Persevering Through My Journey to National Board Certification

December 15, 2017

I wanted to love teaching. I wanted to be creative and enjoy watching my students learn. I had hit mid-career burnout, and I hated it! I needed to find my purpose and passion again. Was it possible?

I knew about National Board Certification. Colleagues told me how it changed their teaching and they encouraged me to investigate. I wanted to be a better teacher but didn’t want another degree. I wanted to dig deep into what I do and make it better.

I became a National Board Teacher Candidate.

During the first year, I worked tirelessly: writing commentary, video recording my teaching, studying for a written test. Plus keeping up with two active kids and full time teaching responsibilities. There was a lot of schedule juggling, asking for help, meetings with a mentoring group and late nights editing and revising. Finally everything was submitted.

I felt good about what I submitted. I was confident that I put my best work out there. I waited for the scores to be posted and dreamed of how the increase in salary would help my family.

When I logged in to see my score, I read, “We regret…” I sat there and cried. I finally got up, found a cup of coffee and turned on the morning news. I just sat there, not absorbing anything. Then the phone rang.

My mom was calling. I took a deep breath and said, “Hello.”

She knew right away that I was not happy with my score. She let me be disappointed for a few minutes. Then she directed me, “Decide how long you’re going to feel sorry for yourself, then get on with your day.”

I don’t remember what I did the rest of that day, but I didn’t wallow in my disappointment. I talked with fellow candidates. My friend and coworker, Cathy, had not certified. Neither of us knew what we were going to do; we were just trying to process the fact that what we had put forth as our BEST, was not good enough.

Over the next weeks, I debated my decision. I went from being completely defeated and ready to quit, to being determined to certify. It was quite the roller coaster ride! Just before the deadline to register for retake, I talked to Cathy. I wasn’t going to do it. Seventy-five points was too much.

Cathy sat back in her chair, and said “We are both going to retake. And this is why: in 10 years it WILL matter. It will matter to your certification, to your salary, to your retirement, and most importantly to how you see yourself as a teacher.”

That day, I started on a plan to retake specific components. I did my retakes over the next two years. The first year, I retook one classroom component and raised my score by 48 points. More than half of what I needed to certify. The second year I retook one assessment center exercise, and my professional accomplishment portfolio entry.

I needed the failure. I needed that length of process. This enabled me to persevere.

I needed to look at my BEST practices, completely break them down, and figure out what was essential in them.

When the last retake was submitted, I knew that I had changed. I now knew why I stayed in teaching. I love watching kids learn and discovering their power to learn for themselves.

I knew what I needed to avoid burnout. I had to reach out to other teachers, be vulnerable, ask for help, and accept redirection. I had to look at my success and say, “That was great. How can I make it even better?”

When the scores were released, I was initially confused. What was wrong with the website? That didn’t look right? I’d never seen that screen before. Then I scrolled down and in HUGE letters it said, “Congratulations, NBCT!”

Susan Collins, NBCT

Susan Collins is a National Board Certified Teacher specializing in elementary general music. She is currently teaching at Manzanita Elementary School in Kingman, AZ. She earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree of Music Education at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. During her teaching career she has spear headed local, state, and national collaborations to impact student achievement and advocate for the teaching profession. Susan has a passion for teacher wellness at all levels, especially mid career teachers facing burnout. She is excited and enthusiastic about finding new avenues for recruiting and retaining teachers in Arizona, and advocating for teacher voices to be part of sustainable education policy.