As a young history teacher, I saw myself as expert historian; someone who, like my father did for me, would ignite the passion inside young people to learn about a different time, a different place, and what binds us in the human story. I was as excited about teaching history as I was when I visited Gettysburg, saw the Constitution at the Archives, or sat through a hearing for the first time. It was an honor to watch students connect to the world around them and to discuss ideas and thoughts about who we are as a people with their classmates. In my first few years as a teacher, I taught 12th graders, many of whom were first generation American citizens. I taught history to students who were very new to this country, and then I taught 8th grade as I moved to rural Arizona. In those years, I learned as much about kids of different ages and different walks of life as I had about the social sciences as an undergraduate. It was then that I realized it was not only what I was teaching, but who I was teaching which was at the center of my practice.
I am not sure how I first heard of National Board, but in my week of working at Lake Havasu High School, I met another young teacher, and we shared that we both wanted to achieve National Board. Looking back, I realize I had no idea what that actually meant. But, I knew it meant something good! She taught World History, and I taught civics. We both knew that supporting student thinking about historical and current events and helping them develop tools so they could read, write, and speak like historical thinkers was what made our students thrive and want to immerse themselves in our courses. We shared a passion for our content and our students, We were developing the tools we needed to be great teachers.
We took a pre-candidacy class together to learn about what National Board actually was. It was time we really knew. And, that was it. I knew after the first class that board certification was as important for my students as everything else I had ever done to prepare to be a teacher. The core propositions defined what exactly I was supposed to be doing. Although they were not complex, mastering them all at the same time would take and still takes focus and thoughtfulness. Since that class, they have driven the decisions I make as a teacher and as a building administrator.
- Commitment to students and their learning; there it was, plain as day. Not only did I need to know history, but I needed to know kids. I needed to know how to help kids learn and more than that, I needed to help kids see their own potential. This guides me every day in working with students, many of whom I see are oftentimes in trouble at school.
- Knowing the subjects I teach and how to teach them; it is more than knowing history. Many people know history; it is knowing how to teach it. For students to become learned citizens, they can’t just memorize dates or facts. It is the development of their minds to foster their own arguments and make their own connections. Teaching comes with its own skill set, just like medicine or mechanics, and in different subjects teachers connect with students in different ways to help them becomes proficient in that subject.
- Managing and monitoring learning; this, I believe takes the longest to master as a teacher. Engaging many different students throughout a lesson, and getting them to learn, knowing they all are coming with different stores of knowledge and strengths is hard work. In fact, I will argue that teachers do this so expertly, people don’t realize the skill it takes, until it isn’t done well. We have all walked into or sat through that class where it isn’t done well. On top of engaging students in learning, teachers are assessing students to make sure they have learned. All at the same time. Since becoming an administrator, I have taught complete days a number of times. I forgot how exhausting doing this hour after hour after hour can be. It takes skill and precision and isn’t for the faint of heart.
- Learning from experience; of all the things I learned from National Board, this was the most important and the one thing I did not think about prior to certification. Reflection is at the center of getting better. After every lesson, and now at the end of every day, I have to give myself time to reflect on the things I did well and what I need in order to better the next time. Reflection is at the heart of board certification and it is what develops teachers who are able to meet the needs of students.
- Teachers are members of learning communities; as I sat in this pre-candidacy class with the teacher from across the hall, I knew how much this helped me be a better teacher for my students. She pushed me and we shared ideas on a daily basis. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have ever been in that class. Teaching in isolation is not good for the soul and it isn’t good for students. Today, one of the most important things we work on as a school is developing a culture of community between parents, students, educators, and community members to develop teams that support learning in the best way possible.
Looking back on those 5 things that I learned about in 2006, and reflecting on the powerful impact they have made on how I work with students is telling. Board certification was grueling and required me to prove every step of the way that I understood standards related to student learning and my subject area. I examined my practice, took tests based on content, and analyzed what I did that helped students each day. Achieving National Board in 2007 and renewing in 2016 are two highlights in my career because the process is sound, the standards are high, and the core propositions are at the heart of a master teacher’s practice. When I am asked why I am so adamant that the letters NBCT follow my name, it is because it is part of who I am and what I believe must be for kids.