Saturday, April 24, 2021

Oklahoma Broke its Promise to Francisca: One of 3000 Broken Promises

Francisca and I have been friends since before she started her own NB journey. I've watched her fall in love, marry, become a mother. I've seen her grow as a professional, leading from the classroom. This post grew out of a passionate FaceBook post she wrote about our frustration in #oklaed at again losing our bill to restore stipends. I asked her to expand and post here. Francisca is exactly the teacher we are losing because of the state's neglect of the once national-leading NB program. We have not lost her because of her deep commitment to her students. My question is, does #oklaed deserve her? And other NBCTs like her, who stay in the classroom? What will it take for policymakers to wake up and truly see and recognize our NBCTs?

 As a Mexican-American child, growing up in Lubbock, Texas, I experienced great benefits from having a strong school community.  It was through my teachers and school community that my family and I received resources and support to thrive. As I watched my teachers do everything they did to take care of my family and me, I realized that I wanted to educate and help children and families, as well. 

My parents, both, emigrated from Mexico and held jobs as farm-hands throughout many states to provide for my family. My parents only spoke Spanish in the home, so when I entered elementary school, I had many language needs.  Many of my teachers embraced my differences and helped challenge me beyond what others thought was possible. I remember telling my father, one day, that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  He was excited that I had a vision for my future, but very torn about the career choice I made.  He knew how little teachers were paid and worried that I would struggle financially trying to live my dream.  He would encourage me to continue learning, but I knew that he always worried about me living in poverty, like we did, because of pursuing my passion for teaching.

Growing up in poverty and lacking those resources was hard.  The struggle was real and sometimes we didn’t know where our next meal would come from.  Those experiences made me a strong, resilient young lady who was ready to help people in situations like mine.  Therefore, I chose to be my best self as a teacher to provide for others like my teachers had for me.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  I knew it would take long, hard hours of studying, preparing, planning, collaborating, etc. to learn, engage, and succeed in the field of education because my student’s future was at stake.  At the end of the day, I wanted to understand the students I taught, know their families, and how to best meet their learning needs to grow and develop.  I knew that the mission I accepted would be filled with challenges and obstacles, but that I would need to do as my former teachers did and ask for guidance, support, or assistance to help my students.

So, as I began my career in education, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but that I had the heart to do it.  I started teaching in 2004 and realized that there were many needs in my classroom so I wanted to research, learn, and pursue professional development that would transform my teaching practices to reach and understand my children and families.  

In 2008, I embarked on the National Board Certification process and earned it.  I renewed in 2018. 

I was in my 4th year of teaching at a Title I school in Norman, Oklahoma when my friend asked me to do this process with her.  I had earned my master’s in Education (ILAC) with an emphasis on Diversity in Education from my alma mater, The University of Oklahoma, during my first two years of teaching and wanted to keep learning and becoming better for my students and families.  She knew that I hadn’t worked my way through my master’s program for the money because, face it…getting a master’s degree in my district doesn’t give you much incentive.  I completed my master’s program to grow as a professional and to become the best teacher I could be for the students that were placed in my class.  That’s why it wasn’t a surprise when my friend asked me to engage in this process with her.  She knew my heart and that I wanted to always strive to be better.  Yet, I had high reverence towards the National Board process and thought, “Whoa.  I have heard that doing the NB process is a lot more challenging than completing a master’s program.  There is NO way I can achieve this status.  This process is so rigorous! I can only admire those who receive it!” 

But, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to attend the informational meeting to learn more about what becoming a NBCT was about and how it would change my teaching from that point on.  I learned that I would need lots of support, to collaborate beyond my school and classroom walls, and to reflect on best practices.  My husband and I had committed to funding my way through this process because we fully believed in what it would do for my teaching practice. I decided to embark on this journey and do my best to succeed. 

During this time, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Education Leadership Oklahoma provided scholarships for people to go through the NBCT process, candidate support meetings, and a 2-day workshop to share insights on how to begin preparing for the process in Durant, Oklahoma.  I applied for the scholarship and received full funding!  Then, my friend and I sat through the 2-day candidate retreat to learn about the process, the rigor, and how to begin looking at our teaching practice through a very different lens.  We would head back to our hotel and start highlighting, reading, and organizing our binders with the information we printed or received throughout our meetings and began typing or writing some ideas or thoughts about our teaching, strategies, projects, etc. that we knew were best practices.  

To say it was the TOUGHEST year of my professional life would be an understatement! I worked hard to reflect, analyze, collaborate, work with children, families, and teachers, video myself, and write! I looked deep into my teaching strategies and researched, read books, worked with colleagues, and wrote activities and lessons that would reflect best practices. It took GREAT support from my husband, family, friends, and the National Board Certified Teachers at our support meetings. It blew my mind to engage in this process because it challenged me, but ultimately it changed me into a teacher who is always reflecting and looking for better ways to impact and teach my students.  I wanted to find ways to captivate my children’s interests, engage them in activities that extend their thoughts, and find ways to get them excited about their learning.  This process transformed me to always strive for best practices, to continue to collaborate with my colleagues, to have student knowledge about their families and their background, and to always seek partnerships with families. I thought about those first years in my classroom and how much I tried my best, but knew something was missing.  I found “that something” by doing the National Board Process. 

During my first 10 years as a NBCT, I applied and was asked to serve on many National committees to provide my insight, my knowledge, and my experiences in Early Childhood education from the state of Oklahoma.  I helped revise the National Board Early Childhood Generalist standards and I helped create standards for Educators Rising, a program for high school students who want to go into education. This work also encouraged me to go back and do my Masters in Early Childhood Education. So, I am “doubled mastered.”  

Then came the time to decide to renew.  I was hesitant and frustrated by the broken promises from the Legislators and Oklahoma State Department of Education.  I couldn’t believe that it had been 10 years since I certified and that the National Board program in Oklahoma had gone through so many financial cuts and had eliminated most of the support to help elevate our profession. During that time, I had served on an Oklahoma Education Association Salary Ad-Hoc committee and through this work, I learned that we were trying to reach a “regional average” in salary to stay competitive in keeping teachers in our state instead of continuously losing GOOD teachers to surrounding states (uh, hem…Texas…). 

One of the ways the Legislators had thought of staying competitive was to offer the $5,000 National Board Certification stipend to those who certified.  That was lost real quickly. I received my stipend (minus FICA and taxes) of $2,900 for the 10 years of my original certificate.  Then, when I renewed, I didn’t qualify because my district paid above the state salary schedule and were exempt from doing so.  Like I had stated, earlier, I wasn’t in it for the money, but it was getting really hard to pay off my student loans (which, 17 years later, I still am paying off) and keep up with financial responsibilities to prepare for a family. 

All I kept thinking was…I kept my promise to teach our students in the National Board way; connect, support, and reach out to families; collaborate with my colleagues and other professionals; and to continue developing as a teacher because THAT’s what makes the biggest impact in our classrooms. I have worked tirelessly around the clock to find resources for my students; work with families to guide and lead them through their children’s experiences; translate for my school’s Spanish-speaking families; build positive, long-lasting relationships with children and families; collaborate with my colleagues, administrators, and professors; continue to attend professional development; serve on committees; work with interns and Universities to help future educators; and the list goes on and on.  This is what I know NOW.  

So, I was down to the last minute to think about renewal and I finally decided to.  It had nothing to do with the NBCT process, but it had a lot to do with fighting against the state of Oklahoma and how they have let many children and families down with their budget cuts, cutting programs like the NBCT program, cutting resources and funding, etc.  And, now, it has an impact on not only my husband and I, but our two adopted boys.  My salary is still low for working 17 years in a public school system, having two masters in Education, and being Nationally-Board Certified. Still, as I thought about not doing renewal, I was reminded about my students, their families, their situations, and the school community I promised to change for the better that I had to continue to develop in best practices, reflect, connect, make changes, advocate, etc. for them and those who would come later.

I renewed my National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist. 

I am a National Board Certified teacher who couldn’t teach in any other way, now, because this is now a part of my being.  My husband and I adopted two young boys 2 years ago.  They see how hard I work and how my husband (and now they) are a part of my teaching life.  They understand that this career is not just a “job,” but a “lifestyle” that is a part of me and them.  That being an National Board Certified Teacher means that I spend time planning, preparing, reading, and collaborating with my colleagues.  They offer to help me with ideas or sharing what they have done in the classroom.  It is fun sharing my dream with them because they have told me that without teachers like me, many students wouldn’t be able to achieve their dream.  They get it.   

I am a fierce advocate for my families, students, colleagues, and site administrators. I loathe that the State of Oklahoma keeps knocking us down and that they don’t see, hear, or value the people who work directly with our children and families. I will keep fighting by becoming better for my family, students, and community even when they don’t respect what I do. My parents always taught me to do this.  But, I need more people to join this fight and to keep elevating our profession because the work we do MATTERS, IMPACTS, and CHANGES our communities for the better. Oklahoma children and families deserve better.  Long before I was thinking about my own family, I knew that I needed to start advocating for what was best for children.  The National Board Certification process changes the teacher, children, families, school, and community and it is what’s BEST for children.

Francisca Martinez Jensen is a wife, mother, and exemplary National Board Certified teacher in an Oklahoma suburban school district. She holds two masters degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Central Oklahoma in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an emphasis in Diversity in Education and one in Early Childhood Education. She has taught in a Title I school for 17 years and has served on many national, state, and local committees.

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