me improve and transform my teaching. Just as Luke was tempted by the Dark Side, there were many temptations that made it easy to stray from my journey. Time with family and friends were the hardest to say “no” to. To be honest, temptation also presented itself in the form of Netflix, watching my son’s soccer game outside in freezing rain, and cleaning toilets. Anything was better than typing up my portfolio entries. But eventually, it all got done.
Through all the hard-fought battles, I became a better teacher than I had ever imagined. This is what made National Board Certification the best professional development for me. Before the National Board Certification process, I felt that the student discourse in my classroom was very good. However, after analyzing the video footage I realized it was not the case. I unintentionally dictated and undermined organic student discourse. I worked hard to change this by establishing new classroom norms, modeling discussions, and re-training myself on how I respond to student discussions. This was not a quick fix. I tried many different methods over two months before I saw the results I wanted to see. This is just one example of many that occurred along my journey. The first English Channel swimmer Captain Matthew Webb said, “Nothing great is easy.” This quote certainly applies to National Board Certification. This journey helped me find success with students I had not found success with in the past. I am better able to meet the needs of my gifted students, give my students a voice, and create stronger community connections. The National Board website contains research5 on the effectiveness of National Board Certified Teachers in their classrooms. My personal experience aligns with their findings. I am definitely am more effective as a teacher now compared to before I started the National Board adventure.
Now we arrive at the part of the Hero’s Journey where the unknown becomes known. Did I achieve National Board Certification? On that fateful Saturday in December, I finally got up the courage to look at my National Board scores. It nearly took my breath away as I saw that I passed and was a National Board Certified Teacher. I woke up my husband to tell him the wonderful news. I don’t know who was more relieved to hear I passed – my husband or myself! I woke up my kids to tell them I passed. I spent the rest of the day giddy, spontaneously dancing, and calling up everyone I knew to share my accomplishment. It was all worth it.
Currently, I am in the “return home” part of the Hero’s Journey until I get called back to adventure when I need to renew my certification in five years. I am excited to see what new things I will learn about myself and my teaching as I go through the (much shorter) renewal process. But until then, I will continue improving my craft for my students. For those of you that are interested in starting your own Hero’s Journey to National Board Certification in Chemistry, I will be breaking down each of the four components to National Board Certification in my next few posts.
1. Hero’s Journey https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey (accessed 4/1/2019)
2. National Board Publication: What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do (accessed 4/1/2019)
3. National Board Certification Science Standards (accessed 4/1/2019)
4. Esbjorn Jorsater [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] (accessed 4/1/2019)