Monday, October 8, 2012

To the Members of the House Education Committee

To the members of the House Education Committee;

I have to admit, this letter was almost left unwritten.  Not because I did not want to write it, but because it just fell to the bottom of the list of things I had to get done tonight.  I left school at 4:30 this afternoon, and before I even got home, I had a call from a parent wanting to discuss some problems her child had with an assignment tonight and some struggles he had in class.  I stopped for almost an hour in a parking lot to talk to her because I know they have football practice at 6, and they wouldn’t have time to talk later.  I finally got home at almost 6:00 and since that time I have been working on the new spelling program I am implementing for my kids so that I can help them with some of their reading and writing struggles.  If I hadn’t had an e-mail pop up on my computer from my friend, colleague and mentor, Claudia Swisher, about her own letter, I wouldn’t have remembered to stop.  It is now 10 minutes to 10 o’clock at night, but for you to hear stories is important.  For you to see the impact of the ELO and NBCT program is important.  So, I’ll get a little less sleep tonight.  That’s the life of a teacher.

I am alternatively certified.  I do not have an education degree.  I have a business degree and a law degree.  My entire teaching career (8 years strong now) has been guided by the National Board program.  My first year teaching I worked with Don Coleman.  He was going through the National Board process at that time, and, despite that very time consuming process, he took hours and hours out of his time to talk to me about what National Board Certification meant, how it helped the kids and how to teach up to National Board standards.  The most important thing, he told me, was to make sure that everything you do impacts your students in a positive way.  Make sure you take an honest look at what you are teaching and how you are teaching it so that your kids get the best  you have to offer, not just the bare minimum of what the textbooks have to say.  I set a goal then to earn my NBC.  I had a plan.  I was going to teach the minimum 3 years and then apply to assess NBCT applications.  After that, I’d apply for the scholarship, and if I received one, I’d apply that 5th year.  If not, I’d apply again the next year and the next, until I did qualify.  It was never an option not to earn this certification.  To me, those teachers were the best of the best, and that’s what I wanted to be.  I studied and worked with Don.  I attended hundreds of hours of professional development, and yes, I did qualify for that scholarship, and yes, I am a very proud NBCT.  Little did I expect that I would be the last group to receive an ELO scholarship – without which I could not have afforded to go through the process.

So what does all that mean for the kids?  They are the important ones.  Let me give you just a few examples:

                1.  I had a student come into my classroom with a Kindergarten/1st grade reading level.  I teach 3rd grade.  Because of the books I read to prepare for the Reading Assessment and the teaching methods I learned while doing my Writing Portfolio, I was able to sit down with her and analyze what her problems were and work with her to solve them.  I knew how important her confidence was in the process and how much she needed to work for it.  Work she did.  We did before school tutoring, lunch time meetings and after school meetings.  She read and discussed and worked on our online computer programs at home.  At the end of the year, she had increased her reading level to beginning 4th grade.  This little girl who would barely speak the 1st day of class asked me the last day of class if she could address the class.  I let her.  She crouched low to the ground, with her hands down and said “When I came to 3rd Grade, I was a failure.”  Then she stood, raised her hands high above her head, and said “I am leaving a success.”  Although that was enough for me, you’ll be pleased to know she has passed her state reading tests every year since – with flying colors.  I know because she comes to me every year to share her successes.

                2.            Last  year I was one of the finalists for District Teacher of the Year.  As part of that process, I needed to have some of my  students write letters to the district about what kind of teacher I am.  One of my students from the year I did my National Board application wrote for me.  Without a single bit of guidance from me, he wrote about how much he learned during the science lesson I did for my portfolio.  He outlined what we did, how we did it and why we did it.  It had been over a year since we did that lesson.  He remembered every goal we had, what the processes were that we used to investigate the issues, why we used those processes and what the results were from every part of a 9 week series of lessons.

               3.            One of the books I studied to prepare for the Math Assessment portion of the NBC process was about how to recognize what kids were doing wrong with math problems.  I had always been able to see that the answers were wrong, but I could very often not figure out why the kids were doing what they were doing.  Since they can’t explain it most of the time, it left me just to teach the same thing again and again and hope I addressed the problem.  After reading this book, I was able to recognize what they were doing in these problems and more directly re-teach the students.  My state math test scores this last year were better than they were before I did this study.

I could go on and on, but I don’t have the time to write a novel, and you don’t have time to read it.  I know that some of this evidence involves studying I did which could have been done outside the NBC process.  However, I wouldn’t have even known those books existed without the meetings and training offered by ELO and my mentors.  I am a better teacher because of the relationships I built through this process.  I am a better teacher because of the reflection I do on every lesson now.  I am a better teacher because the NBC process taught me it’s okay to scrap something that isn’t working and start all over again.

That takes me back to the beginning of this letter.  I will end now because it is now 10:30, and I have 7 different sets of spelling lists to create for my kids.  Differentiation of instruction is another area that I am better at now than I was before I went through the National Board process.

Christine Paradise, NBCT

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