Missing the Mark: An Unexpected Journey

October 31, 2019

Blog, they say. Not a problem because I love writing. Write about not certifying the first time…my pen stops, my heart quickens not because I do not have anything to say but because there are so many emotions and so many things to say. Scores will be released soon; perhaps they already have been by the time you are reading this. I have been on all possible sides of this equation: candidate and candidate support provider; my perspective is manufactured and tailored by the best teacher of all, experience.

Let’s start with why I did not certify on my first attempt; I know you want to know.  I missed certification by less than one point. Take a moment and absorb the reality of that fun experience. I could tell you I was surprised, but that would not be the truth. You see, I knew something the rest of the world did not. The night before I submitted, I realized that I had rephrased my commentary questions so many times they no longer were the original questions. I rewrote an entire component sitting on my bedroom floor at 2:30 am.  I lived with that knowledge and protected the dark secret the whole time I was awaiting scores.

While that last-minute rewrite might have been damning enough, it was not the only reason I did not certify. In my quest to become the best instructional leader possible after completing my Educational Leadership, administration, degree, I pursued National Board Certification. My leadership program provoked a dramatic paradigm shift. When I began writing, my focus was still on the larger picture. Everything the teacher does should always be brought directly back to his or her classroom. My focus was school-wide, sometimes even district-level impact, and I was proud of my misguided self. Goodness, for clarification sake, can we just say that I did not follow instructions because I did not.  Another mistake I made was not taking advantage of all the candidate support help that was offered to me. I thought I was on the right path. If only I had been transparent and vulnerable enough to allow others a glimpse into my world.

After seeing my scores, my first emotion was pure, bone-deep embarrassment. I did not want to leave my classroom or look anyone in the eye, not even myself. Did I fail to mention the fact that I checked my scores at school? My next emotions were anger and blame. Oh, yes, friend, I traveled to that dark place too. As a professional adult, I knew that I was ultimately responsible for my own work, but I still did it. First up, those ruthless National Board assessors; maybe they had a bad day. Perhaps they were too quick to dismiss my work, but the problem with this was, I knew too much. I knew the assessors were rigorously trained NBCTs in my certificate area, and I knew more than one person read my commentary. Their conclusion was valid; there just was not enough evidence in my product to certify.  Next up on my list would be the candidate support provider. Why did she not stop me and make me do it correctly? Even now, that sounds juvenile. She did try to redirect me, and for reasons I still do not understand, I continued on my path. She did point out how significant the standards were and how we had to embody them in our practice. Unfortunately, I simply perused through my standards. Why did I do this? Perhaps, I thought I was already doing these things. Maybe, I did not want to invest the time that was required. Who knows? I suspect it was a kaleidoscope of faulty reasons.

It may come as a surprise to you, even though I missed certification, that year was my favorite year of teaching. The walls of my classroom expanded; my teaching methods were challenged and transformed, and I had fun!  My practice improved, and my students did grow even if I was not considered accomplished.  I think it is important to remember that our written commentaries are the only eyes the assessors have into seeing our classroom. We are not writing fairy tales full of eloquently worded descriptions that portray a perfect class with an angelic host of students. We are charged with going deep into a teacher’s reality and exposing the whys of our practice; why methods worked, why strategies failed, and how we used knowledge of students and sound pedagogical practices to guide and redirect our instructional decisions.

I could have walked away, but instead, the same day that I received my scores, I registered for my National Board Certification retake. Why would you wait? Why would you hesitate? Yes, I needed time to regroup, and maybe I threw a couple of things and went for a few longs runs, but the one thing I knew was that I wanted this and that I would not let fear or anger stop me. As you can see by my credentials, the proud “NBCT” after my name, show that I did eventually experience success.

Round two. I immersed myself with the directions and dove deep into the standards. I reached out and asked NBCTs to help me analyze my components before I began again. Remember, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Missing out on certification was a humbling experience but also a growing pain that helped mold me into a better and more reflective educator. My journey led me to where I am today, a reality where I still regularly experience mishaps and failures. Abraham Maslow once said that one can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again, and fear must be overcome again and again. Missing the mark does not have to be permanent. Maybe it does become a battle scar that we carry, but it does not have to be a permanent tattoo. Certification is a journey; travel well, my friend.

Tammy Kirkland, NBCT

Tammy Kirkland is a National Board Fellow, and an instructor at the School of Education and the Coordinator of the World Class Teaching Program (National Board Candidate Support Program) at the University of Mississippi. Mrs. Kirkland holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and is a licensed administrator. She achieved National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2008 and successfully renewed in 2017 and has served as mentor for National Board Candidates. Mrs. Kirkland taught twelve years in the public school system of New Albany, Mississippi and is a previous Teacher of the Year at New Albany Elementary and New Albany City School District where she led the effort to integrate technology into the classrooms. Mrs. Kirkland's focus with the World Class Teaching Program is to make National Board Certification achievable for all teachers by providing high quality candidate support to all candidates regardless of their location. She has developed national partnerships and collaborations that have led to the state’s first online candidate support program.