Every morning I wake up and am amazed I am the 2018 Washington State Teacher of the Year. It still feels like a dream and I often question how it is I got to this place. How is it possible that a teacher who struggled to articulate her classroom impacts until roughly 15 years into the game could be elevated to such a position? How do I fit in with this prestigious group? My research into my fellow teachers of the year gave me my answer – relationships. Getting acquainted with the 2018 slate of state teachers of the year, one thing provides the common denominator among us all – we focus on making connections.
For much of my career, I didn’t personally identify as a teacher. For the first 14 years, I believed teaching was a stopover for me on my way to something else. I enjoyed teaching, I loved my students, I looked forward to going back to the classroom every September to meet my new kids, but I couldn’t see my impact. It wasn’t until embarking on National Board Certification that “teacher” became part of who I am as a person, and not simply what I do every day for my job.
Over the years, my students had many successes. My first year of teaching in Spearman, TX, one of my brand new debaters took third place in the state competition. In Japan, our group of technical high school students studying bookkeeping bested the local academic school in a debate competition. In Bronx, NY, my students started a school newspaper. And, here in Spokane, one student got accepted into film school, another is working on her master’s degree in international studies and will join the Peace Corps, and countless of my newcomer students have graduated four years from arrival in the US and all are attending post-secondary institutions.
Knowledge of Students
Through all of this success, I struggled to articulate my impact on these amazing students. I reasoned they were gifted, every single one of them, and that my influence was minimal. It was taking on National Board in 2014 that helped me to see my place in their success and gave me the language to articulate that impact. I discovered the foundation of that impact through knowledge of students. It wasn’t my content or my skill at lesson planning. My impact rested in my relationships with my students, the connections I made with them, and my knowledge of them as both learners and as human beings. National Board standards guided me in recognizing the connections I make with students and how to be even more intentional in utilizing that knowledge of students in every aspect of my classroom. Most importantly, achieving National Board Certification gave me confidence in my abilities and in my practice as an educator.
Since becoming an NBCT, I have worked to encourage other educators to pursue certification through acting as an ambassador for the process and also through facilitating cohorts of future NBCTs each year. This year was particularly exciting. After three years of rolling out the new process, I had the honor of watching the gifted educators in my cohorts achieve certification. The wave of texts I received as the scores rolled out on the night of December 15 was awesome!
Thinking over the process each candidate went through over these three years, the common denominator remains the same for these new NBCTs and future teachers of the year: they know their students. They use that knowledge as the foundation for every aspect of their lessons and in their classrooms. They make connections not only with students, but with colleagues, with families, and with the community. Just like the 2018 slate of teachers of the year, these new NBCTs are intentional and understand that true impact begins with connection.