I Have Failed and I’m Proud of It!

So much has been said lately in education regarding perseverance and grit. The work of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck has been widely embraced. As educators, we don’t always have opportunities to model these traits, but pursuing National Board Certification has given me this opportunity. In 2012, after teaching second grade for 8 years, I was selected as a National Teacher Fellow with America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers & Principals. At the spring conference they asked all the National Board Certified Teachers/Principals to gather for a photo. I looked upon that group and was inspired. On that cold day in February in the Memphis Marriott I decided I wanted to be in that picture.

America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers & Principals cohorts I & II
America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers & Principals cohorts I & II

national board

I investigated the process, and invited [NJ NBCTs] Maryann Joseph and Mike
Fletcher to visit my district to pitch the process of certification. Initially there were 20 teachers interested, which would eventually become four. In our cohort, two were going for the Literacy Certification, one for Middle School and myself for Early Childhood Generalist. The district was extremely supportive. Stafford Township already has several nationally certified teachers and fully embraces the philosophy. Our group was assigned three in-house mentors, and provided coverage one Friday a month to gather and work together with them. Anyone who has gone through the process will understand the pressure and effort involved. We worked tirelessly. Writing, re-writing, reflection, research, late nights, early mornings, lesson planning, and sometimes scrapping everything and starting all over again had become part of our daily lives.

We worked as a team and helped each other with moral support, criticism or compliments when needed. The submission date came and we all submitted and then began to obsess over the test questions. A month later, we all traveled to a test site, sat in our test corrals and typed away until the time ran out. It was now out of our hands. The four of us contentedly slipped into National Board comas. After 10 months of living, breathing, sleeping National Board, we put it to rest. The Tom Petty song The Waiting became our anthem. 

September came, school began again, our paths all crossed and we smiled that smile that has so much behind it. We were all connected in a unique way yet still in limbo. We had discussions of what might happen, and made promises to help each other no matter the results. We would face the outcome as a team. November arrived and we got an email saying to make sure you can log on to the site. Nerves were rattled; we all awoke from our NBCT coma and logged on. I cannot express the range of emotions we felt as we signed on that morning. The results were in: one certified and three did not. I missed certification by two points! Thoughts of “two stinking points, really? Come on, seriously?” were quickly followed by, “well at least it wasn’t by a lot of points.”

It was time for me to walk the walk. I had a choice, to be quiet and keep the results to myself or be open about them. I chose to brag about my score. I firmly believe in the work of Duckworth and Dweck, but now I had to model it myself. I honestly haven’t had a lot of experience with failing. I know it is frowned upon to call not certifying as failing, but I did not pass, I did not achieve the 275. Failure is one of the most misunderstood words in our language. It’s the other “F” word. I used it to dare myself into proving it wrong. I know I can and will do this. I will not let a setback prevent me from becoming part of that inspiring group of teachers with National Board Certification. My students deserve better and so do I. Perseverance and Grit are my new best friends. It is also extremely important to point out that I was always among those teachers. The certification is a piece of paper at the end of the day. As I know so well that students are not to be defined by a standardized test score, teachers are not defined as highly effective by this certification. In fact, the process of submitting is truly the prize. The process pushes you to reflect and think about the strategies and methods you use in your classroom. Finally understanding how to connect the dots and bring everything you do back to impacting the student is the critical outcome of pursuing certification. It is a learning process. I often use the analogy of when I bought my current home. Having a young growing family and living on two teacher salaries we were condemned to a lot of DIY projects. I tiled our kitchen floor, it came out horrible. Then I tiled the downstair bathroom, it came out better than the kitchen but still looked like it was done as a DIY project. Finally I tiled the upstairs bathroom and it looked like a professional had completed the work. The same is for my entries for National Board. By the time I had discovered what I was supposed to learn it was too late to redo the first two entries. Even if I had the time I was exhausted and am not entirely sure I would have taken that on. So I didn’t pass and I had a horrible kitchen floor for several years.

I had until the end of February to commit to resubmitting and deciding which components to retake. I passed two entries and four assessment questions. I knew I would resubmit but deciding which pieces to retake has been an arduous task, taking long to think about and discuss with others before deciding which route to take. Waiting to the last minute I finally decided to resubmit entry 4. There was a cost of $350.00 for each section you retake. I would love to have resubmitted each part that did not meet the passing score but I did not have the funds to do so, again the two teacher salary household. So it was the one entry that would become my new focus. The challenge of this particular entry was one of the reasons for my choice. One of the other teacher from my cohort also decided to resubmit. In November I hope to be writing how perseverance pays off and how good victory feels. Until then I will be waiting again. The busy writing, re-writing and bothering every certified teacher I know to read for me filled the days following my commitment to resubmit. My failure will be no failure if I can model to my students, coworkers and my children that giving up is never an option. Failure becomes a step in the process, a step that will add joy to finally attaining success. So its late Summer and school is about to begin again. I and the other teacher who decided to resubmit will awaken from our comas again and hopefully the next time we log on we see the elusive passing score. When I teach my students to never give up I show these videos to inspire them to keep trying.

It becomes a game of calling out the name of the famous failure matched to their failings in the video. It works, as every year I encourage my struggling learners to overcome obstacles and failure to become successful. Now I will have a personal example to provide them as well. In a field that is currently consumed with evaluations and rankings it is definitely bold to throw it out there that you failed at something. It opens the door for critics to sling negative comments. But I am there for my students and for myself, not for my critics. In November I hope to be able to somehow insert a segment of me holding my certificate at the end of this video I show every year to my students to illustrate what perseverance and grit looks like.

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