Crystal Culp, a U.S. Air Force veteran with over 22 years of teaching experience in alternative education, never imagined a career in education – let alone being a mentor to teachers pursuing National Board certification.
Shortly after leaving the military, Culp was presented with a few career options – law, journalism or education. It was after her first year of student teaching when she realized education was where she was meant to be.
“It was like divine intervention. Teaching fit me just like a glove. I can’t imagine having made any other choice,” said Culp.
She had been teaching for five years when she attended an informational meeting about National Board certification. Soon after that meeting, she decided to pursue her certification. She said she was lucky to have the support from her school district and without the help of her mentor, she might not have made it through. She promised herself that once she became a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), she would do everything she could to make sure other teachers would have the same opportunities.
Culp became the first teacher nationwide to earn National Board certification while teaching in a juvenile detention facility.
Eight years ago, she presented the idea of a board-sponsored National Board academy to the board of education in McCracken County. The board agreed to put forth funding for five teachers to begin the National Board certification process. Four of those five teachers are now NBCT’s. After the first year, the board extended the opportunity to 10 teachers.
“Without the board of education supporting that process and providing that academy, we wouldn’t be where we are right now,” she said.
She thinks the academy is something many districts can implement, but teachers need to be willing to put in the time and districts need to be willing to provide funding. Once districts have an NBCT team to lead the academy, she said she is happy to share the model and curriculum she has created for the program.
Culp said if she had to guess, she has mentored at least 300 teachers nationwide over the course of 20 years.
One of those teachers, Lauren Williams, was certified in 2021.
“Crystal made this goal a reality for me. She was so patient and helpful in my pursuit. She is an excellent educator and leader and made me feel like I was going to achieve even though sometimes I doubted my abilities,” said Williams. “I am a better teacher thanks to Crystal.”
Williams said acquiring her National Board Certification has been the best investment she has made for her professional growth. She wants to encourage any teacher seeking their National Board certification to pace themselves with the components and to join a cohort for extra support.
Culp served as the President of the Kentucky National Board Network from 2018-2020 and served as a KEA regional coordinator for candidate support.
In 2012, she was named the Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children’s Teacher of the Year and in 2016, was honored to be named KEA Teacher of the Year. She previously served on the Kentucky Department of Education’s Teacher’s Advisory Council.