National Board Renewal: An Exercise of Intense Reflection

August 1, 2017

Ten years ago, I became a National Board Certified Teacher, and to this day it remains the most powerful, life-changing professional development experience of my career.

The original certification process was grueling. I had only been teaching four years when I decided to pursue certification, so I was still young in the field, but not a young professional, per se: I had spent the previous 14 years in banking. Serving students in urban Memphis gave me a burning desire to be the best teacher I could be and National Board Certification seemed to be the way to achieve that goal.

My district provided mentors and created cohorts of teachers based on certificate areas. Stephanye, Susan, Rachel and I were teaching in different schools when we learned we were going to be working together. Debbie, our mentor, had high expectations and kept us accountable. Suffice it to say we became fast friends and we relied heavily on one another.

As we pored over the standards, I was pleasantly surprised to learn there were several things I was already doing that represented accomplished teaching. While that was good news, the reality was, I still had lot to learn. This much was evident when I watched my videos! I thought I was a reflective practitioner (that had been emphasized throughout my master’s program), but I quickly learned there was no way to remember everything that happened in a lesson. Reflection using video was then and is still now the best way to get an evidenced-based glimpse of teaching and learning in my classroom. After months of writing, re-writing, and studying for the assessment center exercises I became a National Board Certified Teacher Early Childhood Generalist.

A few weeks ago, I hit the submit button to renew my certification. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. The renewal process allowed me to step back and see the forest that’s grown over the past ten years, and to reflect on my growth as a teacher. One of my greatest ah-ha’s during this experience was realizing just how much the standards are ingrained in my practice all these years later. One is Standard VIII. In 2007, Entry 3 asked candidates to demonstrate student learning through inquiry. At the time, my classroom was teacher- and not student-centered, and turning the learning and questioning over to my students seemed foreign, but it was a powerful learning experience for me. Today I facilitate learning to promote my students’ critical thinking skills.

Another ah-ha was my rapid entry into the world of teacher leadership, influencing beyond my classroom walls. Becoming a “teacher leader” was never my intent when I originally pursued certification, but being an NBCT has opened doors for me in teacher leadership I could never have imagined. I’ve mentored other National Board candidates. I’ve been a Common Core State Standards coach in math. I was named Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year in 2015, and was appointed to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Teacher Cabinet. Also, in 2015, I became a Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellow to advocate for teachers and students in Tennessee. This led to a hybrid role in my district where I spend half my day teaching 3rd grade and the other half working for my superintendent elevating teacher voice in district decisions. These experiences and the colleagues I’ve been privileged to work with over the years have shaped the educator I am today. None of these opportunities would have been possible without the professional growth spurred by the National Board’s rigorous certification process.

While seeing how I’ve grown as a teacher leader was a great benefit of the renewal process this year, an even greater benefit was the reminder of why I get up every morning: I’m a teacher and I love what I do. Whether you are pursuing certification for the first time, or renewing, the process of reflection will cause you to examine your practice and explore your next path of professional growth. National Board Certification planted seeds of growth in my career a decade ago, and I can’t wait to see what the forest will look like in the next ten years!

Karen Vogelsang, NBCT

Karen Vogelsang has taught in an elementary setting for 14 years. She currently teaches 3rd grade at Winridge Elementary School and serves her district superintendent as a Teacher Ambassador in a hybrid role. She is National Board Certified in Early Childhood, and has served as a mentor for candidates pursuing certification. Karen was recognized as the 2015 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Karen serves as a member of the Shelby County Schools Teacher Advisory Council, Governor Haslam's Teachers Cabinet, and the NCTQ and Gates Teacher Advisory Boards. For the past two years she's been a Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellow and now serves as a Teacher Fellow Facilitator. She has served as a Learning Coach, a Common Core Math coach for her district and state, as well as on the state Math Textbook Adoption Team. Karen holds a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Memphis.