Do You Have What It Takes?

June 5, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Java Robinson, NBCT, teaches second grade in Montgomery County, Md. She supports her colleagues in pursuing and achieving Board certification as a coach, recruitment coordinator and candidate support provider. She is also a Teach Ambassador, working to recruit minority candidates into the teaching profession.  The views expressed in this blog are her own.

“I tried it once and did not achieve. I quit!”

“It’s too much work! That was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”

“You are crazy for doing this!”

These are some of the comments I generally hear from people in reference to National Board Certification. So many times I have encountered educators who start the process and then quit. “Why is that?” I ask.  What ever happened to perseverance?

Ironically, in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), we are supposed to be teaching perseverance as part of our new Strategic Planning Framework. The framework, “Building Our Future Together: Students, Staff and Community,” incorporates three competencies that students need for success in the 21st century—academic excellence, creative problem solving, and social-emotional learning. This third competency involves students building their resilience, perseverance, self-awareness, and growth mindset, all of which are to be taught – and modeled – by MCPS staff.

So how do we expect students to develop resilience if we are not willing to do it ourselves?  Perseverance is something that I preached to my students’ every time they tell me, “I can’t do it.  It’s too hard.” My response has always been, “It’s okay to challenge yourself. It is through failure that you will succeed.  We all learn from our mistakes.”

I had been out of school for over twenty years when I found myself seeking National Board Certification and taking classes, offered through George Washington University, to help guide me through the process. My first assignment proved to be a humbling experience. I was shocked at the grade I received because I was so confident that I had done well on the assignment. Better than well, truth be told. But there was one problem. I had skimmed the rubric instead of carefully reading and dissecting it. Wow! I had to laugh at myself, even though I felt like crying. That is what I always counseled my students: read the rubric carefully. That was a mistake I vowed never to make again, and I did not. 

I could have easily quit and said this is too hard. Many of my colleagues did. They blamed the instructor and accused her of grading too hard. But I always thought about my students, my own children, and my own deep desire to succeed. What did I want to teach and instill in my students? Very simply, I need to teach and model resilience, perseverance, self-awareness, and growth mindset.

Therefore, I sucked it up and from then on viewed the work differently. I realized my certification was only going to be achieved through hard work and perseverance. I was determined to prove to myself, my students, and my peers that I had what it takes. I had to change my mindset.

Now, each year when I talk to my students about social-emotional learning, I share my story with them. They are always amazed – not to hear that I achieved certification, but instead that I struggled at first and I kept trying.  Our students look to us for guidance, and being able to connect to them on a personal level helps us speak to them meaningfully about being resilient, persevering, and having a growth mindset.

So do you have what it takes? What are you teaching your students?

Java Robinson, NBCT

Java M. Robinson is a National Board Certified Teacher (Middle Childhood, Generalist) and teaches second grade in Montgomery County, Maryland, where she also serves as a coach, recruitment coordinator and candidate support provider for National Board candidates. She has more than two decades of teaching experience in three states. Java also works with as a Teach Ambassador to recruit others (specifically minorities and men) into the teaching profession, and is an active member of several local education leadership organizations. Teacher.  She enjoys networking with other teachers and advocating for change in public education. Follow Java on Twitter @JavaRobinson.