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Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column. In 1996, I was Arizona’s first National Board Certified Teacher. I witnessed first-hand the impact it had on my practice, my students, and the school community. It elevated

Jan 19, 2018

Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.


In 1996, I was Arizona’s first National Board Certified Teacher. I witnessed first-hand the impact it had on my practice, my students, and the school community. It elevated the conversations around me and provided me a language to articulate my practice as well as the learning in my classroom. I saw everything around me with a new lens. Since that time, I have worked with teachers from across Arizona supporting them as they make the same journey. I have done it because I want that same experience and impact for teachers throughout the state but most importantly I want their students to have access to an accomplished teacher who has put their practice up for review.

As a result, every year, usually in November or December, I have the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning … anticipating the score release and the achievement of Arizona’s newest National Board Certified Teachers.

CertificationBalloon Day IG

This year has 167 new National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). Along with them, there are 53 NBCTs who renewed their certificate. As a result, Arizona is now home to 1,376 NBCTs! You can find these teachers in some of the most rural parts of Arizona —Topock, Tuba City, and Blue Ridge — to the most urban communities of Phoenix and Tucson. We have NBCTs working in Title I and BIE schools. They are teachers, coaches, mentors, principals, assistant principals, and district office administrators. They are recognized as the Arizona Teacher of the Year, Ambassadors for Excellence, Arizona Art Teacher of the Year, and Presidential Award Winners. They are some of Arizona’s best teachers and teacher leaders.

For a state that is the bottom of almost every education metric, it is exciting to know that we are 18th in the nation for the total number of NBCTs and ninth in the nation for new NBCTs. While these numbers tell a powerful story, they are just numbers and the stories behind them are what impact our students.

As I reflect back to 1995 upon my return from taking the portion of the process that tests content knowledge, my students were anxious to learn how I did. What I wasn’t eager to share is that I didn’t think I did well and would not be calling myself a Board-certified teacher anytime soon. I was firmly convinced that I had not done well on the test portion.

Not anxious to admit my perceived failings, I returned to my class anxious to get back to the business at hand: teaching. My students had a different idea and peppered the start of the school day with all kinds of questions about how well I did. I did my best to ignore the questions and refocus my students on the day’s math lesson. My students were relentless, and one student finally said, “You’re not answering our questions, how well did you do?”

I could see that they were not going to give up and ignoring them wasn’t an option. I thought about it and finally replied, “I don’t think I did very well.” A hush fell across a room that was not normally quiet. I think my students were stunned to learn that their teacher was not successful at something. Finally, this same student raised his hand. I didn’t know what more they could want from me. Looking at this flailing hand in the air and the look on his face, I relented, “Yes, Sean, what’s your question?”

“Well, you passed it, didn’t you?” I looked at him, fighting back the tears, and decided to fess up. “Well, no, I do not think I passed.”

His hand shot up again. I wondered what more could he possibly want to know? I bared my soul. To admit to a class of 10- and 11-year-old students your shortcomings was humiliating and embarrassing. Exasperated, I said, “You have another question?”

“Yes, one more. Did you do your best?”

I was stunned and stood there motionless. I took a minute to think about my response. “Yes, Sean, I did my best. Given the amount of time I had, I did my best.”

With no hand raised, he continued and responded very matter of factly, “Well then, that is all that matters. That is what you tell us every day.”

I remember this moment as if it were yesterday. I remember thinking, well, that’s for you, not me.” But at the same time, it is truly what I believed. In that moment, my students reminded me of one of life’s most valuable lessons: to simply do your best. I remember thinking that if my fifth graders were to walk away from this year with that lesson deep in their own personal belief system, life will be good to them.

For me, this is what the pursuit of National Board Certification is about. To simply do your best. To strive for excellence and do your best.

The pursuit and attainment of National Board Certification changed me forever. The experience is something I want for all teachers.

While policy makers are lowering the bar to enter this profession I revere, I want to raise it.

Our students deserve our best.

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