Educators are aware the summit in professional development is certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
It is a long, grueling, expensive, time consuming, headache inducing journey that some accomplish and some do not even after multiple attempts.
Lebanon Junction Elementary School second grade teacher Sarah Whittaker experienced all of those emotions and more to earn National Certification in Generalist/Early Childhood.
The ironic aspect is she would do it all over again and encourage colleagues to apply.
“The most challenging part of the process was definitely the drive to continue working,” she said. “There were many days of planning, writing, videoing, studying, editing, attending seminars, collaborating with colleagues (and then repeat all of those). I often thought about quitting. I went back and forth in my decision to pursue certification (even after I paid for the components).”
Ultimately for Whittaker, it came down to what she thought would make her six year-old son, Reed, and her students proud and what example she wanted to set for them.
“In the end, it wasn’t about me, my training and abilities, nor my desire to prove to MYSELF that I could do it. It always came down to what I tell my students on a daily basis… ‘We can do hard things,’” she said.
Whittaker decided to seek National Board Certification for a few reasons.
“The first being a pay increase,” she said. “Single-mom teaching isn’t always a lucrative business. I also wanted to prove to my son and my students that I could do something difficult and succeed. Choosing a goal and reaching that goal are two totally different ballgames.”
Fulfilling the rigorous requirements occurs a long time prior to applicants learning their status.
“The scores were supposed to be posted at midnight on December 7th (an entire 8 months after I submitted the work),” Whittaker said. “In an attempt to stay awake, I finished a novel I had been reading (right at midnight), but the site crashed. I decided to put it in God’s hands (it was probably a little late to do that) and go to sleep. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. to a text from my teammate with her ‘fireworks’ screenshot.”
Even though Whittaker was a brand new National Board Certified Teacher, she did not think it was real.
“To say I was nervous was an understatement. I 100% didn’t believe I would pass,” she said. “I didn’t even believe I passed when I saw the firework banner at the top of the screen. I read the score report, analyzed the score transcript, and calculated the math for myself (just to make sure there weren’t any errors on their part). Turns out, I actually passed!”
The very first person Whittaker reached out to with the good news was one of her colleagues at Lebanon Junction.
“I was able to send a replicated screenshot of fireworks to my teammate, Katy Smalley, who also passed this year,” she said.
Whittaker is in her eighth year at Lebanon Junction where she has taught four years with first grade, two years with third grade, and two years with second grade.
She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Western Kentucky University and a Master’s degree from the University of the Cumberlands as a Literacy Specialist.
“I love teaching all subjects, but math has recently become my favorite,” Whittaker said adding that National Board Certification will impact her classroom teaching because she now feels like she needs to prove to herself that she earned it.
“I want to make sure my students receive everything they deserve and more,” she affirmed. “They give me their all each and every day. It’s the very least I can do for them in return.”
Whittaker said she initially chose education as a career because she thought she would excel at it.
“I loved school growing up, training others at various jobs, and I loved children,” she explained. “I thought it would be an excellent way to bring those things together. However, my ‘why’ has changed drastically; I would argue even from day one. My ‘why’ is now because I want students to have a smile to greet them when they get to school. Each child is a person who deserves someone who is excited to see them. Each child deserves an education from someone (or many someones) who genuinely care about learning and care about their well-being. In the end, the day before our scores were posted and I found out I passed, I told myself that even if I didn’t pass, my students were loved and that is the real reason I am here. National Board Certified or not, inside my classroom is the only place for me.”
The ‘why’ is part of Whittaker’s advice for teachers considering National Board Certification.
I will definitely encourage colleagues to apply. It was a long, dreary process full of uncertainty, but the rewards that are reaped are more than worth the sacrifices and uncertainty that precede them,” she cited. “The number one piece of advice I would give to them is to remember their ‘why’. That phrase is often used in education. However, when you’re putting yourself into a voluntary situation that you know you can back out of at any time, it’s critical to remember why you’re doing this and the example you’re setting for your students. I wanted to ‘do hard things’ and come out on the other side so that I might be able to show them that it really is worth it to grow their grit and surprise themselves.”