Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column. “Congratulations! I am excited to tell you that you have successfully renewed your National Board Certification.”Opening that letter on a Saturday morning in October broughDec 09, 2016
Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.
“Congratulations! I am excited to tell you that you have successfully renewed your National Board Certification.”
Opening that letter on a Saturday morning in October brought back a flood of memories. It was the second time I had renewed my National Board Certificate and yet it carried the gravitas of the very first time.
In 1996, I was Arizona’s first teacher to achieve National Board Certification. Unlike Arizona teachers today, who pursue it with colleagues and friends, I did it by myself; not to be noble, but because there was no one else willing or able to do it at the time. I remember evaluating the National Board’s core propositions and standards thinking, “I do this, I do that … I should be doing that.” I remember reading them and thinking, “This is the teacher I want to be.”
I originally pursued National Board Certification because I was tired of hearing how bad Arizona’s teachers were. It flabbergasted me, because as I looked across the hall and throughout my school, I saw great teachers. I thought National Board Certification could be the one thing that might raise that status of the teaching profession and the narrative that surrounds it.
Pursuing National Board Certification was the most challenging thing I have ever done. The challenge came from the analysis and reflection of my practice against a set of rigorous standards. Finding evidence of these standards, as it pertains to the architecture of accomplished teaching, is daunting. I realized, that while I had achieved much, there was still much for me to learn. It was uncomfortable watching videos of me teaching. Everything — from the way I looked over my glasses, posed questions, and engaged with students — was up for review. But at the same time, I also saw great moments of student discourse, engagement, and most importantly, learning.
There is a story I often tell teachers as they seek National Board Certification. When I returned to the classroom after taking the final component of the process, the exam, my students anxiously quizzed me about how well I did. In full disclosure, that test was the hardest thing I had ever taken and I really did not think I did well. In fact, I was convinced I would not be calling myself a Board-certified teacher anytime soon. One student in my classroom was relentless; he wanted to know how well I did. I was embarrassed because I truly thought I had failed the exam and there was no way I wanted to admit that to a room full of fifth-graders.
But, he would not give up. I can recall the dialogue like it was yesterday:
“You are not answering my question. How well did you do?”
“I won’t know for a while, but I do not think I did very well.”
“Well, you passed it, didn’t you?”
I paused and said, “No, I don’t think I passed.”
At that moment, a quiet came over my classroom. I said out loud what I had been feeling all along. I was embarrassed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this young man’s hand go up again and all I could think was, What now … What more could you want to know?
“Yes, Sean, you have another question?”
“Yes, I do. Did you do your best?”
I stood there in front of the entire class and thought about it for a minute and said, “Yes, I did my best.”
“Well, then, that is all that matters. That is what you tell us every day,” he stated, ever so plainly.
On Dec. 3, 1996, I found out I was Arizona’s first National Board Certified Teacher. While I might be hard pressed to tell you what I did yesterday, I vividly remember that day. I often think about the “did I do my best?” moment. More importantly, what does my best look like in front of students and their families?
Achieving National Board Certification has come to define me as a person and as a professional. While I set out to prove a point, going through the process, I saw my practice change. The standards gave me a language to articulate my craft. It reenergized me and my commitment to my profession. More importantly, it affirmed my dedication to the students in my classroom and school.
Twenty years have passed since that day. It has been a while since I could legitimately call myself a teacher, but every 10 years I am back in a classroom to demonstrate accomplished teaching. Why do I do this? Because being a Board-certified teacher has come to define me as a professional. It is a label I proudly wear. Like doctors and lawyers, teachers have specialties. We have a body of knowledge that includes a set of high and rigorous standards that guide our practice.
Since that time, I have worked with thousands of Arizona’s educators who have also set out to become Board-certified. I watch them talk about their craft, as they sit around a computer screen watching videos of their practice or examining student work. Some achieve the goal, others do not. Regardless of the outcome, I guarantee you their practice improves.
There is no higher standard for effective teaching than being a National Board Certified Teacher. The pursuit is an experience I wish for every teacher and student. And, while that might be a lofty goal, it is one worth pursuing.
While I remain in education, I am no longer a classroom teacher, but I believe the most important work in my field happens in the 900 square feet we call a classroom. If you don’t have the privilege to do that important work, you support that important work. That is what I do. And why do I do it? My commitment to this great state and knowing its prosperity and future lies in our children. They and their teachers deserve our best.