Alexis LaDuca and Lissa Borchers join the ranks of Arizona’s growing number of National Board Certified Teachers. As teachers, our passion for a lifetime of learning is matched only by our love for our students. Professional development and forever pledging to grow in our professions makes us who w

Jan 25, 2018

Alexis LaDuca and Lissa Borchers join the ranks of Arizona’s growing number of National Board Certified Teachers.

As teachers, our passion for a lifetime of learning is matched only by our love for our students. Professional development and forever pledging to grow in our professions makes us who we are. When teachers pursue National Board Certification, they are walking an awe-inspiring path toward that commitment.

In January 2018, more than 5,400 teachers joined the ranks of National Board Certified teachers, increasing the national total to over 118,000. We sat down with two of the newest members — Glendale-based high school English teachers Lissa Borchers and Alexis LaDuca — to get the scoop on what it takes to become a National Board Certified Teacher.

“It was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my professional life,” LaDuca says, as she took a seat at one of the student desks in her classroom. “And it was absolutely also the best thing I’ve ever, ever done.”

Making the Jump — With a Friend in Tow

LaDuca, now in her 22nd year of teaching, was torn between pursuing a doctorate and becoming an NBCT. She reached out to a cherished former student, Misha Freeman, who convinced her to go for it.

“She grew up to be a teacher and got National Board Certified. She also works with the Arizona K12 Center and started posting about the National Board,” LaDuca says. “She totally inspired me to do it, and she helped me through the journey. It was fun for our story to come full circle and have her be the one supporting me.”

Once she’d decided to go for it, LaDuca put feelers out for colleagues to join her and reached fellow Mountain Ridge High School teacher Borchers.

“I had this idea that I was interested in National Board Certification. I was searching for some sort of new challenge in teaching, feeling stagnant from doing the same thing on repeat,” Borchers says, scooting in next to LaDuca. “I wanted a new way to go about developing my practice. When Alexis asked me, I was in.”

The two friends jumped in, working feverishly for the two years it took them to complete the four components: Content Knowledge, Differentiation in Instruction, Teaching Practice and Learning Environment, and Effective and Reflective Practitioner. Both teachers are emphatic that it was the right decision.

“Every step of the way, no matter what you are doing, it is 100 percent reflective, and you are improving every day, immediately seeing it in your classroom,” LaDuca says.

After submitting the first components and receiving scores for those, both Borchers and LaDuca knew a lot more about what strategies worked best for them individually during their separate-but-together journeys.

“The second year, I needed a new plan,” says Borchers, a North Canyon High School graduate. “I approached component four completely different than two and three. With component four, I was much more methodical about it. Much more strategic. I scored better on that component after changing my approach.”

“You can’t have an ego,” LaDuca learned. “You have to be really open and receptive to the whole process.”

Equal to each other, both teachers point to the Arizona K12 Center as the support system that made their certification possible. “I definitely wouldn’t be successful without two things — the Arizona K12 Center and Alexis,” Borchers says. “The support through the Center is fantastic. It’s phenomenal.”

In recent years, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has made their certification process more affordable and streamlined. In other words: there has never been a better time to take the plunge. Still, for many people thinking about applying, the process seems daunting — and there’s reason for that. The intensive process takes immense dedication.

LaDuca so often worked late in her classroom that her building’s maintenance worker worried for her. When she found out LaDuca’s reason for working into the night, she became one of her biggest cheerleaders, praying for her and hugging her when she submitted components.

For Borchers, “There were tears.” She found herself getting stuck and having a difficult time regrouping. “I’d have a realization that everything that I thought was going well wasn’t,” she says.

Because Borchers and LaDuca, who have taught at Mountain Ridge together for 15 years, often spent time working with one another, they found a natural, deep camaraderie. Simple enough, they had each other’s backs when the road got bumpy. “Alexis would just look at me and be like, ‘You’re going to be fine.’ She’d go on walks with me or let me cry and talk it through.”

LaDuca says her greatest struggle came from self-doubt. “I would be really unsure of myself, scrapping dozens of pages right before a due date and starting from scratch.” The Prescott High School graduate says she turned to her principal for help working on her negative self-talk.

Was It Worth It?

Both teachers cannot say yes enough. “No matter how hard it was, it was completely positive,” LaDuca confirms.

Borchers nods emphatically. “Completely, totally worth it all.”

The journey to becoming Board-certified changed the teaching game for LaDuca and Borchers. “Even after as many years as I have been teaching, it definitely impacted my instruction,” LaDuca says. “It gave me new avenues to reflect upon. It made me think about why I do what I do, even when it comes naturally.”

What’s one of the biggest perks of the certification process? LaDuca says she grew as an intentional educator.

“I’m more thoughtful,” LaDuca declares. “The way the national standards are broken up, there are 12 — where there’s only four in Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards. That forced me to think about fairness, equity, and diversity, as well as advocacy. It’s always looking at the full picture.”

For Borchers, that big picture is something she now purposefully communicates directly to her students. “I explain a lot why we’re doing what we’re doing in class,” says Borchers. “I think I did that before, but I’m even more intentional with it now after the work I did to become certified.”

For example, her students have a clear understanding of why they are where they are — and where they are headed. “I take time out to explain it,” she emphasizes. She says she plans with two other same-level teachers, and helps them explain the reasoning to their students, too.

The hardest part of all? The long six-month wait to receive their scores. “It was amazing to have so many people invested. My kids asked about it constantly — they were so into it,” LaDuca says. “Your kids have been part of the whole process. They see how hard you are working on something to be better for them.”

Finally, the English teachers were notified at last that they had earned their certifications — and there were countless hugs and happy tears.

What Comes Next?

Borchers and LaDuca are gearing up to help future NBCTs, training to become coaches for teachers going through certification. “The idea of giving back is really exciting,” LaDuca says. “So many teachers sat with us at those coaching Saturdays at the Arizona K12 Center. I’m so looking forward to it.”

Borchers is on the same page. “Being able to spend time giving back is really important. It’s an opportunity I wouldn’t have without being a National Board Certified Teacher. The idea that I can help grow other teachers and help them in a really reflective and honest process like I was helped gives me another facet as a teacher.”

The twosome has also spent time brainstorming with other NBCTs in their home Deer Valley Unified School District on how to gather more candidates. “We want it to be more present in our district,” LaDuca says.

Am I Ready?

The journey toward National Board Certification elevates your profession, providing immense classroom growth and leadership opportunities. “No matter what, it’s going to improve your instruction. You will become more reflective and grow,” Borchers explains.

LaDuca describes the process as an individual journey for each educator. “It is the most challenging, the most inspiring, the most difficult thing I have ever done in my professional career, and I would hands down do it over and over again.”

Ready to join the ranks of NBCTs in Arizona? Learn more about the process here.

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