By Mike Marsee
There are some days when Noraa Ransey can’t believe she gets to teach.
Ransey took a difficult path to the teaching profession and to the stage she walked across last week, when she was recognized as part of the newest class of Kentucky teachers who have been certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
“It’s still unbelievable,” Ransey said. “I have six of my really good teaching buddies from Calloway County with me and all the way here we were saying, ‘This is really happening.’ You really feel connected and accomplished, and I am just so thankful that what we have done is important and recognized like this.”
Ransey, a 3rd-grade English/language arts teacher at North Calloway Elementary School, and her six colleagues from Calloway County were among 316 teachers who became National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) last year. They were honored Feb. 20 in a ceremony at Kentucky State University in Frankfort.
They made up the fifth-largest class of NBCTs in the nation last year and the second-largest class ever in Kentucky.
“What you’ve done means so much to your kids,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt told the group. “You actually go into a realm that I think a lot of educators tend to be uncomfortable with: self-reflection, being willing to let others take a lot at what you’re doing and say, ‘You can do better.’ It’s hard to open ourselves up like that, but in opening ourselves up, we make ourselves better and we make our students better.”
Kentucky now ranks seventh in the nation in the percentage of its teachers who are board-certified and eighth in the total number of NBCTs.
As a young girl growing up in Marshall County, Ransey never imagined herself in such company. She was raised by a single parent with a low income and was part of a Hispanic family in an area where Hispanics were uncommon at the time.
She said her family encouraged work rather than go to college, which her family wouldn’t be able to afford. Ransey thought she would end up working in a Murray toy factory.
“I had a teacher, Linda DeVoss, who was just what I needed. She has made a big impact on my life. She said, ‘You can do as well as everybody else,” Ransey said.
At 15, Ransey got her own apartment and moved into it with her sisters after her mother went to jail. She worked two or three fast-food jobs at a time to make ends meet and made sure she graduated from high school.
She was the first person from her family to go to college. It took her longer than most students to graduate because she continued to work, moving up to a manager position at the fast-food restaurant.
It was at the restaurant that she took the first step toward a teaching job when the principal at North Calloway Elementary, where she had been a student-teacher while completing her college degree, came through the drive-thru.
“He said, ‘Why haven’t you filled out an application? We have a spot and my teachers want you,’” Ransey said. “Twelve years later, there are some days when I wake up and I tell myself, ‘I’m going to be a teacher today.’”
Holly Bloodworth, president of the Kentucky NBCT Network, said Ransey has become an influential teacher through her willingness to share her story and her passion for the profession.
“As soon as you meet her, you see the passion that she has for teachers and for learning herself,” Bloodworth said. “She tells her story of perseverance and of owning her own learning and her own destiny. She is a leader of other teachers and she also brings joy wherever she goes. Whatever she’s involved in, you can bet there’s going to be passion and joy involved.”
Bloodworth served as “a cheerleader” for Ransey throughout her work toward board certification.
“She sent me emails, letters, Facebook messages saying, ‘Come to this meeting. You live this. This is you. Try it,’” Ransey said.
Ransey became part of the first class of NBCTs to be certified under a revised, more flexible process that allows for completion in one to three years and reduces the total cost to teachers. Ransey said the certification process is extremely challenging, but also very rewarding.
“It was almost like having a job,” she said. “It involves many of the same things I was already doing, but a lot of writing, researching and studying. With each component I finished, I felt like I was a better teacher.
“It was challenging, but I knew in the long run everything I did would make me a better teacher, and they were probably things I should have been doing already.”
She said she benefitted from working with a small cohort of minority teachers in Murray.
“The people in the group were asking the same questions I had,” Ransey said. “It was the most amazing thing, not because they were minorities, but because it was smaller and more focused. When I was in a large group, I felt like I got lost in the crowd. They kind of pulled me through the last two years.”
Ransey said it’s important for minority teachers to pursue certification.
“The students in our classrooms need to see teachers, adults, professionals doing things like achieving National Board certification to realize they can succeed, too,” she said. “To continue to grow the profession, we need a wide variety of people meeting the needs of the students.”
She said she stands ready to help anyone who wants to pursue certification.
“I love teaching, but I also love making a difference in my school and my profession,” Ransey said. “It’s not always easy getting the world and getting your community to see you as a professional. That’s why we have to work every day to continue to get better.”
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