Arizona K12 Center Executive Director Dr. Kathy Wiebke offers her education insights in this monthly column.

Dec 16, 2019

December 2, 1996, was the day I found out I was Arizona’s first National Board Certified Teacher. I vividly remember where I was standing (outside the cafeteria) and what I was doing (taking my kids to lunch) when I first got the news. I had sent a student to the office to pick something up and she came back with that item plus a FedEx envelope. She said she found the envelope on the counter and saw that it was addressed to me, so picked it up. I looked at the package’s return address: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. I quickly realized these were the scores to my portfolio I submitted six months prior.

“This envelope was just sitting on the counter and you picked it up? No one stopped you?” I remember asking her. She quickly became annoyed with me and said, “Yes. Do you want it or not?”

She had no idea the significance of the envelope nor could I understand why something so significant was just sitting on a counter for anyone to pick up. I don’t know how I expected to learn my National Board scores, but this was not it.

I stood there holding my lunch and a FedEx envelope, hundreds of kids rushing by me to go to lunch and then recess. I didn’t know what to do. I was unprepared to see the scores. I knew my practice had improved, but felt the odds of me becoming certified were a longshot. I didn’t want whatever was in the envelope to diminish the gains I had made. So, there I stood, paralyzed in fear.

I peered into the nearby classroom of a friend. No kids! Fantastic. I entered her room and told her I received my scores but couldn’t open the envelope. Could she do it for me? I handed the envelope to her.

“It says you didn’t make it,” she replied. “What were you thinking?”

“Really?” I responded, immediately distraught.

“Are you kidding me? Of course, not,” she said. “You are a National Board Certified Teacher.”

That moment was over 20 years ago and, yet, it remains vivid in my memory.

I remember the rest of the day being a blur. Still carrying my uneaten lunch, I went to share the news with my principal who insisted I call the superintendent.

I remember wandering the halls in a daze with my uneaten lunch and the FedEx envelope. I asked my friend if she would bring my kids in from lunch, that I had something I needed to do. I remember going to my desk, taking out my sandwich, and just staring at the letter in that moment of peace. I kept staring at it, reading it, then reading it again. I was a National Board Certified Teacher, Arizona’s first National Board Certified Teacher.

In full disclosure, the moments after lunch, with my room of 30 raucous fifth graders, were nothing even remotely close to accomplished teaching. In fact, I remember giving my class “free time” – play a board game, read a book, get a jump start on your homework. While this was going on, I got out my calculator and started to really examine those scores. After a bit of time had passed, I looked to my right, and there stood the superintendent of the third largest school district in Arizona. I was stunned and embarrassed. There was absolutely zero instruction going on, and who knows how long he had been there. I quickly got up and apologized.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” he said. “Do you know what you have done? What you have accomplished? I wanted to be one of the first to congratulate you so I came over here right when I heard the news.” He was incredibly kind.

Being the first at something shines a bright light on the achievement. By the end of the week, my classroom was filled with flowers. Every table of students had a floral arrangement on it, each with a note of congratulations. At one point, a student remarked, “It looks like someone died.”

Since then, I have been committed to shining a light on teachers throughout Arizona and encouraging them to follow that same path. Through the process, I changed many things about my teaching practice. Was I perfect? Far from it. But, I was transformed into a far more reflective and analytical practitioner. In essence, it raised my game. It also gave me license to speak with a new kind of authority.

As teachers, we often comment that we are not treated like professionals. There is much truth in that statement. I have always viewed the pursuit of National Board Certification as one way to “professionalize the profession.” You have entry level requirements when you get licensed to teach in the state. After three years of teaching, you then have the opportunity to seek an advanced credential that demonstrates accomplished teaching. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is truly empowering.

Last year, the Arizona State Legislature, under the leadership of Governor Doug Ducey, provided funding for 200 teachers to seek National Board Certification through the Arizona Teachers Academy. The catch? Each needs to agree to stay teaching in Arizona. To date, we have doubled the number of teachers seeking National Board Certification here in our state. We are building a cadre of accomplished teachers. In essence, we are building a profession one teacher at a time. Who are the beneficiaries? Our students and – dare I say – the entire state. Every investment we make in our teachers and students is an investment we make in our communities and state as a whole.

I have been out of the classroom since 2001 and, yet, I have renewed my National Board Certificate twice, each time “borrowing” a classroom to demonstrate I still have some game. Why do I do it? Because being a National Board Certified Teacher has come to define who I am as a teacher. It has come to define my values. It has come to define my commitment to this state and the children and families we all serve. It has come to define me.

Learn more and join me on this journey.

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