If you know me in real life, you know I have a *bit* of an obsession with the musical Hamilton. As in, I regularly perform a one-woman show while driving around the city of Surprise, I’ve seen it live twice (so far) and the call and response in my classroom is: Me: “The code word is Rochambeau, dig me?” Students: “Rochambeau!” Me: “You have your orders, now go, man, go!”
If you’re #Hamfam, you might get it. If not, I might seem a little off to you, but the combination of history and musical theater just really gets me every time I hear it (which is often).
My friend and fellow NBCT, Susan Collins, find inspiration in the lessons from the Founding Fathers and share part one of a two-part blog post on the Stories from School blog here.
Today on the blog, I welcome Kristin Cox. I was lucky to meet Kristin through my district’s National Board Candidate Support classes and work with Kristin as a candidate. I love talking about teaching (teacher nerd alert!) but there is something truly magical about talking with Kristin about her students. I’m proud to know this #amAZingNBCT and that she has thoughts to share on the important issue of teacher certification.
I recently read an article titled “Here’s a low-cost strategy that could help address teacher shortages” that discussed one solution to the teacher shortage in some states is greater certification reciprocity. I said, “YES! That! Exactly that!” The article brought to the surface all of the residual feelings I have about pursuing certification across state lines when I moved to Texas in 2006 and moved back to Arizona in 2013: excitement about starting something new, fear about my ability to actually be able to certify and frustration with the process.
Although I had nine years of experience as a special education teacher, when I moved to Texas I had to start from scratch for certification. I submitted everything for a “review of credentials” but Texas doesn’t have reciprocity with Arizona so I had to test in Texas. And each test required a fee. I had to take both Pedagogy & Professional Responsibilities and Special Education.
Silly me thought I would stay in Texas forever so I let my Arizona certification lapse. But life changes and in 2013 I wanted to move back home. I flew to Phoenix and stood in the Arizona Department of Education office. I showed them all of my paperwork from Texas and Arizona and they informed me that I would have to start over. So with 16 years of experience and current Texas certification I had to take Elementary Education I: English Language Arts, Social Studies and Elementary Education II: Mathematics, Science, Unified Arts as well as Special Education. On top of that, the special education licensing requirements had changed, so I had to gather additional documentation for proof that I had taught students with severe and multiple disabilities in order to re-certify in that specialized area, even though I had been fully certified when I taught it my first two years in Arizona.
I began to speak to others about my passion for this issue and one person brought up the objection that Arizona is already bleeding teachers and making licensure easier across state lines would mean losing more teachers to bordering, states while allowing teachers to continue to live in their Arizona communities. But this has been happening for years already. When I taught in Bullhead City in 2005-06 teachers were leaving to teach across the river because Clark County schools (Vegas and Laughlin) paid so much better, it was worth the hassle of re-certifying.
Another teacher brought up the fact that there are different rules for different states. While this is true, good teaching is good teaching! The tests I took were not about state rules, they were about what test was preferred by which state. The testing content was comparable and after teaching nine years and then sixteen years they were not difficult for me. Just a hoop, a very pricey hoop.
I would like us to consider this as one solution, reciprocity for National Board Certified Teachers. Contact the State School Board and inform them that this could be a path for accomplished teachers to come to our state. National Board Certification is a voluntary advanced professional certification for PreK-12 educators which identifies teaching excellence through a performance based, peer-reviewed assessment. To be eligible to pursue certification you must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, have completed three years of successful teaching, and hold a valid state teaching license for those three years of teaching. There are already National Board Certified Teachers in every state. These teachers are recognized as experts and should not have to jump through expensive hoops to be able to provide accomplished teaching in other states. Our student population is highly mobile, shouldn’t we as teachers be allowed to move also?
Kristin Cox is a National Board Certified (ENS-ECYA) Special Education Teacher with more than 20 years of experience working with children with disabilities in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms, resource, inclusion, Deaf Education, itinerant and ECI birth to 3 programs. Kristin earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Northern Arizona University and her Master’s Degree in Deaf Education from the University of Arizona. She currently teaches medically fragile students in 3-8 grades who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices for communication and academics.
On February 1, 2014 the Arizona K12 Center hosted a fabulous event to recognize and celebrate Arizona’s newest National Board Certified teachers and Master Teachers. I was thrilled to be invited to speak. Here is an excerpt from my keynote:
Welcome to the family! We are many, but we speak with a unified voice, especially when we say congratulations. You have elevated the credibility of our profession. Take the time to let this achievement land.
There was a recent study that asked: What does the public want to see from their teachers? The 3 P’s: passion, professionalism, patience. You have dedicated yourself to those. And you proved you can follow directions really, really well.
I recently had the privilege of attending the National State Teacher of the Year conference. At the conference they asked us to reflect upon the question: Why am I here? Why have I been given the title “Teacher of the Year?” I really struggled with this question. I know many, many teachers who are so deserving of that honor. It dawned on me only upon some deep soul-searching: National Board Certification. Everything changed for me when I became a National Board certified teacher.
The process changed how I viewed my role as a teacher and the impact I have on my students, their families, and our community. I was prepared for the rigorous and intense Arizona Education Foundation’s Teacher of the Year application process because of everything I had learned and accomplished when becoming National Board Certified. I had already become deeply analytical and reflective of my practice. And I had already grown accustomed to being videotaped constantly. I’d gotten over those, “Is that really what I look like from behind?” moments.
Please take the time to celebrate your accomplishment. Spend time with the loved ones who supported you on your endeavor. Do something just for you – you’ve earned it. But I have to tell you- this is not the end, but the beginning of your journey. You are now an ambassador of our profession.
Teachers are born AND made. We all know the teachers who were born with an apple, a Sharpie, and a book in their hands. But teachers can be made. And even the born teachers constantly strive to improve their practice. Mentor teachers and coaches know this well because they help improve the practice of new and veteran teachers every day. They help “make” teachers. As every good educator knows, the day you think you know it all is the day you should leave the classroom.
Now that you have the letters NBCT to put after your email signature, people will look at you differently. Doors will open for you. You’ve proven your dedication to your students and schools. You are a teacher leader. We teacher leaders are an untapped resource for educational change.
We know that we need a whole new structure for today’s schools. We need to leave the 19th century factory model of learning behind. We need to empower teachers to lead this change, explore new ideas, innovate, and take risks. These changes cannot come from the top-down model of education we’ve been using for too many years now, where people outside of the field make the decisions that affect our teaching and our students daily lives in our classrooms.
One of the aspects of the National Board Certification process that makes it so unique is that it acknowledges the complexity of teaching and the role that context plays in evaluating a teacher and in a teacher’s decision-making process. It allows time and opportunity for reflection. It allows a teacher to look deep within and chart a course for the future of his or her students using professional expertise, knowledge of their students and communities, and mastery of their craft.
Teaching in the 21st century is complex, challenging work. Do you think just anyone can do what we do, day in and day out? Mark Twain said “Teaching is like trying to hold 35 corks underwater at once,” and that was over 100 years ago!
We need to engage the public in a dialogue about what is really happening in today’s schools. We need to counter the negative message people hear in the media by spreading the positive things we see happening in our schools each day. We need to work with businesses to ensure that our graduates leave high school with the skills employers want. We need to rethink school finance to ensure equity and equal opportunities for all students regardless of their zip code.
We need to work in cooperation with university teacher preparation programs to ensure that teacher graduates meet rigorous performance standards and demonstrate management skills so we ensure the next generation of teachers is the best, the brightest, and the most prepared for life in the 21st century classroom.
I want to encourage you to support excellence in our profession by becoming a Candidate Support Provider and encouraging other amazing teachers in our field to experience this incredibly personalized, focused professional development of National Board certification. My husband calls being a Candidate Support Provider being a “sidekick.” Being a “sidekick” for Dysart teachers and teachers around the state of Arizona for the Arizona K12 Center is one of my most fulfilling roles. If you aren’t lucky enough to have benefitted from such support networks, maybe you are the catalyst. Maybe you could begin. Think of how many teachers (and students) you would impact by supporting other professionals on their journey toward National Board certification.
Let’s stop for a moment and reflect on the 2014 landscape of education. I’ve heard it called the “perfect storm:” new standards, (while many of us are still teaching the old standards), new assessments, new evaluations, and increasing, on-going budget cuts. We are seeing (and many of us leading) fundamental shifts in teaching, learning, and school systems.
My parting advice to you is to leverage this moment to get the most out of it- to make a real difference for education in our nation. What are you passionate about? What do you want to solve? Work on? Make happen? You are now a National Board Certified Teacher…people will listen to you! People will ask your opinion and they will care about your responses!
Have your elevator or airplane speech ready so that when that man on the airplane sits down next to you and asks what you do and you proudly respond “I’m a Teacher!” and he growls “Don’t get me started on teachers!” you’ll be prepared to respond on behalf of all of us. Be ready for that chance meeting with a law maker for thirty seconds in an elevator. Get your message out there because if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.
The 2014 local and state elections are going to have a huge impact on our classrooms and students. I recently heard “If teachers aren’t at the table, we’ll be on the menu.” It is time to use your teacher voice on behalf of all teachers and the students we teach to get us off the menu and at the table. Dream big!
We are standing on the cusp of a great opportunity to fulfill the promise of our democratic republic. It would be a shame to squander this opportunity to make great changes.
One last thought for our celebration. I want you to eliminate the word “just” when you are speaking of your career. Never say “I am just a teacher.” I AM a teacher. I am a skilled, passionate, dedicated teacher. I am a National Board Certified Teacher.