By Lorna Baniaga-Lee
Ten years ago, after earning the maximum professional development credits and reaching the highest class in our teacher pay-scale, I began to wonder if there was more for me. How could teachers in my situation afford the cost of continued professional development without financial incentive? To think that my current path, my growth as a teacher, might stop there, made me uneasy.
How would I continue to grow so I could provide the best for my students? Becoming an administrator did not appeal to me at the time, but building leadership skills did. So I began volunteering to take on teacher-leadership roles. Even with the informal teacher-leadership roles that I found, I still felt there were uncharted paths for me. This was about the time that I pursued National Board Certification. In the process of certifying, I was challenged to continuously reflect on my practice in and out of my classroom. Once certified, I continue to grow through other professional opportunities that were offered to me because I was a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT).
10 years later, I received an NBCT letter asking me to renew my certification. I began to question my pathway again. Where would I make the greatest impact with students? Will it be in the classroom with my own students? Will it be with students beyond my classroom walls? How would NBCT renewal fit in?
Each year I still find great joy in building relationships with 90+ students, watching them grow personally and academically. I also find myself evolving as a teacher-leader who enjoys helping other teachers develop. I have found great pride in my work helping others along their journeys of continuous learning, whether in the PD courses for teachers that I facilitate or as a member of the planning team for complex-wide teacher convenings, and I have found continued joy in my own ongoing growth and learning. Is it possible to continue to do all this? To teach, to grow as a teacher, to help others grow?
Should I follow the urging of that NBCT renewal letter or take a look at other pathways? I made the decision to renew.
Once again, I was challenged to reflect on my practices and how I’d grown over the last 10 years as a classroom teacher and as a teacher-leader. The process of renewing encouraged me to bring pieces of my experiences together and helped me to make sense of and strengthen my “whys.”
After completing the renewal process, I was given the opportunity to be a Temporary Vice Principal at my school. With much contemplation, I took a leap of faith and left the classroom for a semester to take on the challenge. This experience provided such an eye-opening view into the realities of what it takes to manage a school. Each day brought me a new understanding of how our school culture impacts the performance of our students, teachers, and staff. During my short time in the position, I questioned my impact as an administrator. Was I making a difference? Was this the right choice? Does NBCT renewal help me here?
In January, I returned to my classroom as an English teacher. I embraced my day-to-day challenges in getting to know my “new” students so we could create an engaging learning environment for all of us. On tougher days, I reminded myself and my students that there was a greater purpose for being in my class. It was not simply to perform to get a grade; rather, it was to challenge each other to be better than we were yesterday. Even after all these years, and as confident as a I am, I am continuously asking myself how I could have done or approached something in a different way.
Renewing my National Board Certification was a personal reminder to myself that I need to continue to be a champion for education, in whatever role I play now and in the future. And in all of roles that I’ve already been in, I’ve come to realize that the hour-by-hour “fires” and the day-to-day tasks of running the school’s operation or classroom as an administrator and teacher are NOT the most challenging part of education. The most challenging part is finding the time for honest self-reflection that should happen at the end of a day or week. It is so easy to get consumed in our daily tasks that we are often too tired to reflect on our actions and experiences, whether good or bad. This gives our own self-doubt a greater power over us and blocks our ability to accept and embrace the unknown to keep us moving forward.
After all these years and all the roles I’ve been in as I navigated my career pathway, I discovered that being honest with myself and acknowledging the things I do that bring me joy are what will lead me through a purposeful journey. The National Board certification process taught me this: that self-reflection is powerful. As leaders of a school or in the classroom, it is imperative that we take the time to look inwards to plot a path for self-improvement. But most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that we have a greater purpose. That providing quality education and experiences for our students includes challenging ourselves to create and be part of an environment where we embrace the value of reflection for all of us.
Lorna Baniaga-Lee is National Board Certified (2009/2019) and has been an English teacher for over 20 years at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. In addition to being a classroom teacher, she leads the school’s Induction and Mentoring program to support beginning teachers and provides professional development courses to help build teacher leaders. She is also a 2016 Hope Street Group Fellow (HSG) Alumni & HSG 2018 Teacher Advisory Council fellow.