Pilgrimage Odyssey, Allegorical Journey of an Ordinary National Board Certified Teacher

January 10, 2022


By: Chayanee Brooks, NBCT

This is my honest account and recollection of my National Board journey. I know everybody’s journey is unique, but I believe we would agree that it is not a cake walk. As the old saying goes: “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth pursuing” and, to quote my favorite philosopher, Nietzche, “To live is to suffer.” I was prepared that the National Board journey would be difficult, but I never thought it would be so hard!!!

I was first introduced to the National Board during a teachers’ union information workshop in 2016. Hawaii gives NBCTs an annual stipend and, at first, I had to admit I wanted National Board certification for the money. But truly, in order to accomplish this, I needed much more than the monetary incentive. Over time, the journey became my ongoing persistent obsession. I thought and spoke using the language of the National Board, the Five Core Propositions, the architecture of accomplished teaching, among others.

With my beginner stance, I went for all four components in the first year of my journey (while being pregnant!), thinking I would be free after that to breastfeed and take care of my child. To complete component one, on a summer day in June, I had to fly to Oahu from a neighbor island to take the assessment. I remembered having to breast pump in the rental car right before going into the assessment center. During the three hours of the test, I felt the pressure inside and out. If you were a mom of a newborn and a National Board candidate, you could imagine what I went through.

Fast forward to December that year: no fireworks for me! After one year of tummy time with my baby in year two, I started retaking my components in the third year with component 3, the video submission; however, again, no fireworks. The fourth year, I retook the exam during the beginning of the pandemic. That fourth year, I just missed the composite score for fireworks.

Often, I asked myself along the way how I end up here, in this maze. I knew I could have taken different roads to help me out. I heard all the people on the outside of the maze who made it through. I got a glimpse of them through the hedges smiling and laughing. I saw their fleeting silhouettes through the leaves. They were so happy to have made it through. No, I didn’t resent them, but I did resent myself for not having their ability to work it all out of this maze. No fireworks for me, once and again.

Yet my resolve didn’t wane: I had committed myself to success, so I doubled down and found specifics in the remaining two components (2 and 4) to guide my teaching practices and support resubmission in my final, fifth year. I decided to put my all into it. I was maturing, and I realized that the journey I was going on was making a positive impact on those whose paths crossed mine like never before.

A few weeks ago, on the winter night of December 12, 2021, I was ready to come to terms with whatever lay ahead, but knew I needed time to process it alone. I knew my teaching had improved, but I also wanted success in showing it. On the way to the airport, before boarding the plane for my winter vacation, in the dark back of the van, I shakingly put my username and password on the National Board website trying not to have high expectations (for I know the fall from these heights), and then they were there…The fireworks!!!

Learning is deeper and more meaningful when it’s effortful.

The National Board reflective process has been a transformative awakening for me as it guided me to recalibrate my self-evaluation, to bring up my areas of weakness to light, and to enable me to have useful information, all for the ultimate purpose of digging deeper in the process of accommodating students’ learning. And for the first time, I got to live what I preached to my students, “When learning is hard, you’re doing important work.” I truly recognized that setbacks are essential. I needed this struggle to make transformative improvements toward expertise.

Because the only way to live is to learn and the only way to learn is to live.

As Odysseus began his epic journey, unsure of the future with his goal to simply defeat Troy and return home, he also encountered years of struggle. As I reflect on my own journey, I recognize that the National Board journey could have ended up in infinite different ways, but whatever yours is like, focus on where you want to go rather than where you have been. Whatever comes your way, don’t give up! Tenaciously press on. If I were to relive this experience again a million times, I would…and I would not change a thing. I am so glad I did not get certification in my first year seeing how much I have learned since then through struggle, effort, and growth.

The one thing that has totally changed me as a person is being a parent. But if I were to choose the one thing that truly changed me professionally, it is going through the National Board journey.

Chayanee Brooks, NBCT

Chayanee Brooks is a National Board Certified Teacher, Hawaii State Teacher Fellow, Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellow, and a high school English teacher at Ka’u High and Pahala Elementary School on the Big Island of Hawaii. Chayanee has been embedding socratic seminars in her courses to cognitively engage and empower her students. She has given professional development training for teachers on how to use cogenerative, open-ended, and explorative dialogues through collaboration to unleash learners’ potential in order to generate authentic learning experiences. She is the author of numerous articles on assessment, feedback, and student voice. She was featured in The Big Island Times’s Educators Make the World Go ‘Round’ Series where she emphasizes students’ awareness and experiences at school beyond grades. Chayanee is a strong advocate for assessments that empower student learning and success.