“Dear Cathy, I Quit.”

February 23, 2015

By now, National Board candidates have read the Standards – their copies full of highlights and sticky notes. They’ve created their word documents and chosen their students (maybe). Now they sit with a blank computer screen staring at them.

It all felt so much easier before Christmas when “after the holidays” was far off and full of promise.  Now, many are stuck between “I can do this,” and “What was I thinking?’

As the, “Sign your name here and make your payment,” deadline approaches for candidates, many are wondering if they are up to the task. Some candidates have set goals, worked at a steady pace, and feel good about their progress.  (I don’t know any, but I am sure they are out there.)

Here are some, “Dear Cathy, I quit,” messages I’ve received recently:

“My head is just not in this right now.”

“This is a really busy time.”

“I am overwhelmed by all that I have to do.”


My response?

Slow down, breathe, and think.  Let’s talk this through.  Here’s what I want you to know before you give up:

It is not too late to start. Teaching is ingrained in you.  What you do, what you know, what you are…  You are a teacher, and it is enough.  It’s enough because becoming National Board Certified is not about being the best.   It’s about being the best you can be for your students.  It’s about recognizing skills you already have, discovering where you need to improve, and figuring out how you are going to get there.

All you need to do is answer some questions. You are going to use 14 (more or less) pages, double spaced, with one inch margins and 11 point Arial font to answer them. You know what the questions are, you have a guiding document – the Standards- and you have a rubric.  It’s all provided for you in the directions.

You need students for this. The state provides a room full of them for you to teach. You even get paid to teach them!

You need time. That’s the tricky part, isn’t it?  For this season, this small dot on the timeline of your life, you must make a commitment to yourself.  Write it on the calendar with a Sharpie.  This isn’t forever, it’s just for a while.  For the next few months, you have a high priority DIY project.  When you finish, you won’t post pictures of it on Pinterest or Facebook like that chicken coop I am trying to build, but you can post your accomplishment and bask in all the “likes.”  You will have new tools to use and share every day for the rest of your teaching career.

You need help. Use your mentor. We really want to help. Use your family and friends to help free up some time so you can work on your DIY project, just like you would if you were going to remodel your bathroom. National Board Certification can sound very abstract to those outside our field. Try to phrase your request with a context they understand. For example, consider that chicken coop. You first draw up a plan, gather materials, make a foundation, cut, and measure before assembling all the pieces together and putting a roof on it. There’s a long process before you start gathering eggs!

Next year will come with next year’s problems. I don’t know of anyone who could look me in the eye and say, “Wow, things are perfect. My job is perfect. My students are perfect. My family is perfect. I have so much free time on my hands that I am going to do my National Boards.” Do you? I do know people who are getting to work earlier.  They are staying later than the usual late and missing some family time. While making some sacrifices right now, they are focusing on the big picture.

Picture yourself three years from now as a National Board Certified Teacher.  You will have grown and changed and become a better version of yourself.  You will have new opportunities and of course more money as a reward for your time and hard work.

Don’t quit. Do this for your students. Do this for yourself.

Cathy McAlister, NBCT

Cathy McAlister is a National Board Certified Teacher who taught elementary school for 19 years. She is now an instructional coach at Hendron/Lone Oak Elementary in Paducah, Kentucky. She also serves as a National Board Candidate mentor, mom, and blogger for the Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching.