A Journey Along an Educator’s Career Continuum

Shannon Cotton, NBCTJanuary 18, 2018

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I became a health and fitness teacher because, like any other teacher, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of my students. I wanted to give them the opportunity to learn strategies and skills early in life that would help them to make informed life decisions and remain physically, socially, emotionally and mentally healthy through adulthood. After a few years in the profession I had sat through hours of professional development, attained my Master’s Degree and was becoming more involved in our local union activities, but something was still missing. I lacked the professional confidence to become the teacher leader I wanted to be.

Whether real or merely my own perception I felt as though I didn’t have the resume to back up my goals. How could my colleagues take me seriously as a teacher leader when many in the profession don’t perceive health and fitness teachers as “real” teachers?  “If you can’t teach, teach PE,” was a quote I had heard enough times it began to make my blood boil. I did everything I could think of to show my colleagues that I was just as much a teacher as the rest of them. I went out of my way to collaborate with core subject teachers and to work in their classrooms as often as I could to provide proof that I wasn’t just “picking out a ball color for the day.”.

A well respected teacher in my building was facilitating the local cohort of NBCT candidates and she suggested that I pursue Board certification. After some reading and research I found out that the National Board was rolling out the first ever health education certification the next year. This was the push I needed. This was my opportunity to be a pioneer in the health and fitness field. To prove to my family and friends, colleagues, administrators and mostly myself that I had proved that my teaching had met the highest standards put in place in the teaching profession and that, more importantly, I was having a positive impact on student learning.

The NBCT’s in classrooms around me were accomplished teachers, masters in their craft and highly respected as such. I decided to pursue National Board certification to prove to myself that I was an accomplished health teacher.

National Board certification was the most challenging and rewarding professional development I have ever done. It made me a better teacher and has forever changed who I am as an educator. Achieving certification allowed me to prove that accomplished teachers come in all certification areas. I proved to myself that I am worthy of the confidence that comes with it (and without a scoring guide nonetheless).

Once I certified, leadership doors began to open. So many doors opened that I had to learn to focus my attention on which ones I wanted to (or should) walk through. I started by becoming my district’s health curriculum lead. Once I started thinking and acting like an expert in the field of health and fitness, that was how I was perceived by others. I became a National Board candidate support provider so I could help others navigate the National Board process. I was called on by the Washington Education Association to work with other health and fitness candidates through its Jump Start and Homestretch programs. This has allowed me the opportunity to work with hundreds of candidates as they go through the process themselves. Whatever their personal reason for choosing to pursue Board certification, the outcome is the same: Pride, confidence and opportunity as an accomplished teacher.

Shannon Cotton, NBCT

Shannon Cotton, NBCT

Shannon received her Bachelor’s Degree in Health & Physical Education from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and her Master’s Degree in Education from City University of Seattle. For the past 14 years, Shannon has worked in the Camas School District as a health and fitness teacher. Shannon received her National Board Certification in Health in 2009 and plans to pursue renewal in the 2017-18 school year. She works as the Systems Improvement Lead for the Washington State National Board NT3 team and was the National Board Ambassador Program Lead for the Washington EA. She serves as a mentor for candidates pursing certification in SW Washington. Outside of her school life, Shannon enjoys spending time with her two sons and husband, at the beach, and working out.