Monday, October 13, 2014

National Board Matters: Lisa's Story

Yesterday I posted a story by my friend Michale and what National Board Certification meant to her and her family. She spoke about her family's legacy, and about a friend she made along the way. Michale, Lisa Watson and I met over coffees at Norman's Grey Owl. We talked about our NB journey and our commitment to the process.

We talked about strategies for the NB renewal process and they brainstormed ideas for their professional growth experiences that were to be documented. There was tremendous energy in that corner of the coffee shop as we talked about our classrooms and our work. 

Lisa and Michale completed the renewal process in the good-faith belief that they would be rewarded for their investment of time and money with the $5000 stipend they have been receiving. Just this month we discovered that is apparently not the case.

Here is a post with background on the decision.

We share our stories to remind everyone we are teachers who have sacrificed for our families, who have held ourselves up to the highest standards of our profession, we have committed ourselves to improving our own teaching so we can improve student learning.

Every broken promise by our policy makers hurts our teachers, our classrooms, our students.

I offer Lisa's story

For 16 years, I have been teaching ninth, tenth, or eleventh grade. I feel called to be a teacher. I love my students, and they know it. I want the best for them, I push them when they need it, encourage them when they need it, and comfort them when they need it.

I spend more time with my students during the week than most parents get the opportunity to do, and  I don’t take this opportunity lightly. For many of my students, I may be the only adult they see that day that cares for them and believes in their future. In my class, they feel valued and important. Yes, we are learning about literature and writing, but we are also learning about the value of hard work and commitment, about honesty and integrity, about community and respect. We learn about the importance of learning and being lifelong learners. 

All of these things are what prompted me to pursue National Board Certification in 2003-04. I felt the need to be a good example to my students. How could I continue to stress lifelong learning to them unless I continued it myself? The process of becoming certified was grueling, ambiguous, and incredibly hard at times. I persevered during difficult times because I knew I could do it and because I also needed the $5000 stipend that was promised with certification. As stated before, I loved teaching and at times I loved it so much I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to do it.
It was too good to be true. But in reality, I could barely make ends meet some months. My family was growing and so were my bills.

 In 2005, I anxiously awaited the email that would inform me if I certified or not. I remember being afraid to open my eyes and read the email once I opened it for fear that I might not have passed. I was overjoyed when I saw the words, "Congratulations!" I felt validated in that moment. I felt valued. I felt like I was definitely doing something right and people recognized it. Just like my students needed validation and encouragement to flourish, so did I.

I was the first teacher at my school to successfully complete the process. The $5000 stipend came at the perfect time for it provided the cushion for my family to breathe a little. I encouraged more colleagues to pursue this difficult but rewarding process.

I’ve continued joyfully teaching for the most part though all the difficult teaching years in Oklahoma. Friends would sometimes ask me if I considered driving across state lines and teaching in Texas for the pay was so much better, but I always declined because I felt like I was making a difference in my hometown. I’ve proudly watched students become teachers, doctors, scientists--you name it.
I feel now more than ever my students need my teaching experience in the classroom. They need someone that pushes them and shows them they have a future.

So, during my eighth year of National Board, I began the renewal process. I painfully wrote the $1250 check to begin the renewal process, and began the journey because I knew the reflection would strengthen my teaching, and I was encouraged to continue receiving my stipend. I explained to my students that it was time for me to re evaluate my teaching and push myself again. They championed me and encouraged me, and I think they were proud of their teacher for continuing to improve herself. 

They’ve asked me frequently this year when I will find out if I passed or not. Now, my students are upset. They don’t understand how something like this happens. Even though they are 16, they know what has happened is wrong.

Now that HB 1660 has been reinterpreted, I’m no longer looking forward to my results. I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. Time and time again, I feel that the State Department does not value quality teachers in public school.

It would be like me telling my students that they were going to complete a project over the course of the year that would be worth 5000 points only to tell them once the work was done that it was really only worth 1000 points, so now they would have to do even more work to make up for it. I would never do that to them. A promise is a promise. Once you give your word, you stick to it. Treat others like you want to be treated. Respect humans and their effort.  My students know these simple life lessons; however these lessons have been ignored by the state department of education. 
I began teaching with no other thoughts in my head than to make a difference in lives of students. I feel like I do that. I also teach my students to stand up for what’s right.

I would be amiss if I said what is happening to National Board Certified Teachers in Oklahoma is Okay. It is wrong. I feel that the state is on the verge of losing many of its most effective teachers in the midst of a massive teacher shortage already.

I deserve more; our teachers deserve more and our students deserve more. Please do something about this or I fear for what education may look like in the future.

The system is broken. I am not.

Integrity always wins.

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