I fell in love with teaching the summer I worked as a camp counselor for kids with disabilities. I was on my break between my sophomore and junior year of college. That summer, I was assigned to work with an eight-year-old boy who had an emotional disability and he stole my heart. I promptly told my parents that I wanted to become a special education teacher and I never looked back.
I was thrilled when my first day of school as a special educator arrived. I was the teacher who was going to change the world and knew everything at the age of 24. I kept my knowledge to myself, that I knew it all, yet I was always judging and kept the door to my classroom closed. I acquired my second graduate degree and gained more experiences so I could realize my dream of becoming a middle school principal. I don’t remember the exact moment, when or where, but it was on this path that I learned about becoming a National Board Certified Teacher and I knew it was something I was going to do (of course, as someone who knew everything, I had to have the credentials to prove it). Little did I know that this experience would be the most profound experience of my career.
I will never forget the day the box arrived; it was daunting. I put the materials aside but not for long because I knew that if I did, I would not see the process through to completion. And as someone who knew everything about teaching, I could not let that happen! I went to the mentoring group that my district hosted and met new teachers, some going through the process and others giving their time to support us on our journey. We talked, wrote, analyzed, reflected, and talked some more. My mentors read my work, over and over, questioning my reasoning and pushing me to explain why. Why is what I decided to do in the best interest of my students? Why was the teaching method the best to choose at that time? How did I know that the student learned? We continued to talk, analyze, and reflect and during that year, I changed profoundly.
Through the NBCT process, I shifted from a person who was all-knowing
to become one that is truly always learning.
I realized that when we work together and collaborate, our students glean the results of that partnership. I understood that everyone in a school brings something unique and special to the table, something that I can learn from and apply to my practice, in turn making me a stronger teacher. I learned that it is wonderful when you, or a colleague, leave your door open because it allows someone the opportunity to peek in and grab an idea or two.
Even more, when you talk about those ideas, they organically transform into a different, and even better, idea than the original. I learned that it can be simultaneously humbling and powerful to watch yourself teach and that you are your own worst critic. I realized that those teachers who are passionate, with whom I may disagree, are individuals that I can learn a lot from if I take time to get to know them. Over time, I may come to agree with them and champion their ideas.
Most importantly, and most embarrassing to admit, I learned the most important question to ask: Why is it (whatever you are proposing to do at any moment in time) best for students given that every second of the day is critically valuable? I learned to ask that question over and over until I was satisfied that I answered it to the best of my ability given my knowledge and resources. I learned that only when I have exhausted that process should I accept my answer.
I took this transformative experience, put it in my back pocket, and never looked back. I deviated from my path and have yet to become a middle school principal. I keep my door open and every decision I make is guided by the question, “Why is this best for students?” I value my team and building colleagues and know that I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with and learn from them. I cherish my experiences. It is only through those experiences that we learn and grow. I value where I came from, the wee babe of a teacher at 24 who thought she knew everything, because without that experience, I would not be who I am today. Through the NBCT process, I shifted from a person who was all-knowing to become one that is truly always learning.