A Proper Thank You Note

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Education, Education Policy, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Professional Development

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Dear Dr. Pedicone and the Tucson Unified School Board Members:

Our district deserves hearty thanks for the support they gave me and 38 other people last year in our pursuit of National Board Certification. The district has been through rough times politically and financially in the past few years, and takes hit after hit on the opinion pages of the newspaper. I think it is really important to highlight how the support you gave us last year has led to success for us as teachers, and success for our students. I’m sharing this on my blog, because I believe what TUSD has accomplished might be used as a template for other schools.

Here is a list of the material support I and others received from you. All candidates in the district received the opportunity for this support as long as they met criteria:

1. A district National Board Mentor. Julie Torres is highly trained to coach teachers, and is a leader who trains and plans with the other Candidate Support Providers in the district (CSP’s are NBCT’s who are trained to help candidates through the process.) Julie visited my classroom, provided moral support, technical support and effective advocacy in the district to help communicate what we were accomplishing and the resources we needed. She also ran all the evening meetings and planned our work days in the district.

2. Evening Coaching Meetings with CSP’s. These meetings were designed to respond to our needs and provide essential tools, information, reminders and morale boosts as we found our way.

3. Work Days. We each had three or four work days where we were released from duty, given substitutes and allowed to go spend the entire day working with a coach or independently. This time was essential. It was hard to miss the time in the classroom, but I accomplished a lot on these days.

4. Stipend. We received a stipend which, after taxes, covered the cost of all of the Arizona K12 Coaching Saturdays, weekend work retreats, and the preparation workshop for taking the exam, as well as the cost of a flip video camera for filming our teaching. These tools were highly beneficial.

5. Coaches at our Disposal. Our CSP’s were not just available during meetings, but offered their services outside of the structured times together. My CSP Mary Stevenson met me for a long, angsty conversation over coffee after reading 27 pages of my rambling about one student. I had to reduce it to 5 pages and wasn’t sure how to go about it. Then we connected on Googledocs, and hours and hours and hours later, the rest is history. I gave her multiple drafts of every entry, I think. Her feedback and ongoing support made my success possible. The hours the CSP’s spend giving feedback stretch their stipends out to a slight token of an hourly wage.

6. Building Level Support. Within our school, when I asked for extra student aides because I knew I would have to do filming, or when I asked technical help with software for the flip camera, people came to my aid because they knew I needed those things for my NBC process.

The level of support pleasantly surprised me. With all the austerity of the past several years, I didn’t expect to have release time or the stipend. However, they were essential, because what they did was basically buy time– time away from family obligations for weekends, time away from classroom duties for a whole day at a time. The depth of thinking and all the swirling mess of issues that come to mind as I wrote required large blocks of time, not a stolen 45 minutes here or an hour there in order to work. The work is too deep. Maybe I could have certified that way, but I had more authentic growth as a teacher because for once in my career, I was given time to think. And that was priceless.

And what made the time so useful was the amount of focus I was able to achieve because of the tools and reflection made possible by our coaches. Unlike early achievers of National Board Certification, I never felt alone. Because of your support, we had a cohort of colleagues who motivated each other to keep on going. Because of the coaches, we had ongoing feedback, cheerleading and critical thinking strategies that kept us from getting stuck, that kept the momentum going and the quality of work high.

I will never look at my students the same way. I have never so deeply felt the responsibility I have toward each and every one of them as individuals. I have never so clearly felt the successes and the obstacles to success for myself and my students. Through National Boards I have gained clarity about why I am here, about my strengths, and my areas of needed improvement.

And so, now, the question of the day is, what will you do with all of these certifiably amazing teachers at your disposal? How will you harvest our reflections to create change? How will you encourage us to share our expertise? How will you learn the solutions we can offer? When and where will be get the tap on the shoulder that lets us know that our potential leadership is welcome and needed? The National Board process has made us better at what we do; how will you use us to make schools better places for student success?

 

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years. My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM. In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me. I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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