Joanna Howerton Stevens

Joanna Howerton Stevens

Although my school year doesn’t end until June 6 (technically June 20 with summer school), I feel like summer break has arrived a little early as I have recently completed the National Board Certification process as a first-time candidate. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I hit submit for my portfolio entries and I felt a great sense of satisfaction as I walked out of the written assessment. It brought back memories of finishing my last college final each semester. Now, I must wait until November to be notified on whether I have been granted or denied certification.

I was exposed to National Board Certification on several different occasions throughout my educational career. As a high school student, I remember my favorite high school teacher videoing our class during his application year. As an undergraduate student, the classroom teacher I was observing was anxiously awaiting the all-important email containing the results. While I was completing the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP), my cooperating teacher was critiquing my lessons while working on her own portfolio for National Boards. All three of these educators had a huge impact on me as a teacher. While I personally deemed each of them to be among the best in the profession, they were each striving to become better educators by pursuing, and ultimately achieving, the certification.

It has been an exciting year for me and my students after I was selected as the 2014 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year during only my fourth year in the classroom. Shortly after receiving the award, I began videoing for my National Board entries. My students did not understand why I needed this certification along with the award. This led to a great class discussion about being a “lifelong learner.” I expect my students to enter my classroom every day ready to be challenged and eager to grow. I do not want their desire or motivation for learning and improving themselves to end when they leave my classroom. While I pursued National Board Certification to improve my instruction, I also wanted to model this mindset and behavior to my students.

Throughout the National Board process, I was challenged to reflect upon everything that I did as a teacher. I examined my lesson plans and unit plans to ensure I was meeting the needs of every student. I analyzed my assessments and questioning strategies to guarantee that I was challenging students to think and discover mathematical processes at a high level. I was pushed to be intentional on student learning with every minute in my classroom. I became more aware of all feedback I provided verbally and written on their papers. While watching my videos, I critiqued things that I never considered when teaching such as my facial expressions, my vocabulary and grammar, and my physical position in the room.   The portfolio challenged me to find new ways to partner with families and the community in the learning process. Even though my entries have been completed for months to allow time for edits and critiques, I am still asking myself these questions as I prepare new lessons and assessments.

Throughout the school year my students have been preparing to take the Algebra II End-of-Course (EOC) exam. I have stressed the importance of the exam to my students by talking about the impact it will have on their final grade and our school accountability score.  They realize that the assessment is a big deal. However, when it is all finished, I am proud of my students, regardless of their scores. As their teacher, I know they are leaving my classroom more equipped for their next mathematics course and, more importantly, more prepared for the next stage in their lives. My students are more important than their EOC test scores. While it is significant and I expect nothing less than their best effort on the assessment, all of my students can still experience success in their lives regardless of their EOC scores.

Similarly, regardless of whether I obtain National Board Certification, I am certain that I am a better teacher for attempting and completing the process. I must remember that while my students mean so much more to me than a test score, my teaching ability is also not defined by whether I pass or fail the certification process. In the worst case scenario, I know that I can reapply as a Retake candidate. However, the best reward of the process is already evident: the National Board process has made me a better teacher, with or without the certification. I encourage all of you to continue to be “lifelong learners” and pursue National Board Certification.

Joanna Howerton Stevens, a mathematics teacher Lincoln County High School, was named the 2014 High School Teacher of the Year on October 16, 2013. She will write occasional columns for Kentucky Teacher during her year-long reign.