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Kathryn Smalley of Lebanon Junction Elementary School Reflects on Earning National Board Certification

Kathryn Smalley of Lebanon Junction Elementary School

Lebanon Junction Elementary School second grade teacher Kathryn (Katy) Smalley took the biggest step possible in her own education.

She earned certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in Literacy Reading: Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood.

“I decided to pursue National Board Certification immediately after I completed my Master’s degree,” Smalley said. “Several teachers in my cohort at Bellarmine were all talking about what our next steps would be and how many were going to continue toward a Rank I, whether it be by a second Master’s or to start process to become a NBCT.”

She knew several teachers at Lebanon Junction Elementary were already working on their National Boards and many who had already certified thus knowing she had so much support through the process was really what persuaded her to seek National Board Certification.

Smalley and her colleague, Sarah Whittaker, were both successful in achieving National Board Certification bringing the total number at Lebanon Junction Elementary to 10.

“It was such a relief to know that I’m done!” she exclaimed. “I don’t have to stress over recording videos or writing and editing components, and I can worry about ‘just’ teaching - for now!

During the process, Smalley said the most challenging part was not getting any sort of official feedback.

“There are so many aspects involved in the portfolio components, and it’s a very drawn out process which made it difficult to stay motivated,” she said. “You can’t submit any drafts or get assistance from scorers; you have to rely on advice from colleagues or cohorts. All of your culminating effort boils down to the files you upload on submissions day and it’s very scary!”

Being able to check in with teammates and colleagues that were also going through the process was what kept Smalley going when she was struggling.

“Although I was the only candidate in my building pursuing a certification in Literacy, I was able to have a built in support system and proofreaders who were familiar with the guidelines and requirements,” she said. “I am unbelievably grateful for their encouragement and emotional support throughout the entire process!”

As the weeks and months passed since submitting her application, Smalley grew more anxious as the date drew closer for scores to be released.

“I was incredibly nervous waiting to find out if I certified!” Smalley smiled “I split the four components across two years. Last year I found out my scores for two of the components, and I would learn this year if I scored high enough to pass all four. After a months-long wait (all the work was submitted back in April) scores are usually released at midnight, but when I attempted to login the site crashed and postponed the score release another 45 minutes or so. I was so relieved when I was finally able to login and see the fireworks banner!”

As soon as she saw her score, Smalley shared the news with her boyfriend and sent a group text to her family. She then texted her teammate, Sarah Whittaker, who also certified this year!

Smalley is in her 7th year teaching second grade and has been with LJ for five years.

She has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Murray State University and a Master’s Degree from Bellarmine University as a Literacy Specialist.        

She said the National Board process really forces an educator to step back and reflect on one’s impact in the classroom.

“It changed the way I collect data in my classroom and helped me adjust the way I plan going forward,” she said. “As educators we are lifelong learners; working towards this goal is one of the ways I can show that to my students in a concrete way.”

Despite the challenge, Smalley is encouraging fellow teachers to apply.

“National Board Certification is a great way to earn a Rank I, and I feel that the process is set up to have a stronger focus on you teaching your students at your school than many Masters’ programs,” she affirmed.

As teachers advance through National Board Certification, Smalley said they need to keep the final goal in mind.

“My advice to candidates going through the process is just to keep going!” she said “It is such an involved process with lots of revising and editing your own work, tweaking small details, rereading pages of directions; it’s very easy to get bogged down but it is so worth it in the end!”

Her role as a classroom teacher is fulfilling for both Smalley and her students.

“There is no other job like it!” she said. “While it definitely has its challenges, I get to spend my days making a difference in so many little ways to a classroom full of kids. To see those ‘aha moments’ or to see a positive change in a student is truly rewarding!”

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Shepherdsville, KY 40165