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Tom | November 19, 2012

Here's to the Retakers


DownloadBy Tom

In recognition of "Score Release Day" the writers here at Stories from School are focusing this week on National Board Certification. We're recognizing and connecting with the new NBCTs, offering our congratulations and welcoming them into the community of accomplished teachers.

Achieving National Board Certification is incredibly difficult. At least it was for me. So to all the new NBCTs out there, congratulations! You’ve done something amazing, not only for yourselves, but for your students. Celebrate. Live it up.

But I want to focus on a certain subset of National Board Certified Teachers: the retakers. (Or as the National Board calls them, the “Advanced Candidates”) As you probably know, the National Board essentially gives candidates three years in which to certify. Those who don’t certify the first year can bank their higher scores and redo the parts in which they fell short. And if they need to, they can do it again the next year.

I am in awe of those teachers.

Not because I’m one of them, but precisely because I’m not. When I went through the process, twelve years ago, I certified – not by much – but by enough. Had I fallen short, I’m pretty sure I would have turned the page on the whole sorry episode, chalked it up to unfounded hubris, and moved on. Sort of like my failed attempt to climb Mt. Baker. (See figure A)

Since certifying, I’ve had the opportunity to work with dozens of candidates. Some of them certify and some don’t. And of those who don’t, some try again and some don’t. Those who try again - who go through the anger and grief of not certifying; yet ultimately dust themselves off and go through it again; those candidates are my favorites. I admire their grit; their persistence, their perseverance and their endurance. And thier humility

Obviously, everyone wants to certify the first time around. That’s the goal. Not only is it more efficient, but it’s cheaper. NB certification, however, is an assessment. And like all assessments, it doesn’t always accurately measure what it’s supposed to measure. In my experience, the biggest barrier for most candidates is their ability to clearly communicate, in written form, how their teaching measures up to the standards. Being a good teacher is one thing; being able to write about it is something else altogether, and it’s that “something else” that frequently prevents good teachers from certifying.

But National Board Certification is more than an assessment. It’s also a very powerful process of professional development. By mandating self-analysis and reflection, it makes teachers better, whether they certify or not. It stands to reason that those teachers who spend two or three years immersed in this process get more out of it than the rest of us. Not that they’d want it that way, of course, but still.

So here’s to you guys. The retakers. The advanced candidates. You tried to climb that mountain, but failed. Then you tried again and made it. Some of you had to try three times. You’ve shown persistence, perseverance and endurance. You’re role models for the rest of us who worry about trying something difficult; something we might not accomplish.

You’re exactly the kind of people who should be teaching.


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It was such a grueling and time-consuming process the first time around - I also have so much respect for those who were able to give it another shot.

Decoding those directions, gathering evidence and then writing those entries was like building a cinderblock and concrete wall. Being able to dismantle it and rebuild takes courage, will power, and the ability to deeply examine your practice. You're right. Retakers are amazing.

Thank you so much for this, Tom. You just put into words the agony of this whole process. Especially when the process is a public one. I found out Saturday that I passed, and I'm so happy and relieved. - Christy Velin, Edmonds

Congratulations to both of you, Al and PJ. You've earned something very special.

Thanks, Tom! It is so nice to see this supportive article. I also took 2 years to certify. As my Dad told me - "Anything worth having is worth working for". So, after I got over my immense disappointment and dusted myself off, I was able to go back to my entries and really think about what might be missing. To all the advanced candidates out there, there are many of us who know your disappointment and also know you are already a champion! Stick with it!

I certified my second year and I have to say that I'm glad I did it. Better to look back and admit that it took me two years than to look back and say that I never got it!

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