Why I Chose to Maintain my National Board Certification During a Pandemic

Amethyst Hinton Sainz National Board Certification

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I try to remember to look at the small pupil of the laptop camera instead of the grid of faceless names before me as I smile, wave and say hello. I am collaborating with a colleague to teach Hamlet to remote seniors as I work on maintaining my National Board certificate in English Language Arts. It’s going to be a heavy lift, helping these students develop comfort having quality virtual discussions to improve their reading comprehension and literary analysis. And at some point they will need to turn on their cameras. I wonder to myself whether maybe I should have chosen an in-person classroom to work with, but then I look at the orderly front-facing rows in my own classroom and I know that the challenges would remain largely the same. Also, I have not really had to “teach” in WebEx sessions much this year in my role as an interventionist, and to be honest I am excited to develop those remote teaching chops I see in my colleagues. 

But why did I choose to pursue my Maintenance of Certificate this year at all? I could have waited until next year, in the hope that we would all be back on campus, and back to “normal.” Many fellow NBCT MOC candidates are distressed about how they are going to video their model lessons in a virtual environment, or how they will show student collaboration, or any number of other modes of teaching and learning that we have grappled with reinventing this year, or even put on hold. The most challenging of school years, this seems like a crazy time to challenge myself even more. 

However, here are the biggest reasons I am pursuing my MOC this year:

Reason Number One: My colleagues.  Becoming an NBCT, at least in Arizona, working with the Arizona K12 Center, you develop both formal and informal networks of colleagues who went through that process with you. When I certified, we had to complete all four components of the portfolio in one year, and so the people who went through that process, from our pre-candidacy class up through final portfolio submission, came to know and rely on one another. It happens that several of those teachers decided to work on Maintenance of Certificate this year. They reasoned that if we started now and didn’t finish successfully, we would have an additional year to try again. Considering the pandemic-world in which we are teaching, this seems sensible. However, I had planned on waiting a year. I had started a new job, and am not even teaching English. But then I discovered the number of teachers in my district who are working on MOC this year. We’ve worked together forming a local NBCT network, and now we can support one another through the MOC process. This is appealing enough to make me find a way.

Reason Number Two: Professional Learning. Maintenance of Certificate focuses on two Professional Growth Experiences. The teacher identifies these based on professional learning that has a strong positive impact on student learning, and has become a core part of the way they teach. If this last year has not been about professional growth, I don’t know what is. I found myself reflecting on which professional learning and core teaching practices over the past ten years have found their way into my pandemic teaching. Several examples came to mind, and they certainly provide plenty of evidence of growth and impact on student learning. Collaboration, advocacy, use of technology, reading comprehension strategies, social-emotional learning, student engagement strategies… these have all been challenged and transformed (or relied-upon), and every teacher I know has relevant reflections on their practice that will echo throughout their teaching into the future. 

Reason Number Three: The students. If there was ever a year to challenge ourselves to do the best we can by students, this is it. As I watch and listen to students I barely know explain on Flipgrid videos how they know when they are doing the right thing, and as I read their helpful comments in my first survey to them, I think about their schooling experience this year, and the educational experiences they will be faced with in the future. Many of those will also be in virtual environments. If my collaborating teacher and I can figure out how to engage students in discussion of Hamlet’s grief, if we can get them to use some textual evidence, and think aloud on camera; if we can get them to respond thoughtfully on camera to another’s efforts to understand the play, then we are equipping them in more ways than one. Many of these students have been striving or struggling in silos throughout much of the year, and hopefully we can create some connections before our time is up with them. This thought motivates me. 

But it really comes back to my colleagues. Every teacher I know is learning, growing and trying to reach students this year. Having the support of like-minded professionals around me, and the challenge of maintaining my certificate to structure my efforts, helps me focus on the work of refreshing, reflecting on and refining my practice that much more. It helps me face that grey grid of 36 names, determined to make eye contact anyway, and entice them to eventually turn on their cameras and speak.


Photo Credit: Noelle Otto on Pexels


Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is 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 her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

Comments 1

  1. Dr. Austine Etcheverry

    I loved your blog and I am 100% in it with you. I have also chosen to do MOC this year, and finding a classroom to borrow has been more of a challenge than expected, but something that is minor compared to everything else. Thank you for reminding me of my why’s and why it is critically important that I stay committed to myself, my teaching practices, and National Boards.

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